I want to learn Russian! But where do I start?

This languages looks very scary. If you could start learning Russian again would you start with the mini stories?

I have been wanting to learn Russian for so many years now, but kept holding off because I wanted to reach this imaginary level in German and French first. But who knows when ill actually get there. I figure let’s just start learning Russian now, why keep waiting.


Romanian felt impossible for me with the mini stories, but after I finally finished the sixtieth I actually realized that the most basic core words and conjunctions were in my memory. I suggest you try them out, them, the eating out story. They’re all good introductions to the language.

I know Cyrillic fluently, I taught myself it by basically writing down what each corresponding letter in the Latin alphabet was and I began writing English in Cyrillic just to get as firm a grasp as possible on the alphabet. Maybe it’s smarter to do so with the corresponding sounds of Russian instead? But I feel like after learning Cyrillic, learning the Russian sounds was just the same as learning the sounds of like German or French letters in Latin. Once you have the alphabet it’s not as scary.


I mean, you can, but it might be more helpful to do a quick-start beginners course first, where you learn cyrillic and some basic grammar.

For instance, here’s one:

There’s also another YouTube channel, which you might be interested in, called Comprehensible Russian. The host speaks slowly and draws to try and teach you some beginner vocabulary.


Hi Mark,

I’d say Michel Thomas for Russian (Foundation + Adv. Courses).

It’s a “grammar light” approach that works extremely well for more distant L2s (compared to our L1).

Without it, I would have given up Japanese years ago (ok, not really. I’m more of a masochistic learning type :-)).

However, you have to check first if the quality is ok. I only know the Japanese courses (Beginner and Advanced) of Michel Thomas. But here is a YT review of it: Michel Thomas Method Russian Review - YouTube

BTW, a similar approach is “Language Transfer” (https://www.languagetransfer.org/). Unfortunately, they don’t offer Russian.

After that, I’d use:

  • the Memrise courses for Russian
  • learn Cyrillic (see Dominic’s post below)
  • maybe Pimsleur

And then the usual (ultra-)reading while listening-approach on LingQ (Mini Stories, etc.).

PS -
My favorite hairdressers are Russians.
So I’d talk to them as well.
How good that I’m not bald :slight_smile:


I can verify that the Russian Michel Thomas Beginner course is a great introduction to Russian. It’s done by a native Russian speaker and not Michel Thomas himself, so you actually have a good accent. You can find the ‘advanced’ (i.e. A1.1+) course on YouTube.

Michel Thomas courses are somewhat pricey, but maybe you can find them elsewhere. Or at the bare minimum, download the Advanced course from YouTube, then you only need to pay for the beginner course.

Personally, I preferred the Michel Thomas Beginner course for Russian over the Language Transfer Italian course. But I can’t comment on the other languages.


You could do worse than Duolingo* for the script and some basic vocabulary and grammar, followed by LingQ Mini-Stories, followed by other content on and off LingQ.

*don’t expect to finish the Duolingo course. The returns diminish rather quickly, and from that point on I think you’re better off with LingQ + grammar lookup if and when desired.


Ok, I’m gonna be the Devil’s Advocate so you can balance a little bit. The others have already given you resources to start with, I want to consider only the opposite in this case.

Russian is not scary, it is just a language as any other language. I wanted to learn Russian and Chinese lots of years ago but then life went into a different direction and I had to compromise. I’m not done yet but I had to “reschedule” or maybe even let go. It is alright, life is life.

Each language takes time and you know already that depending on our native language, target language and goals, this time can vary a lot.

You ask: “why keep waiting”. I give you some reasons to consider.


Imaginary level

  • stop to have an imaginary level and decide a pragmatic level. Define a precise goal so you won’t have an imaginary definition anymore which will allow you to work on something more concrete. Less anxiety, easier to plan and conquer.

who knows when I’ll get there.

  • you can calculate that as well if you define your target level, plus the time that you have available. You can break it down on your daily practice and have more or less the idea when you will be done. If you move from an imaginary level to a pragmatic level, it’ll be easier to you to understand your trajectory.

Now, why keep waiting, a few random ideas to consider:

You have already a good vocabulary on German, you are the only one that knows your real level but with an extra effort you could make it solid.

You could decide between French and German and at least make one stronger. Unless your French is already strong enough.

You could have a sense of accomplishment if you achieve your goal with one language opening the door to be more confidence when you will start Russian.

If I’m not mistaken, Russian language has six cases to deal with. German has four.
I personally wouldn’t start Russian if my German cases weren’t solid and if I still had difficulties with them. Otherwise I would be quite confident that this will bring me to failure with the new language.

If you start a new language you will have less time with the others, which mean losing a lot quicker the progress that you have made so far. If you are not into maintenance mode, it could be difficult to manage all of them at the same time.

Hope it helps.


I’ve started Russian, a year or two back but didn’t carry it very far (3 words known!) as German and Spanish are my focus. I wouldn’t start with the mini stories. I’d first learn the alphabet and the sounds. There is a lesson/course on LingQ for the alphabet and the sounds. I’d start there.

I’d probably also focus on some of the easier courses/lessons before the mini stories personally (or try many of the other suggestions here by others already). I would also probably do the official Memrise course to get started. It also has the alphabet as it’s first lesson.

No suggestions after that, sorry! I assume some of the Russian learners will chime in.


Some disjointed thoughts…

Evgueny Bokhanovsky (evgueny40) has created a ton of very useful beginner Russian material (and more) for Lingq. But I don’t know how browse one contributor’s material to find a certain kind of lesson.

The alphabet is easy. It’s phonetic for the most part. Many of the letters are from Greek which helps if you know that alphabet. So “У” makes sense if you relate it to Upsilon instead of “Y”, e.g. And “Р” from Rho, etc. The alphabet is a nice fit to the phonology of the language. Transliterated Russian using the Latin alphabet awkwardly requires a greater number of letters, making Russian’s famously long words look even longer. (West Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet have had to modify it with lots of diacritics and weird łęttęrś.)

Learn some letters, then learn some words written with those letters. Then some more letters and more words. I’d be surprised if any lessons meant to teach the alphabet weren’t organized this way, really.

Don’t be scared by the grammar. I’ve dipped a toe into German, and its grammar almost seems a bastard child between English (no cases) and Russian (extensive cases). It feels to me that Russian grammar is more consistent and structured than German’s, which can help. (Admittedly I’m not expert on German.) The expanded case system (compared to German) helps you more easily see what the role of a word is in a sentence.

Russian genders are much easier than German – there are relatively few words that are not immediately identifiable as masculine, feminine, or neuter.

Not to say there are no challenges. German felt much more familiar, as an English speaker, than Russian. But the challenges are hardly insurmountable. It’s an Indo-European language, so structurally it is more familiar than Korean or Guarani or Arabic.

There are many fewer English cognates in Russian than German, but Russian has borrowed a lot from both languages and shares their Indo-European roots. Can you guess what German word means the same thing as люди (lyudi)? (Spoiler: Leute)

I didn’t learn Russian from scratch here, which limits the range of advice I can give. The approach to grammar that we took in school, though, seemed to make sense and to work: Learn about a certain case and read material that uses it. You can’t have sentences with all one case, of course, but you can still concentrate on recognizing and understanding one case at a time. That can ease things.

Some people pooh-pooh the idea of studying grammar tables. In my personal experience I think it helped. You may not want to make it the center of your study, but the case endings form a certain pattern than IMO makes them easier to remember if you slightly rearrange the “standard” order of case tables to Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Prepositional, Dative, Instrumental. Reviewing an organized presentation once in a while can help make sense of the seeming chaos. But if you’re just starting out, you’re probably a ways from having to think about this sort of thing.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions here when you’re stumped! There are a lot of helpful native Russian speakers and learners here to help. (I think I’ll be around more than I have been for a while, because I want to revive my German learning prior to a trip thither in the autumn.)

Good luck!


This is actually the approach I’ve taken as I’ve started learning Russian for the past 3-4 weeks. I started with Duolingo since they now have a built-in way to learn the script, and I’m going through some of the beginning of the course to get some basic vocabulary/practice reading the script without having to deal with the daunting task of trudging through an entire mini story. Sooner or later, though, I’ll definitely have to switch to LingQ as in the long run, it’ll be a much faster and effective way to continue learning the language.


Just don’t be discouraged if you switch to LingQ and it feels like you suddenly got much worse at it. I made the experience in multiple languages (but especially in Russian as that was my main focus for years) that I failed at first (or indeed, many times over) to recognize even basic vocabulary that I had already learned on Duolingo, or forgotten basic grammar structures, etc.

It seems to me that between Duolingo, Mini-Stories, more advanced LingQ content, and finally authentic language without LingQ as “backup”, there is a kind of leap that your brain needs to take to get used to the new context, and get used to doing without the “training wheels” you had before.

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Absolutely, every time you jump to a new “level” of content (Duo → Mini Stories → beginner content, etc.), there’s definitely an adjustment period! I’m really looking forward to it though - it’s such an interesting language and script, so the payoff will hopefully be worth the initial difficulties.


So I can tell you how to start from scratch and get to high beginner/low intermediate with no ability to speak. But I can read and I can understand schoolteacher style russian.

What I did was this:
memorized the first 2,000 frequency words of russian using anki. Took a couple months.
At the same time I watched all of the videos in this course:
Zero Beginner (all videos)
Then I watched all of the videos in this course:

*Note: you have to change hxxps to https

Then I listened to all the mini stories.

I did other stuff after that but there are pros and cons to my approach after this. That said, doing the above got me to beginner 2.

I suspect russian will be easier for you if you know german because the cases won’t explode your head.
I understand what they are now but can’t use them very well if at all.
Anyhow good luck.


Second comprehensible Russian.
Maria Petrova’s A1 course is a step up after doing comprehensible russian.
Then there is of course Russian with Max.


One thing I’ll point out about cases. Even though I don’t have cases burned into my head I can still kind of understand even without having a clear picture of cases. Reason why is most of the time the word order is sort of similar to English anyway. So you don’t particularly need cases for comprehension.
It’s for speaking that you really need them IMHO.


@xxdb Yeah, her course is great! It’s probably better to do after maybe 50-100 hours of Russian though, as otherwise a lot will go straight over your head. Like what you recommended above.


Definitely recommend Daria’s materials for beginners, and she recently came out with an even better beginner course very recently.

Be sure to check out her TPRS podcasts wherever you get your podcasts.

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I love Russian with Max; I listen to his podcast a lot.

But I think Sergei’s Beginner Playlist on his Russian From Afar youtube channel is stuff more accessible to beginners.

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Plus a lot of Natasha Brown’s videos on her youtube channel are fairly accessible to beginners, I think.

Here is one of hers I really liked as a beginner:

“7.7 Что это? Кофе или чай? (What is it? Coffee or tea?) RUSSIAN 0”

I can also recommend two paid graded readers in the LingQ Store. I did them after the Mini Stories and Olly Richards’ Crazy Dumplings story.

Queen of Spades

Scarlet Sails

They are interesting stories and considering how many times you will repeat the story, it’s worth the investment. With a new alphabet, it just takes a long time to associate the new letters with sounds at a subconscious level, so you really do need to do lots of repetition of reading while listening.

@mark.e But nothing scary about Russian at all. It just takes time.