1. Memorize the Cyrillic alphabet
If you want to learn Russian, this is the first thing you need to do; there is no way around it. Although this may seem a daunting task, the Cyrillic script shares the same ancestor as our Lain alphabet: the Greek alphabet, so most letters will look the same or familiar. There are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet.
It is important to know there are a lot of words in Russian that are similar to English words (they have the same Greek and Latin roots). This means if you learn the alphabet, even if you don’t study any vocabulary, you’ll still be able to understand some written words just by sounding them out. For instance, if you see a sign that says такси, you can easily determine that this means “taxi” since the words are nearly identical.
2. Learn the stress for each new word.
Russian pronunciation depends on inflection. In words of more than one syllable there is a stressed vowel which is pronounces more strongly that the others. There is a big difference between stressed and unstressed vowels. Stressed vowels are elongated when spoken, while unstressed vowels are shortened. Sometimes the same word can have two different meanings if the stress is different, for example “zamok” means “a castle” while “zamok” means “a lock”.
3. Learn common words first
Learning the most frequently used words first will ensure that you’re able to use your Russian skills immediately. Getting fully fluent will take some time, but being able to communicate in Russian straight away is like getting a running start on the road to fluency.
4. Watch out for false friends
As said above, there are a lot of similar words in English and in Russian, but sometimes you can come across “false friends”. If you don’t know these, it can lead to embarrassment. If someone introduces his or her “brat” to you, do not assume the worst – this word means “brother” in Russian. If a customs official asks you about you “familia”, don’t start telling your family history, as he/she just wants to know your surname. A “banda” is not a harmless musical band, but a criminal gang. “Chef” means “boss”, “clay” means “glue”, “data” is a “date”, “bog” is “god” and “insult” means a “stroke”. Now you understand why we call these words “false friends”.
5. Immerse yourself in Russian
Immersion is the most efficient way to learn any language. Going to a Russian speaking country is ideal, but you can also immerse yourself at home. There is a big Russian-speaking community in the UK. This means that you can find a conversation partner to develop your speaking skills. Most online streaming services like Netflix or Amazon have original Russian films with English subtitles, this is a very relaxing way to improve your listening comprehension skills. Simple things like reading Russian magazines, watching Russian cartoons or listening to Russian podcasts will help you to expand your vocabulary and to understand the Russian culture better.
Why not come and try learning Russian with this fun interactive online course which will help you to learn the basics of the language (greetings, personal information, food and drink, numbers and days of the week)?