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The basics of survival in Russia

Russian as a foreign language: ways of learning


When a foreigner arrives in Russia to live and work, he or she has to think about acquiring some knowledge of Russian language.


Success in learning any foreign language is not possible without hard work and commitment. But to begin with, a student has to decide on the way to study the language. This article is a brief summary of different formats of learning and advantages and disadvantages of each of them.


  • Learning on one’s own. Only self-disciplined and really motivated people can study without attending classes with a teacher. The obvious advantage of this format is low or no cost of studying.  But such a student will hardly ever be able to speak with decent accent and grammar, Russian language being one of the most difficult languages in the world. Over the last decade learning on one’s own has added a lot of possibilities coming from computer programs and on-line services. These aids almost always have pictures and that certainly facilitates understanding and therefore learning. One can find a lot of drills for learning words, which may be really effective. But these drills are usually nothing much but mere repeating of separate words or short phrases after someone’s voice from computer.  Just doing that, one cannot acquire the most important skill – the skill of creating a meaningful phrase – because it requires a fair understanding of grammar essentials. Many people mistakenly think that learning Russian may be as fast and easy as learning English or Spanish, by using a lot of repetitive drills. But Russian language grammar is much more complex, most words have many different forms (thus, most Russian nouns have about ten different forms, as compared to just two in English and in Spanish).  

Another very common disadvantage of using on-line services is the fact that quite often they are provided by people who are not qualified experts on Russian as a foreign language, and therefore may contain mistakes and be misleading.   


  • Learning in groups. This is the most common format of learning a foreign language, very similar to typical school classes. Many students choose this format for obvious reasons: it’s not very expensive and guarantees conversational practice.  

On the other hand, the disadvantages are also obvious: the teacher has to use a standard program based on the assumption that all students have more or less similar learning aptitude, which is simply not possible. In addition, unless it’s a class for beginners, most likely a student will have to attend classes together with students with different levels of knowledge.  

Teachers working with a group almost never have time or means to pay individual attention to each student. Another typical thing is that occasionally every student has to miss a class, and there is usually no way to catch up. As a result, quite a few students end up with having vague understanding of many grammar aspects and almost no conversational skills.    Sometimes, after spending a month or two on learning in a group and not finding it very effective, a frustrated student starts thinking about turning to one-to-one classes.  


  • Individual classes with qualified teacher. This is definitely the most optimal format of learning Russian as a foreign language. It is convenient because the time of classes always fits student’s schedule. It is most effective because teacher always creates an individual program based on the student’s needs, his or her language aptitude; and the student is all the time the only focus of teacher’s attention.   As a result, a student can achieve much more within less time, and very soon may begin communicating outside classes – which is always the ultimate goal of learning a foreign language.