How do you organize your Russian vocabulary?

Organization of my vocabulary has been something I’ve struggled with since beginning, which stinks because I learn best when everything is neatly organized. When a single noun and adjective can take “n” many forms, it’s hard to keep things straight. I’ve tried the tagging system in Lingq, but even that gets cluttered easily. Is there anything you have found that works for you? Thanks!

You may find more luck or success in learning the nominative versions and then just learning how they change based off of declension, multidirectionality vs unidirectionality, plural vs singular, etc. When Russian speakers learn words, they learn to just rattle them off in the other declensions because they know how they are supposed to change.

Under no circumstances should you make a list of “dative words” that also includes words that you have in genetive or nominative on separate lists. You will create ten times the amount of work for little to no ultimate payoff. Russian speakers look at a word and know what case it is because they know how words change. I can do that too sometimes, but even then I’ve found I still understand a lot even when I have no idea whether I’m looking at a genitive or accusative word.

As far as “what works best for me,” the LingQ approach has done wonders for my learning. I have barely touched flashcards in the last few years, but my vocabulary and ability to speak, read, and listen have all skyrocketed. Just keep reading and listening, preferably at a level where you are able to understand most of it, and as you keep finding new things at the appropriate level, you’ll learn a lot. I found the deliberate attempty to study vocab and use flashcards and whatnot was helpful at the beginning, but after you know a thousand or two words, I think their relative usefulness quickly goes down.


I see, thanks! So do you even touch the “Vocabulary” tab in LingQ? And when you come across a word in genitive form in a LingQ story, but you already have an entry for the nominative form of said word, do you still create a new entry for it?

For example, say you come across книги, but you already have an entry for книга, do you create a new entry for книги and specify it’s книга in genitive form? Or what do you personally do in that situation? (same with plural forms and such).

So I’m not a very methodical person unless the situation demands it, so my approach is probably less deliberate than many.

I occasionally touch the vocabulary tab, but I pretty much only use it to study “4” and “3” value words - the most common words. I also have somewhere around 20,000 saved words, so it is just untenable for me to really spend a lot of time with the less common ones.

If I don’t recognize a word, I’ll save it regardless of if I have another version of it saved already. A huge reason for this is that with 20,000 saved words, I would have to dig through and see if I already have a version of that word saved, which is just not worth it. In my opinion, it is far better to flag it and move on, and as I see that word or iterations of it more and more, I’ll eventually remember what it means. I’ll then mark them to known as I encounter them later on.

You bring up a good point that I often don’t do but probably should, which is include the nominative form when I save a unknown declined word. For me, I usually just care about what that word means in that context, and as I learn more, I find that I can often pick up what the root word is automatically, but it could be helpful to just include that from the start.

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Got it, so the method is more “learn vocabulary through exposure”, which is the name of the game I suppose when it comes to this platform ha. Not really flash card traditional style. I’ll make a note to maybe add another entry under the definition entry of a word, and put its “dictionary” form there. Thanks!

OK so I’m not there yet (I’m at best mid-intermediate listening comprehension)… but… here’s how I do my vocabulary:

I have my “core” vocabulary all in nominative in anki. I started with the 10,000 most common words of russian from wikipedia. I started working my way through them in anki. I’m now at 7,100.

Additonally, I “synch” my known anki words by importing the list into lingQ and then click them (in lingQ) as “known” so that I can better match those I “don’t know already” in lingQ against those I do already know in anki.

So… there’s a problem that you’ve identified…
All the bazillions of declensions…

So… If I see a word that is clearly the same word as one of the ones I know form anki (but it’s declined differently) then I just mark it as known.
If I don’t recognize the word (maybe I really don’t know it or maybe I hardly know it) then what I do is I put it into google translate and that usually gives me the undeclined word. Then if I like the meaning or the sound of the word I search for that word in anki.
If I don’t already have it, I add it into anki for memorization and then at some point down the line it will get marked as “known” in LingQ when I synch it.

Right now I’m trying to figure out a better way because it seems pretty slow.
So I’ve been looking at how to recognize “roots” and how to recognize “suffixes” so that I can more easily understand what the word means even if I don’t know it.

Anyhow… that’s all she wrote. My method for what it’s worth.
I’ve been at it about a year and a half now. I’m hoping I will achieve my target by the summer so I can start on Mandarin. But Russian is a tough nut to crack lol.

Yeah I find that you can get the gist of things even if you don’t know what case it’s in because most often the word order isn’t mental. It’s often close to the word order of English. I recognize that the word ending has changed but unless it’s a verb I can’t clearly tell specifically what case it is. I just about have some of the accusative down if I heard/see it ends in that y that sounds like oo.
Where I get screwed up is trying to reproduce correct cases. I don’t have cases or the endings memorized actively or not even passively so my spoken is pretty much all nominative which is obviously gibberish.

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I know you didn’t ask me (it was caldazar) but I only record the nominative. I assume the others are forms of the nominative and that therefore only the nominative is necessary. At some point obviously, it will be necessary to burn into memory the correct endings related to the various cases but not there yet.

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Thank you for sharing your technique! This seems to be the most organized way of going about it. Like you and I mentioned, it can get very cluttered with the amount of declensions. Do you do the same for verbs, only adding the dictionary form, or do you have another method for those (since verbs can get more complicated)?

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Hi, for verbs I put the fully conjugated version of the top 20 most common verbs into anki so I have more or less an idea of how they are formed. In the top 10,000 words it’s just the infinitive (dictionary form). But now, if I see a verb I like or that the sound of one of the conjugated forms doesn’t match/ring a bell in my memory I put it in, along with the infinitive (dictionary form). Typically for some reason it’s the first person one I have a hard time forming so I will probably put in (for example): понимать and Я понимаю.

A sentence of mostly nominative isn’t gibberish to a Russian speaker unless the word order makes it ambiguous. It may hurt their ears a little, but as long as you have enough in the sentence to make clear whether you’re speaking of a past, present, or future event, and what the relationship is between the actors or words in the sentence, they’ll understand you just fine.

Yeah, by all means go hard on the flash cards if you want. Don’t let me discourage you if you find them beneficial. I personally rarely use them at my current level in Russian, but there are a ton of very proficient language learners who have figured out how to make it work for them even at a higher level.

My point was mostly to not feel wedded to the idea that you have to use flash cards to get anywhere. You can learn a language without them as long as you are consistent at reading and listening to input that you can largely understand. You don’t have to perfectly understand, but at least 75% or so is probably a good estimate.

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@Caldazar: It’s not letting me reply to your post so I’m doing it here;

“You can learn a language without them as long as you are consistent”

This is the money shot right there. It’s consistent practice whether it’s reading, writing it out, flash cards, watching youtube, speaking from the start. As long as you do some of it every single day until you have done the necessary number of hours you will get there. This is the reason that there are multiple different methods espoused by different polyglots.

Personally I like refold, glossika, lkenna and master steve’s opinions and pick and choose from each of them according to what I feel like works for me.

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Sure. Language learning is done over time, and the more consistently the better. It’s more a question of how aggressive you want to be or are able to be with it. But method matters too. A thousand hours diligently spent on Duolingo will not produce the same result as a thousand hours on LingQ.

Steve was the first guy on Youtube that I found that said he didn’t focus on flashcards and all of these monotonous routines, but just kept reading and listening and he eventually picked up enough to be conversant. I was hooked, and I haven’t really looked back. I’m not sure who or what refold or glossika are, but I’m glad you’ve found ways to make them work for you as you learn Russian and other languages!

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For me it was Benny Lewis. I bought into Benny’s learn a language in six months because it sounded compelling. I didn’t follow his methods though lol. I found Steve a while later right at the tail-end of my French experiment and yes, Steve sounded like he was the real deal.
That said there are a couple dozen legitimate polyglots out there on the internet.

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Yeah Benny came across as a little gimmicky to me. I’m sure his method has its benefits, but I appreciated that Steve didn’t try to make it gimmicky, he didn’t sell it as “get rich quick,” and it was stuff that I could easily do without expending a ton of time hunting for cards or making them or whatever.

But there are a lot of ways that you can get fluent, sure. Luca has a way, Ikenna has a way, they all have ways. I just personally strongly prefer this one.

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As @Caldazar said I think the answer is to learn some grammar, then you can transform the word between its various forms. This is one of the issues I’m currently having with Italian. I’ve predominately only used LingQ and watched a few TV series in Italian. I have only skimmed the LingQ grammar guide and a few tiny articles of grammar. One of my main issues I’m having at the moment is I don’t know how to conjugate even regular verbs. I have rote learnt certain common conugations like “I am,” but I can’t produce conjugations I’ve never enountered before. Eg. I know the word “to walk” and I know how to say “I am walking” and “I walk,” but I don’t know how to say “we walk.” This could be fixed with studying some grammar and doing some grammar and conjugation drills. (But I’ve really been procrastinating it…) You can do the same with Russian nouns in various cases. Once you understand how each noun transforms in each case, then you don’t need to specify the case and just write your LingQ definition in English. For Italian adjectives, which change by gender, I know the easy rules, so I don’t need to say this is the “feminine singular” version of it. I just write it’s an adjective and the English translation.

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Yeah that makes sense to me and I think you’re right. If (like me) you have “optimized” your time you might only have done “I walk” and “he/she walks” etc but not all of them. Means that if we run into something uncommon (to us) then we will have a delay or a mental block when we hear something unfamiliar and then we will lose the rest of the sentence while the brain focuses on the shiny.

It’s even worse when the verb is irregular.

I’m also discovering that the simple russian grammar book I had lied.
(well it didn’t lie - I only read a couple chapters ha) and it turns out that there is more to russian grammar than I expected beyond the cases and declensions. It seemed initially that russian grammar was (other than the cases) ridiculously simple compared to latin languages like italian, spanish or french. But I might be mistaken.

e.g. I just noticed a couple weeks ago (from lingQ as it happens) that russian in fact has a way to say -ing and my brain somehow noticed it and figured it out.

What I can say though is that my noticing ability seems to have levelled up in the last couple weeks. I have hit some kind of a threshold where I can notice a lot more things.

It’s a process.

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Interesting conversation about Russian, thanks and about the usefulness of learning some grammar. I think I agree with Steve Kaufman that we as adults often tend to over concentrate on grammar study and not do enough natural language immersion through reading and listening to the language. I like his idea that we should do a little grammar once we have some fair amount of exposure to the language. Think I have an interesting idea for a tool to help with that. To help with recognising the grammar patterns in the language we have already been exposed to.

I am learning Polish that also has quite a complex case system. Not sure if it is more complex than Russian but some people say that it is one of the most difficult languages in the world for an English speaker to learn! Partly I feel because it is badly taught. :rofl: (It is very common for some reason for lessons to be all about grammar and for that grammar to be explained in Polish even for beginner students who all share English comprehension, for example.)

Anyway since I am feeling the same need to organise my vocabulary efforts as you guys I am building a tool to do so.

My ideas is to download all my content from lingq (built a tool to do this yesterday, see my post in this forum Export your lingq text content as a tree of files to Google drive ) and use the spaCy natural language processing tool to analyse the grammar in my content.

Here I have set up a demo of use of the spacy python library, my app is set up to analyse now 25 languages including Russian. :

spaCy is a very capable app that can analyse the grammar of a sentence and understand the grammatical structure of that sentence.

I am thinking that I want to use this software so we can build a catalogue of all the sentences in our lingq content so that we can then for example pull up a list of sentences with nouns in them that are of the instrumental case, that are male nouns for example. So that we can have a catalogue of sentences that we are familiar with that we can group by grammatical features.

I think this will be a very powerful way to help us recognise the patterns of the grammatical feature we want to concentrate on.

So for me for Polish, as the whim takes me I might review the following from my lingq content:

  • all the sentences with different present forms of the być verb “to be”. In all the different declensions.
    • If these is a particular declension I want to concentrate, for example third person plural, on then I can look at just examples in my lingq content of those forms of the verb.
  • I might then move on to reviewing past tense uses of the same verb, etc.
  • Cases are tough in Polish. I might move through looking at the cases methodically. Grabbing all sentence examples with nouns in the nominative case to start with. Get more familiar with how to identify masculine, feminine and neutral nouns with all the exceptions to the rules, etc. Get familiar with examples of plural nouns in the nominative.
  • Move on to other noun cases.
  • Grab examples of adjectives in those different cases, get familiar with adjective endings changing, what the patterns are. Review common exceptions.

I am thinking this will be a useful activity to do once or twice a week in addition to my daily reading and listening.

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Yesterday I had a brief look at Lute, which is based on LWT. One thing that I like about it, is that it’s possible to indicate that a ‘form’ is actually a derivative of another base word. What I also liked is that it’s possibly to link images to words, although that’s not super important, it only works well mostly for nouns. But the possibility to indicate that a word and all its declensions/conjugations is in reality the same word, would be a nice feature.