Learning Russian - Told I was learning wrong?

I have a good friend who is criticizing the way I learn languages, and this friend has learned a few languages all through speaking with tutors. My friend is very much a perfectionist, but wanted to help me learn some Russian. Every book, video, and thought I present is shot down within seconds as not being a correct way to learn, or horrible material. I’m learning from using this site, along with listening to Russian audio. One book I’ve been using is The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners.

My friend believes I should spend a year or longer and learn each letter until I can say the sounds perfectly. My friend also says I should memorize each rule for the different sounds of each letter depending on usage… I’ve tried a few tutoring lessons with my friend and it would appear when I say some words my stress is off, and I say the word too fast… Or I didn’t do this or that right, ect… Then my friend gets angry with my mistakes. When I read some Russian I can remember words by seeing them, but writing is another story. I can recognize some words when listening as well.

Should I really be learning to listen, speak, then read and write first? After today my motivation to learn languages dropped from being very happy with my slow progress in reading, and listing, to not wanting to learn all together. Apparently if I “learn” the wrong way to say a word, and/or letter, my friend believes it will be very hard to break the habit… I disagree, when children learn to speak they can spend a very long time (years), saying a word wrong until they can fully sound out letters.

Any thoughts?

I use that book too to learn russian. But if you only spend time on the sounds, you might waste a lot of time. You choose how to learn. I think your friend is a bit unfair. I think reading and listening to russian is very useful. It helps me get use to the sounds and also helps me understand the cyrillic alphabet. You should do what you find enjoyful. You need to know words before you can speak. I also know perfectionism is a bad thing to have in language learning. I know from experience…


It’s true that we learn our native language(s) by listening first, then speaking, then reading and finally writing.
And this is the way we should learn a foreign language.

But, in order to do this, we need available, comprehensive and patient native speakers, teaching us the foreign language gradually, like parents do with their children (the TPR and TPRS methods are excellent for this).

Sadly, it’s not easy to find these available, comprehensive and patient native speakers, and you need to schedule “meetings” on a regular basis which, again, is not easy if you have children or are busy with your job.
And it can be quite expensive if these native speakers are teachers/tutors.

Thus, I think the LingQ method is definitely the most practical and convenient way to learn a language for most people. You should stick to it if it fits your schedule and your goals.
You can of course listen to your friend and learn from his experience, but keep in mind that you are two different persons : what is good for him might not be good for you (and reciprocally).

Thank you for the responses. I guess the issue is my friend believes there is only one true way to learn, and unless I follow their way I will not succeed. My friend was very angry with me because I choose to read before speaking Russian. I’m able to sound out most letters, just not all, and sometimes my ‘word stress’ is off, but then my friend gets mad if I don’t do it right. I guess this is a patience issue. As with any thing in life, I learned by trial and error, not by attempting perfection at every attempt. I also learn by doing something over and over until I get it right. I hope I can get motivated again soon, so I get back into Russian.

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Every person can have an own method of learning.
Some people learn better ‘with eyes’, some others ‘with ear’, and someone ‘with a hand’, by writing.
Lingq system can give you different opportunities because you can read and listen to your lessons at the same time and you can try to write as well, and a bit later to speak.
You must have only patience adding gradually new texts and new words and constructions.
If you are in the beginning you can try my lessons in the Russian library of Lingq:“Первые шаги” (First steps) and Русский с нуля (Russian from ‘zero’ )
Good luck with Russian!


Thank you!

Of course it’s important to have an understanding of the sounds of the alphabet… ultimately. HOWEVER, by no means do you need to have perfect pronunciation before learning anything else. That’s ridiculous and counterproductive. Don’t let your friend bully you into one particular way of learning. Seriously. You may be a completely different type of learner. But there’s no use in getting stuck on one thing and wasting time that could be spent on other areas of the language. Pronunciation will improve with the learning.

Thank you for the replies. I do phonetics some mornings to practice, but other than that I work on obtaining a larger vocabulary. I may not know that some words are said differently than how they’re written due to voiced and voiceless consonants rule, but I’m learning. Unless I feel progression, I wont stay motivated, and being able to read a little bit of Russian helps me to stay in learning mode. Yes, many words I don’t say right, but if I have a basic idea of how the word sounds, I’m sure I will learn overtime by hearing the proper way the word is said on radio and pod casts.

I’ve done some Russian today, so I’m getting back into the grove of things, thankfully!

In six years of learning Russian I have spent zero hours learning pronunciation. I know what it should sound like because I listen to Russians speaking it. Admittedly I speak Russian with a British accent, but no Russian seems to have any trouble understanding me.

@ skyblueteapot

Every Russian I have met speaks English with a Russian accent, so I would not worry about it. It would be rather strange if I met a Russian who did not speak with a Russian accent.

I don’t understand why people talk about reducing their accent. Why is this an issue? Is it a confidence thing, or is it about being more understandable? I don’t find when people speak English with a strong accent that I have any trouble understanding them. It is only pronunciation that seems to matter.


Как интересно =) у разных людей в разных странах одинаковые проблемы.

“I don’t understand why people talk about reducing their accent. Why is this an issue? Is it a confidence thing, or is it about being more understandable?”

It’s one thing to have a slight accent (e.g. to sound a bit French when speaking English), and another thing to have such a thick accent that nobody can understand you (believe me, I’ve heard nearly unintelligible English from students at the university).

On the whole, reducing the traces of one’s native accent (or rather, adding the elements of a native accent in the target language) is something I think most learners would find beneficial, but not INSTEAD OF learning vocabulary, refining grammar, sentence structure, idomatic usage etc.

There’s no point in sounding “native” if you have a vocabulary of 300 words and can’t understand the responses from real natives.

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That is true. I remember watching a talk in English by a Russian whose accent was so strong that I barely understood a word he said.

However, there must be other reasons why people want to sound native. For example, I am pretty sure that if Luca did not concentrate on sounding like a native, he would still be speaking perfectly understandable English. I wonder what these reasons are. Could it be that some people want to sound more native to help them with their confidence? A lot of people won’t feel confident in social situations if they stick out as an outsider. For such people, maybe trying to sound more like a native is a very good idea - confidence is of course very important.

There are various views on the importance of a good accent as well as how to achive one. Some people can mimick a foreign accent relatively well, some have methods for it (e.g. Olle “Speech doctor” Kjellin). If some people can do it from the very beginning or learn to do it during the first months (e.g. through the chorusing method), I don’t see any point in postponing that.

But some people just don’t think it’s possible so they give up before even trying.

Do you have any idea why Luca Lampariello puts so much effort into it? I have not watched many of his videos. I can’t imagine he needs the accent in order to be confident. Maybe he does it because his language abilities will be more of an achievement if he is able to speak his languages with minimal accents.

ad UkrCharmRussa: With all due respect, your “friend” sounds like the worst teacher, tutor, learning partner I can imagine. Getting angry at someone because he or she does not do things the way I want him to do them is at best childish and at worst incredibly arrogant. People who want to help you, offer advice and support and let you decide what to do with it.

I have never ever studied languages the way your friend seems to think is the only way that will help you achieve a good accent. As I have said on other occasions, I think an accent is only a problem if it hinders conversation (I totally agree with Jeff here), the rest is a nice touch but does not say much about your conversational abilities in that language. Of course, I also try to imitate accents and I want to get as close as possible but I don’t get frustrated if I still sound like a foreigner after many years of studies. Personally, I think that many foreigners speaking German with an accent sound very charming or at least interesting.

If somebody wants to be a perfectionist, that is fine with me, but if people try to force their “way of thinking” upon others I just walk away and find myself a more respectful partner. Your “friend” (why would he even act like that if he is a friend of yours?) sounds like a very unpleasant learning partner. Are you sure you want to keep practising with him?

@ lovelanguagesII - I am going way off topic here, but I have a question that I think you, as an Austrian, might have an interesting answer for. I am living in Vienna, and will be here for a long time. This is why I am learning German of course. I am interested in also learning to understand the Austrian dialect (I don’t care about speaking it), but I find it difficult to find any materials online, or in book shops, for learning to understand dialect. Do you have any recommendations for where I can find material to learn from?

I heard some guy at a party a few weeks ago telling a story in dialect, and to be honest, without the help of context, I would never have even guessed that he was speaking German.

ad ColinPhilipJohnstone

First of all, I hope you’ll have a great time in Austria. Going abroad is always both a bit of an adventure and an interesting way to learn more about other people. As for your question, I’m not sure if I can help you. Like in many other countries, there is not one dialect but a group of quite different local dialects. Somebody speaking in “Viennese” sounds really different from somebody speaking in my local dialect (I live in southern Styria) and the Carinthian dialects are different again.

Of course, there are certain common traits that characterize most Austrian dialects. I don’t think there is any study material to help you familiarize yourself with a specific dialect. A few days ago I read in one of our local papers that they actually offered a course in one of the Viennese “Volkshochschulen” (for those not living in Austria, these are institutions similar to community colleges or adult education centres) for people interested in learning how to swear in Viennese :wink:

After some uproar in the local news, they had to cancel the course though.

I don’t know what kind of dialect the guy you are referring to was speaking in.

I think the only way to actually learn a dialect is to keep listening and trying to find someone who will “translate” some of the expressions for you. I have some American friends who have been living here for about 20 years and they understand our dialects just as well as I do. They just kept listening and then asked questions.

If you want we could also try and talk about this in more detail on skype. If you send me a pm to my youtube account and give me your skype id, we can try and have a chat.

I can give you a short example of how I sound when I speak in dialect to give you an idea of how well you may already understand what I am writing (listening to spoken dialect, of course, is slightly different again but the written form should give you some idea of what to expect :wink:

Standard German:

Ich finde deine Frage sehr interessant. Ich weiß zwar nicht, ob ich sie wirklich beantworten konnte, aber ich hoffe, ich konnte dir doch ein wenig weiterhelfen. Wenn du willst, können wir versuchen, über skype miteinander zu sprechen.

My dialect:

I find dei Frog echt interessant. I waß zwoa net, ob i’s wirkli beantwoatn kennan hob, oba i hoff i hob da a bissl weitahöfn kennan. Waunn’st wüst, kenn ma amoi probian üba skype mitanaunda z’redn.

It looks worse than it sounds :wink:

Sorry for not being able to help you more with this.



It seems to me that your dialect is not so very far removed from the way people speak in the southern parts of Bayern. For example: “a-bissle” instead of “ein Bisschen” is something that I heard very often when I lived there - so much so that I assimilated it myself! (Experience has taught me that it usually draws a complete blank with folks from Northern Germany however! :-D)

I’m pretty sure that “i find” instead of “ich finde” was also typical of the Southern German I was hearing.

ad Jay: You are absolutely right. Many of our dialects are “Bajuwarian” dialects. I understand Bavarians a lot better than people from Vorarlberg for example who speak in a completely different dialect (which is much closer to Swiss German). While I greatly appreciate the fact that there are “standard forms of speech” which allow for people from different regions to communicate with each other, I would not want to give up speaking in my dialect when talking to friends and family. Even though I normally speak in somewhat of a “mixture between dialect and standard German” when I don’t have to work, I just love the way you can express certain things in a dialect. A word like “dasteßn” is so much more colourful than the standard word “stolpern”. Besides, the word “dasteßn” has many more meanings than just “stolpern” or “straucheln”.