Russian culture pulled me in with a one-two punch. As a teen, I read everything by Dostoyevsky I could find. Not long after, I was introduced to chess by a Russian exchange student at school. After learning about the legendary match between IBM’s Deep Blue computer and the world chess champion, Kasparov; that was it. Tchaikovsky, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, even Borscht (which tastes better than it sounds) – I was hooked.
But until recently, I never learned Russian. After taking three years of high school German, I pretty much decided my brain wasn’t wired to learn a second language. English is the lingua franca of the world, right? Imagine my surprise when my company offered me a position I couldn’t refuse… in their Moscow office. The caveat – I had to get at least an intermediate proficiency level of Russian – and fast.
I said “yes,” then I panicked.
Look past the evil villains (Ivan Drago “I must break you!” is an unsurpassed fav), the Russian accent is laid on thick in blockbuster movies – but if you listen to native speakers, you see what an enchanting, and fascinating language it is. Yes, it’s notoriously difficult for native English speakers to learn. But others have learned Russian before me, so I had hope.
I also had the OptiLingo Russian language study course. The language learning program uses what founder, Jonty Yamisha calls the “Guided Immersion” method. After memorizing the Cyrillic alphabet, which wasn’t as hard as I had made it out to be, I dove into the program.
I loved the idea of the lesson’s structure. You listen to native Russian speakers talking with one another. However, unlike other programs that teach you how to ask for directions to the train station or hotel, this program is all about immersing you in the culture. Language is the vehicle, but the ultimate goal is that you understand Russian, think Russian, speak Russian.
Studying a new language – any language – is a tough enterprise. It takes dedication and perseverance – whether it be a Slavic language, like Russian – or a Romance or Germanic language that English speakers seem to feel a greater kinship. When learning Russian, you have to put some skin in the game.
How much skin are we talking here?
The lessons are scheduled, Monday through Friday. Each lesson is 30-minutes. However, there is flexibility in the schedule. Although you can follow the day’s lesson from anywhere, online or offline, I found that my study was most focused in the evenings after work. Of course, some days I returned home completely cracked. That ended up being fine, because I could easily shift the day’s lesson to the next day, or complete as little or as much of it as I wanted to. Each day you’re given opportunities to continually review what you’ve learned using “spaced repetition systems.” Basically, you review the oldest material you learned each day so that the content is always fresh. At the end of the week, I took a self -test, covering the week’s material.
First off, I couldn’t be happier that I chose to learn Russian. There are over 145 millionn ative speakers, and 260 million total speakers of Russian, making it one of the most commonly spoken languages on the planet. I traveled to Russia for a couple of weeks to meet my colleagues. Afterstudying Russian for three months, I was able to get by during my trip fairly easily.
By the way – if you plan to visit Russia, keep in mind that only 5.5% of the population speaks English. Of course, this percentage is higher in the big cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg – if you go off the beaten track or take the Trans-Siberian railroad, then it’s imperative that you learn the Cyrillic alphabet and at minimum a few words. Did I mention that there are over 145 million people in Russia? That’s a lot of people that won’t understand you.
Da or Net, Yes or Now – Are Ready to Learn Russian?
Fair warning, there are a few speedbumps in the journey ahead – however, the Russian language, culture, and people are well worth the effort. If you travel to Russia with even the most rudimentary understanding of the language, the locals will go out of their way to reward your initiative.
Yes, you do Need to Learn the Alphabet
There really is no way around this. Kids all over Russia are learning the Cyrillic alphabet at four and five years old so why can’t you? This is what the Russian alphabet looks like:
There are thirty-three Cyrillic letters, some of which are shared with the Latin alphabet– so they will be familiar to you. However – a word of caution here, although some of the Latin-based letters may not share the same pronunciation that you’re used to (for example the “B” in Russian doesn’t have the same sound as in English).
Can you learn Russian without learning the alphabet? Yes, but… why would you? The alternative learning methods (immersion and transliteration, if you’recurious) are both inefficient, so you’re better off investing a bit of time to get comfortable with the alphabet and then moving forward with OptiLingo and the Guided Immersion system.
Going back to Ivan Drag, notice how Russian villains omit words like“a”,“an”,and“the”? It may sound like a cliché bit, but it’s based on fact. Russian doesn’t have the words“a”,“an”,or“the”. The equivalent meaning that those words provide in English is in herentina sentence in Russian just from the context and word order.
Gendered Nouns: Masculine, Feminine, Neuter
You may be familiar with gendered nouns, but if not, I’ll explain. In French and Spanish and other Romance languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine. Likewise, Russian has gendered nouns, however as with German, Russian has three genders. Every noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter. If the noun refers to a person, the gender will generally match the gender of the person. In animate objects may be any of the three genders, a concept which might seem counter-intuitive to English speakers. For example, the word for “table” is masculine and the word for “car” is feminine. Don’t let this spook you – there are tricks to guessing the gender of a word by looking at how it ends that can help new speakers of Russian.
There you have it – your prologue to learning Russian. While challenging, I never once had to turn to vodka to get through a lesson. Stereotypes aside, Russian is a fantastic language to learn, providing you have the right language learning system. Now you do, so go for it!
Ready to get started learning Russian fast? OptiLingo helps you learn a new language in hours, not years. Click here to get started. Your first two weeks cost just $9.99!
Jonty Yamisha is the creator and founder of OptiLingo and the Guided Immersion method, a language-learning strategy that Jonty himself developed while studying his family’s ancient and dying language – Circassian. Guided Immersion is a revolutionary method that focuses on specific words and phrases used within the context of everyday activities as they are spoken by native speakers. Unlike other language-learning programs that are rely on rote memorization, OptiLingo emphasizes word context and structure, fostering comprehension and allowing students to understand what is being said and be understood in their target language within the very first lesson.