One year of Russian

Всем привет! Today marks one year since I began seriously studying Russian. I really enjoy reading about other people’s milestones in their language learning journeys, so I wanted to add my own to the pool. For the past 365 days I’ve studied an average of an hour a day, but the time can vary from 15 minutes to several hours depending on my schedule. This post will be entirely in English because I still can’t output Russian very well (Like Steve Kaufmann recommends, I’ll start speaking when I’m comfortable, and right now I’m not haha). However, I’m mostly excited about my progress in reading comprehension and listening, and I’m planning to start practicing Russian cursive since my freehand writing is pretty solid.

Quick backstory: I grew up in a completely monolingual environment, but I’d always wanted to be able to speak another language. As I grew older and got into an international school, I had many multilingual friends whom I deeply envied. I thought I wanted to learn something pretty like French or Italian, but I knew I’d never get to use it. Russian was by far my favorite language to listen to, but I was convinced it was too difficult. So I decided to learn Spanish, since it seemed to be the most practical option. After college I had moved to Los Angeles for work, and I lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, had a Venezuelan roommate, and made friends from Spain, Ecuador, and Argentina. I tried Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Duolingo, italki, Lingq, listened to songs, watched movies, etc., and never got fluent. I blame this mostly on shyness and, as I found out later, lack of interest. I had no realistic plans to use Spanish; I just wanted to be able to speak another language.

Then the pandemic uprooted me from my life in LA and back to my rural hometown. It was hard at first, but eventually I decided to use it as an opportunity to start fresh and finally pursue the interests I never had time for before, like fitness, painting, and Russian culture. I read Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin, the first book I’d ever read translated from Russian. I was intrigued by the introduction from translator Lisa C. Hayden describing the book: “…Vodalzkin’s language - which blends archaic words, comic remarks, quotes from the Bible, bureaucratese, chunks of medieval texts, and much more - reflects the novel’s actions.” I had never visualized language as such a treasure trove. If the English version of the book was as good as I believed it was, I could only imagine the richness of its source.

So I started learning the Cyrillic alphabet on Duolingo. People understandably hate on Duolingo, but the points system and dumb cartoons kept me motivated, and I could easily practice Russian while I was bored at work. After I beat Duolingo, I felt comfortable enough to start using Lingq (I’d used Lingq before with Spanish and thought it was the most effective). It was extremely difficult at first because I still wasn’t a strong reader, but supplementing with YouTube channels and podcasts (shoutout to Russian with Max, Russian with Dasha and Russian Progress) strengthened my listening skills and vocabulary retention. Even if I didn’t understand what was going on, I just enjoyed listening to the language being spoken as if it were background music. I listened to rock songs and watched a bunch of movies (Остров and Служебный Роман being my absolute favorites). I worked through all of the Lingq mini stories before moving on to materials provided by Evgueny Bokhanovsky (I am currently studying with День за днём and Разговоры с Евгением and learning a LOT - that man is a godsend!). I became addicted to learning Russian in the same way someone might get addicted to chess or jiu jitsu - the mental work required brought so much satisfaction, and carried over into other areas of my life in a positive way.

The best part of it though, was the rebirth involved. My other language-learning efforts were relatively fruitless because I was simply trying to mirror my English world into another one. My ego blocked me from any significant breakthroughs. With Russian, there was no room for ego; I couldn’t even read or pronounce “hello”. The only way to start was from complete scratch, as if I was a newborn baby in a Russian-speaking world that I could curate through the Internet. Learning to write letters, sounding them out, copying somebody else’s writing, and trudging through difficult texts out of pure curiosity was the exact same process I used to learn my native language.
Now, one year later, three pieces of advice that I received early on still ring true to this day:

  1. Bald and Bankrupt: “Drill this into your head: vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary!” While I am a bit of a grammar nerd, not worrying about it is, ironically, helping the grammar click into place. The devil truly is in the details. Do Not Study Russian Grammar! - YouTube
  2. Angelos Georgakis: “Guys, write everything down!” This video was by far the most encouraging for me. He shows all the notebooks he filled during his learning process. So far I’ve filled two notebooks and I’m in the middle of my third :slight_smile: How You Will Learn Russian Fast 🇷🇺🚀 - YouTube
  3. And Steve Kaufmann himself (I don’t remember the specific video but I’m sure he’s said this many times), “It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take.” I’ve applied this advice to my life in general and it’s made me a lot happier.
    As a very impatient person with a tendency to reinvent the wheel, these three things helped me stay on course, enjoy the process, and keep my brain absorbent in a way never before with other pursuits. As of right now, I don’t have any specific goals with Russian other than to reread Laurus in its original version. I don’t personally know any Russian people and unfortunately traveling to Russia anytime soon doesn’t seem likely. But nonetheless, I feel this lack of planning allows for more spontaneity and enjoyment. This past year I have learned so much more than I could’ve ever imagined and hopefully within the next six months or so I will feel comfortable enough to hire a tutor and actually start speaking. In the meantime I will keep riding this wave and see where it takes me.

Это все! Большое спасибо и пока пока!

congrats on your progress. I can tell you are going to reach a high level because you really enjoy the language and have the right kinds of motivations.

Great update. Do you use any other resources or apps besides LingQ?

Interesting and well written. Congrats on your progress and best of luck with your continuing endeavors.

I read Laurus (Лавр) in Russian a few years ago with much help from LingQ. It is as good as you anticipate! Very rich and atmospheric, a very different place and time. But since it was not a translation I did not have the translator’s notes to prepare me for the archaisms and made-up words. I peppered the help forum here with some phrases that were as puzzling to native speakers as to me. :slight_smile: Once I figured out what was going on, I left them alone and puzzled it out on my own with various online sources. Interesting fact: I’ve peeked a bit into Ukrainian and recognize some of those archaic words in Лавр (from old Slavonic or whatever) in contemporary Ukrainian. “Як”, e.g.

I think I’ve commented on Bald and Bankrupt here before. He makes friends wherever he goes and has wonderful conversations, even though his grammar is awful. Still, would you rather make friends and hold broken conversations with 40k words, or have 4k words and be unable to express anything with your perfect grammar? Not to pooh-pooh the grammar – it carries so much semantic weight in Russian – but you need those words!


thank you :slight_smile:

thanks! as of right now not really, but I did buy an illustrated version of Vladimir Dahl’s dictionary off eBay that I think will really help further down the road with some of the archaic vocabulary in literature.

Thank you for sharing! Now I’m looking even more forward to Лавр. And I absolutely agree about the grammar; it all boils down to understanding, although as Raoul Duke says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right”! Plus as a far as I can tell, Russian grammar is quite logical compared to English grammar which is all over the place, so I am hopeful. :slight_smile:

A couple of thoughts about the grammar. The word order in simple conversational Russian is usually quite close to English, so the grammar is often not too critical for understanding. However, if we say that words are important (duh!), consider the words that are absent because of the grammar. i.e., situations where English uses a preposition but Russian uses a case with no preposition. It’s the instrumental and dative cases that I probably most have in mind. A basic understanding of common prepositions is one of the earlier milestones of learning a language, but here we often find prepositions replaced by grammatical case.

The word order of straightforward sentences will often help make the meaning clear if the case endings do not. However, literature and other non-conversational writing and speech can employ long complex sentences that I’ve needed to carefully parse to get the gist of. Often an adjective will be found here, and the noun that it modifies will be found waaay over there, with only the common case tieing them together. Or verb number and gender is needed to help differentiate the subject from an object that is not declined.

In some situations the context will help. My tired example is “Собака укусила девушку” vs. “Собаку укусила девушка”. Same word order, very different meaning! When consuming input, the context might make it clear. But when producing output, you could cause a bit of surprised consternation if you get it wrong. :slight_smile: I remember watching one B&B video where he was stopped and questioned by a border guard. I don’t remember what it was that he was saying, but I remember cringing at the grammar and thinking that he’d better be more careful, or what he says could be taken the wrong way and get him in a lot of trouble!

I’d like to add that it also takes much more time to acquire words compared to grammar (at least grammar that’s good enough). So given a choice I’ll take the words please. Also, if you know lots of words and have poor grammar then you can still understand what people are telling you. Having perfect grammar and a small vocabulary doesn’t do much for comprehension.

Привет и спасибо тебе за вдохновление!

Good job!
I did not know that bald and bankrupt’s grammar was horrendous.
That’s hilarious. And wierdly motivating.
I’m also a huge believer in words, words, words.
I believe my grammar is likely worse than B & B’s hahahaha

Здорово! Час в день это много. Я хотел бы читать по-французски час в день, но времени (и сил) хватает в среднем минут на пятнадцать-двадцать. Правда, я еще слушаю французские подкасты и смотрю Youtube, так что, наверное, в сумме будет минут сорок в день.

You can still make a lot of progress on 15-20 minutes a day. I have done so. It’s taking more years to match others, but I’m still progressing. Now that I do understand more, I’m able to read more and add in more listening and viewing so overally I’m probably spending over an hour a day, but for reading probably still around 15-20 minutes a day.

I never write notes, I tried it once for about a week, revised them a couple of times, but never looked back at those notes again. It took too much time (time I could be using to get more input) and they were only “retained” in the very short term, completely forgotten years later. I guess if you’re constantly revising then it might help, but then the time that would take up would probably cut your input in half, especially if you keep adding to them. If you’ve found a way to make it work for you then great. I’d like to know the secret actually, haha.

Well done on sticking with Russian, it’s a tough language for us monolingual English speaking natives. I briefly dabbled with Russian and Mandarin, eventually settling for Spanish because I didn’t have the balls. :grin:

привет и пожалуйста :slight_smile:

By writing notes how do you mean? My note process right now is just freehand copying texts from Lingq, which is time-consuming but also enjoyable because it feels like “decoding”. I never go back to read anything after that, I just move on. It’s kind of like if you’re drawing in a sketchbook, and sometimes you have to make ugly sketches to warm up your hand to the movements before your drawings are legible. I think it’s effective because I’m noticing my literacy speeding up and I can spell longer words from memory, i.e. today I learned индивидуальные because I wrote it in pen like four times haha.

But I guess it also depends on your learning style and also how different your target language is from your native. I know a guy who is slowly learning Arabic by writing everything down, whereas my brother moved to Brazil a few years ago and learned to speak professional Portuguese just by talking to people.

Haha right?! I’m oddly encouraged :laughing:

To be fair I never had the cojones either but once you succeed at a pretty good level you’re realize you actually CAN do it and you can make the attempt.

I can tell you right off the bat: IMO Russian grammar is ridiculously simple compared to Spanish EXCEPT FOR the cases. Vocabulary it has way way way less cognates so every single word is a “hard” one to memorize. But otherwise I’m pleasantly surprised to find that although the initial zero-to-intermediate stage took three times as long as it did for Spanish and then French, it did in fact follow exactly the same path.
And I can in fact now understand Russian to a reasonable degree.
And I can speak it worse than Bald and Bankrupt but I can.
So it’s doable.

Encouragement is 90% of the battle in language learning I find.

I thought the same thing, I HATED Spanish grammar. I could never really nail past/future tenses, which made me mad because I couldn’t understand stories which are the best part! So when Russian was like "Future: add буд-. past: add “-ал/ала”, I was shocked hahaha.

Also I’m totally going to use B&B to measure my grammar progress from now on. There’s a recent-ish Russian interview with Joanna Stingray speaking confidently with a very thick American accident and I use that as motivation to not sound like that hahah