Tips for learning Russian?

by Sue

I came across your website when googling on memory. The reason I'm writing is that my son's taking Russian this semester. He's been in class one week, and called last night to say he's struggling already.

Do you have any suggestions on how to make it easier for him to learn Russian? When I look at all the information on the web, it is quite overwhelming.

Thank you for your help.


Doug's Reply: Here are some suggestions that may help your son learn Russian vocabulary in particular:

1) Keyword Memory Technique. Have your son use the Keyword Method to memorize the harder Russian terms.

Take the phonetic sound of the foreign word and convert it to a mental image of an object or action. Then create a mental picture that "links" that image with another image that represents the English definition of the word.

The sillier the images, the better. The mind easily recalls the unusual but forgets the normal and everyday.

2) Memory Book. Get your son, Super Memory, Super Student by Harry Lorayne. Chapters 8 and 10 (of my edition) explain the Keyword Method for English vocabulary, while Chapter 9 explains the same for foreign languages. Lorayne calls his method the Substitute Word method but it's the same thing.

Chapter 9 is particularly valuable because Lorayne includes several pages of exercises using Spanish and French vocabulary. If you son works through those exercises he'll know enough to apply the same to Russian.

3) Flash cards. Have your son buy packs of blank 3"x5" index cards. He should write one Russian vocabulary word on every card, with it's English definition on the back. (Alternatively, he could make online flash cards instead of paper ones.)

He can flip through part or all of his stack every day to test himself. One day practice English to Russian, the next day Russian to English.

Flash cards are great because you can review a large number of vocab words very quickly.

4) Study Buddy. Can he find someone in his class to practice with? Learning a foreign language is a lot more fun and memorable if you use what you learned with someone.

5) Listening Tapes. His school may have a language lab where he can listen to language tapes. It's critical that he use those frequently if he ever wants to be able to learn Russian even at a basic level.

6) Russian Newspapers. He should start reading Russian newspapers online in his free time because it will help him understand the look and feel of the Russian language. He should already be able to pick out the individual letters and simpler words.

This will be hard at first since he won't know most of the words or expressions, but because everything in the paper is in the context of a story, he will be able to figure out what many of the words mean.

Here are links to some Russian newspapers:

- Moscow Pravda

- NEWSru

- Gaudeamus (student newspaper)

- Sobesednik (scandals, sensations, stars)

7) Think Positive. Many people struggle with foreign languages. Tell your son to keep his chin up and just put in the effort.

Nobody said was going to be easy to learn Russian, especially for someone never exposed to it before. He's only a week into the class. It's too early to be getting overly discouraged.


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Oct 08, 2010
Learning Russian
by: Victor

A beautiful site. Many thanks.
I think that important thing for those who get interested in learning Russian is to find a good place in the net. I like very much "language101"

From the Russian alphabet, the basic words to audio lessons, video lessons, word by word, phrase by phrase, very interesting approach to learning using popular Russian songs. A lot of great tips for learner.

Jul 31, 2010
Immerse yourself in the language
by: Douglas - MIT

Hi Anonymous,

Sure, the same tips I gave to Sue should work for you as well (see above). The main thing is to find ways to immerse yourself in the Russian language. Use the memory systems to memorize the vocabulary and grammar rules.

With languages, the more you use it, the more proficient you will become. So try and put yourself in positions where you are forced to speak or write it without having the option to fall back on English as a crutch.

Good luck!

Jul 31, 2010
Learning Russian
by: Anonymous

Hi there i started to learn Russian but it have been a little while. Do you have any tips on what i should do?

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