Russian Language: Complete Guide

Updated: 22. Oct, 2022

Russian is a very popular language. Moreover, the US government regards it as an “area of need” or “critical language.” It is the most geographically distributed language in Eurasia. Furthermore, it is the biggest native language in Europe. There are more than 265 million speakers worldwide.

According to estimates, Russian is one of the most common languages on the internet. Russian content is present on around 6.1% of the top 10 million websites online. In addition, Russia accounts for 47.4 million of Youtube’s monthly active users. Understanding Russian allows you to comprehend much more information. Therefore, you have a wonderful chance to widen your worldview.

At first, learning Russian can seem overwhelming. It has its unique alphabet. Words are divided into genders. You also have to learn the prefixes and suffixes. However, you shouldn’t allow the Russian language to frighten you so much that you could already be inclined not to learn it.

It may appear challenging, but it’s not as terrifying as it looks. We will go through the fundamentals to give you a head start on your journey to learning the language. It promises to be worthwhile. 

Russian Alphabets

The Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. It could seem frightening at first. However, learning it is fairly easy. The English language’s Latin alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet share similar letters. Many letters differ across alphabets yet are nevertheless visually similar. As a result, English speakers find it quite simple to master the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are only 33 characters in the Cyrillic alphabet. However, in terms of appearance, sound, or both, several are very similar to Latin letters.

For instance, the letters A, E, K, M, O, and T have a similar appearance and sound to those of English. Other letters, such as B (Б), V (B), G (Г), D (Д), Z (З), L (Л), N (Н), P (П), R (Р), S (C), and F (Ф), have a different appearance but the same English pronunciation.

The hard and soft signs, used to alter consonants, are the only remaining Cyrillic letters for which there is no English counterpart. Once you understand how they sound, they are simple to master. 

Spelling And Pronunciation In Russian Are Regular

The regularity of Russian allows for significantly simpler spelling and pronunciation than in English. You can thus never pronounce anything incorrectly once you have a firm grasp of the guidelines.

There are numerous rules to learn in the Russian language, but not many exceptions, which is something you should be aware of.

Once you understand the fundamentals, you won’t have to guess how a word sounds as you sometimes have to in English, even though you may be a native speaker.

Learn Nouns and Adjectives

Concentrate on common nouns and adjectives, such as “cat,” “dog,” “fridge,” “desk,” and so on, that describe objects you see often. Since you will constantly be seeing these items and remembering the Russian phrases, this will make learning new terminology simpler for you.

Verify that your adjectives and nouns agree on gender by paying close attention to them. Although it could be difficult at first, it becomes simpler as you get accustomed to it. 

Nouns are separated into three genders in Russian, similar to other languages. These may either be male, female, or neuter.

Remember that terms like “father,” “sister,” and “brother” refer to the bodily characteristics of the topic.

The gender of inanimate things, on the other hand, is purely linguistic. It will decide things like the adjective suffixes and the proper pronouns to use.

Fortunately for newcomers, it’s quite simple to tell a word’s gender simply by glancing at its ending. There are just a few exceptions you’ll need to be aware of, although words with soft signs may be a little problematic.

  • Nouns ending in  -А, -Я (ya), or -Ь (soft sign) are feminine.
  • Nouns ending in -Й (y), -Ь (soft sign), or any consonant are masculine
  • Nouns ending in -O or -Е (ye)bare neutral.

Russian Verb Conjugations

In verb conjugation, the verb is changed according to the sentence’s subject and verb tense. There are several tenses in English, though that verb conjugation is quite simple (I go, you go, he goes, and so on). In contrast, there are just three verb tenses in Russian, and each subject’s conjugation needs a separate ending. These tenses are present, past, and future.

The verb’s unconjugated form is called the infinitive. For example, “to run”, or in Russian, “бежать” [bezhat’].

Russian verbs have different ends depending on who is the subject or doing the action. First and second conjugation are two distinct ways through which this occurs.

The infinitive’s ending determines which conjugation pattern to use.

1. The First Conjugation

The first conjugation is the most common. You use the first conjugation for verbs that end in “ть,” but not “ить.” Simply remove the last two letters of the infinitive, add the proper ending, and then conjugate the verbs in this category (“ю,” “ешь,” “ет,” “ем,” “ете” or “ют”)

2. The Second Conjugation

Verbs with a “ить”-ending infinitive employ the second conjugation pattern. Similar to the first conjugation, except that the ends are different. Despite the concept’s simplicity, certain spelling conventions and laws about consonant mutation must be learned along the way. The second conjugation uses the endings “ю” (or “у”), “ишь,” “ит,” “им,” “ите,” “ят” (or “ат”), which replace the ending letters “ить.”

Irregular Verbs

Russian contains many irregular verbs, like the majority of languages. They are conjugated differently from the first or second, according to their own rules.

The ends often adhere to a fairly similar pattern to those described above. The sole minor drawback is that the word’s infinitive makes it difficult to identify its origin.

However, there is no need to worry. Most verbs are regular, and if you are comfortable with conjugation, the remainder will be rather simple to master.

Cognates

The Russian language borrows many terms from English, French, and German. These borrowed terms are recognized as cognates. In both English and Russian, these terms have a similar pronunciation. Compared to other vocabulary terms, they are considerably simpler to recall because of their similarities.

English vocabulary is often adapted into modern IT jargon. For instance, браузер [brauzer] is browser, процессор [pratsesor] is processor, and программа [pragrama] is program. 

The Case System

Case systems may be something you’re already acquainted with if you’ve taken German or Latin language classes. If not, they can come as a harsh shock. The function a word plays in a phrase affects how it ends in the Russian case system.

Although the case system is quite effective at enhancing meaning without requiring more words, it might be difficult for beginners to understand.

Depending on the case they are in, Russian words have different ends. Therefore, memorizing the terms and how they sound in various contexts is helpful. Learning the cases is the quickest method to sound more fluent in Russian.

Each Russian case serves a distinct function and responds to a unique set of issues. The adaptability of Russian sentence word order is one of the reasons cases are so important in the language. The case systems aid in separating the subject from the object of a sentence.

Looking at what question is being answered in the phrase and how it impacts the noun is a useful approach for a novice to get acquainted with the cases.

Alternatively, you may adopt the flip strategy and consider what each situation permits you to say. Next, try practicing by creating some statements that would genuinely be useful and that utilize that situation. Understanding instances should be simpler than it first seems since they follow the rules and patterns. It also becomes simpler with time.

The cases in Russian are:

1. The Nominative Case

The nominative case identifies the subject and responds to the “who?” and “what?” queries. The noun must be in its initial form. The nominative case is used for words in dictionaries.

2. The Genitive Case

To denote ownership or place of origin, use the genitive case. The word “of” or an apostrophe followed by an “s” are used to do this in English. It responds to “whose” and “of what?” inquiries.

3. The Dative Case

The dative case denotes the giving or going to of something. It responds to questions like “to whom?” and “where to?”

4. The Accusative Case

The object of the verb is revealed via the accusative case. It provides a response to the questions “what?” and “whom?” Regarding anything or someone who is the subject of an action.

5. The Instrumental Case

The case “instrumental” refers to a device or tool that aids in carrying out an activity. It responds to the questions “with what?” and “how?”

6. The Prepositional Case

This type of case is used after the prepositions о [oh] (about), в [v] (in or within), and нa [nah] (on or at).

Pitfalls To Watch Out For As A Beginner Russian Learner

As you start learning Russian, make sure to stay away from some undesirable practices. However counterintuitive it may sound, doing so will only make learning Russian more difficult than it needs to be.

These habits include:

1. Don’t Translate

It’s crucial to follow this guideline while learning a new language. While it can seem simpler to speak the statement out loud before translating it into Russian, this is a bad habit you should get out of.

Most likely, doing this will just confuse you and make you forget how to construct a Russian phrase. Instead, begin by studying practical vocabulary and phrases, then combine them with your understanding of Russian grammar.

2. Do not try to remember long lists of random Russian words or declensions.

It is good to increase your vocabulary and doing some memorization can be essential if you want to ever become proficient. However, the brain is not designed to memorize lists, so keep that in mind.

When learning words, phrases, and declensions, it is much preferable to make connections and utilize actual instances. Instead of attempting to learn many words at once, focus on a few and practice them until you feel entirely at ease using them in sentences.

3. Don’t Be scared of making mistakes

You will undoubtedly make mistakes. This is the truth. Be not terrified of this! Making errors is one of the finest ways to learn a language.

In addition, most Russians will be flattered that you’re even trying to communicate with them in their language. Do not be frightened to make mistakes. Keep in mind that most natural speakers often commit grammatical errors!

4. Focus On The Language, Not The Resources

There are many materials available to you to aid with your Russian language learning and each one will vary somewhat. Everyone learns differently. Additionally, each resource has its unique teaching style.

Here, it’s important to avoid becoming sucked into the resources. Never hesitate to seek advice from another source if a specific strategy doesn’t make sense to you. Again, the goal is to learn the language, not conform to the resource.

Resources for Learning Russian

As earlier mentioned, there are various learning resources and materials in which you can successfully learn Russian. Some of these resources are:

1. Language learning apps

Russian language study apps are useful tools for internet learning. There are several apps designed for learning the language. Russian language programs at various levels are available on apps like Udemy and Babbel. Also, you can use YouTube, which has free materials for beginners. For all levels of Russian instruction, paid language study apps like Rosetta Stone have grown in popularity over time. Russian lessons at various levels are free on Duolingo, but there is also a premium edition with no advertisements.

2. Private Tutor

One of the best approaches to learning Russian is via private classes with an expert instructor. The private tutor offers a systematic and organized study plan that is personalized to your requirements and objectives

In addition to criticism of your accent and pronunciation, tutors may guide you through difficult subjects like grammatical rules.

3. Russian Movies and Television

Russian television and movies are excellent resources for learning the language and culture. These may be found on Netflix, where most Russian options let you change the audio language, or on YouTube, which offers a large range of free Russian entertainment. Russian state-owned station NTV may need a subscription to a cable TV bundle while ETVNET delivers live Russian TV channels. Russian children’s shows are a good place for beginners to start before progressing to more sophisticated media stations.

4. Russian radio and podcasts

For more experienced learners, radio and podcasts in Russian might be helpful. Russian news, sports, and music may be found on a range of radio stations on TuneIn Radio, while the online radio station Radio Dacha plays the current hits. Also, podcasts that teach  Russian history are beneficial.

4. Textbooks

A valuable tool for learning Russian is textbooks appropriate for your study level. Russian literature, in general, may also help with learning.

Consider children’s books for beginners. Reading a book intended for children could make you feel ridiculous initially, but persevere since doing so will help you build a solid foundation for learning Russian.

Once you become an intermediate learner, you can read more challenging novels for advanced students.

Conclusion

With all this guide has taught you, you should now be more than prepared to tackle the Russian language.

Keep in mind that there are several options available to you. You just have to choose the one that best suits you.

You will have a regular class schedule a few days a week if you’re enrolled in a formal class or working with a tutor. But it’s crucial to do your own independent study as well to properly cement what you’re learning. Every day, set aside some time to check your vocabulary, grammar, or other areas that need improvement.

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