Привет друзья, как у вас дела? Я Джон-Пол, а сегодня расскажу вам о своем опыте изучения русского язык.

In case you’re wondering, I said, “Hello guys, how are you all? I’m John-Paul and today I will talk about my experience learning Russian.”

So, seems to be going okay, right? Well, kind of.

It is of first importance to say that learning any language is difficult and impenetrably so. Not only that, but the Russian itself is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. Perhaps not as difficult as Arabic or Chinese, but a far cry from Spanish or Norwegian. With that in mind, I can safely say that learning Russian is singlehandedly the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And I did a degree in Philosophy… which demanded me to think about the nature of eternity, the mode of God’s existence, the likelihood of a simulated world, moral truths, consciousness, and whether it is possible that authorial intentions can ultimately decide the meaning of a work of literature. All that notwithstanding, studying the Russian language is still more difficult in terms of the discomfort that it yields. Like with any language I suppose, you work, you work and you work and still find it unbearable just how slow progress is, and  how you’re not as fluent as you’d like to be.

I’ve been learning Russian now for roughly six months. How intense has my study been? Not hugely intense, but significantly active (more or less every day). I have casual exposure to the language every day through conversation, but the majority of this is carried out via translation, so there is very little absorption or application going on here, although I will try to write in Russian when the moment consumes me.

The first thing anybody ever says to me is, ‘Wow, that must be hard, I mean, look at the alphabet, it’s mad!’ But in reality, the alphabet is probably the easiest aspect of the language and thus pronunciation is much easier. It’s much more logical than the English alphabet. For instance, not taking into account a slight difference syllable stress, you can pretty much read and pronounce unknown Russian words correctly straightaway. Not so in English. Look at these words:


They all contain the same letters ‘ough’, and yet all pronounced differently. Whereas in Russian, one doesn’t have this problem, for example:

Прочитать (prochitat)
Читаешь (chitayesh)

Both of these words refer to the same thing (reading: to read, you read) but the stem of the word ‘чита’ is in a different location. It’s quite possible that in English this would result in a different pronunciation, but this isn’t the case in Russian.

A second point in it’s favour is the fact that there is a surprising amount of connection with the romance languages. There is a sufficient amount of overlap with the English language that one can expand one’s vocabulary a little faster than one might do learning Arabic, or any language that is completely distant from English.

Having said that, Russian grammar is notorious for many reasons and I’ve come to discover that it is not unreasonably feared. Russian has six grammatical cases, which apply to more types of words than, say, the four cases do in German. It could be worse; Polish has seven cases (and arguably more difficult pronunciation). Finnish has fifteen and Hungarian has nineteen. But it’s not just about the sheer number of cases; the difficulty arises with the internal logic (or lack thereof) that is used to apply the cases. Such grammar makes speaking in Russian very difficult because although you may know the individual words, it’s not enough to just combine words together and say them. The majority of those words will have their own declensions, and unless you know them and have been repeatedly exposed to it, like that of a child, then you have to think a lot before you speak and as you speak. Automation is considered to be the defining characteristic of fluency in any language, that is, how little you compute or think about what you’re hearing and saying. Russian language makes this already difficult process even harder. And I have not even included other areas of grammar too, such as verb aspects or prefixes.

Here, it may sound like I have taken a grammatical approach to learning this language rather than a communicative or lexical approach. This is not strictly the case. I do spend time studying grammar, but not a lot. Doing so is a very old fashioned method of studying that has proven not to work very well. Instead, I would recommend a direct approach (The Callan Method) for total beginners, that is, learning set phrases and immediately using them purely to develop an initial feel for the language. Then I would recommend opting for a lexical approach as devised by Michael Lewis. That is, providing oneself with a huge amount of real input, content, vocabulary that actual Russians say themselves, not textbook phrases which no one ever says (something I learned to my embarrassment). Moreover, it involves deconstructing this input and noticing language chunks, chunks which you can notice again and again. This develops your internalisation of the language and is a far better way to achieve fluency faster and more naturally.

So, where am I after six months? I would reluctantly call myself a ‘pre-intermediate’, someone who can communicate, be understood and understand, but not someone who can talk at length or often comprehend just any old conversation. Regarding the CEFR, this would place me on the upper threshold of A2 (or a very low B1). This sounds like no achievement, I suppose, but I challenge anyone to learn Russian and see how they fare after six months. Perhaps they’ll be as exhausted as me, actually, that is guaranteed.

Though there is hope, comrades. I always thought that I could never learn language despite always wanting to. Learning Russian is also one of the best decisions I ever made. It has opened many doors for me, for example, I fell in love with the idea of language learning, what it entails and philosophically speaking – terribly fascinating. More incredibly, it resulted in my training to be a tutor. I’m now a certified teacher of English as Foreign Language and will be relocating to Moscow very soon. There I hope to rapidly improve my Russian. As difficult as it will no doubt be, I could not be in any better place to do so.

That is my experience of learning Russian, but it is only the end of the beginning.