4 Fun Ways to Improve Your Russian Skills

The Russian language is one of the most recognizable languages in the world: its softness, melodic sound, and roundness of /o/ vowel make it lovable and warm, while simultaneously its grammar, pronunciation and connected speech tend to create mild dread among aspiring learners. Even though speakers of other Slavic languages do have it a bit easier when learning Russian, almost everyone shares the similar amount of fear of the language. Said fear is unfairly rooted in cultural perceptions spiced up with a neat mixture of prejudice, so let’s try to make an end to it once and for all. Regardless of your Russian language level, here are 4 ways that will help you rise up to the challenge of learning Russian:

1. Watch Russian soap-operas

Obviously, this sounds a bit controversial, but there’s a good reason you should delve into this melodramatic world of love and intrigue and it hides in the fact that soap-opera actors, albeit quite superficially with artificial pronunciation, perform with high-quality diction. In practice, this means that you will be exposed to authentic language which you can listen to, comprehend and memorize with ease. Also, soap-operas are generous with repetitive phrases and expressions which are more than helpful for vocabulary increase. Recommended are costumed dramas “Bednaya Nastya” (Poor Anastasia) and “Adyutanty lyubvi” (Adjutants of Love) which are set in historical context from Pushkin era and Napoleon wars, respectively, so plenty of cultural and visual pleasure is granted.

2. Listen to Russian music and read the lyrics

Rock’n’Roll and alternative sounds might have shown up in Russia slightly later than in other parts of the world, but they did come and have a lot to offer. Depending on your preferences, there are a plethora of musical genres you can enjoy and improve your language skills during the process. If you want to become more slang-proficient, make sure you check out Leningrad, punk-ska band from Saint Petersburg which covers a wide span of topics, starting from politics and ending with the irony of love. If you’re into deep pop-rock music with personal and soul-biting lyrics sang by marvelous voice, give Zemfira a chance. One of the most popular new-wave groups from the former Soviet Union is Kino with their cult singer Victor Tsoi, tragically killed in traffic accident in the peak of group’s popularity, and they could give you an interesting look into the 80s sound in Russia. Hip-hop fans should like MC Noize and folk-rock lovers will certainly enjoy Pelageya’s music. One of the most interesting audio-visual projects in Russia was Atlantida Project which combined folklore motives with psychedelic rock sounds.

However, don’t just enjoy the melody or rhythm: find the lyrics online, put in some effort and sing along, translate them and increase vocabulary or practice pronunciation.

3. Watch Russian cartoons

One of the best and most memorable ways to pick up a language is through lovable authentic materials. Cartoons offer just that: beautiful content, chosen language, happy endings and plenty of useful phrases. You can choose between Soviet classics like Vinni Puh or well-known Disney cartoons with wonderful Russian dubs. No better way to learn a song in a new language than to activate ones you are already familiar with and re-learn them in a new way.
And on that note…

4. Read parallel texts

Imagine you have Chekov’s short story in front of you which you need to read and comprehend in one or two hours. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? How about having that same story in front of your eyes, but with word-per-word, phrase-per-phrase translation right next to it to a language you do know well? This is called “parallel text” and it is incredibly useful for improving vocabulary, reading comprehension and general language knowledge. Be careful not to read the text only in a language you already understand, though, and to just skim through the Russian original. Idea is to locate as many word/phrase/syntax equivalents as possible and to comprehend the deeper meaning of the idioms. You can find parallel text in various languages here and additionally, ask around in your local bookshop: they might have something useful in hardcovers, too.

Language learning is like opening a window to a new world. Don’t be shy to experiment with it and use every given opportunity to practice and improve the gained knowledge. With Russian, said new world is vast, rich, exciting, and it welcomes all the newcomers.

This article was written by Ivana C – our Russian, English, and Serbo-Croatian teacher in Belgrade.