Progress update - Russian

I’m now exactly a month in to my six month challenge to understand spoken Russian.

I’m doing a combination of anki/lingQ and watching youtube videos in Russian and netflix TV shows in Russian with subtitles on.

Comparing with French about ten days ago I felt like I was really struggling. I’m not trying to learn the alphabet just purely listening but I was finding the words were just not sticking in anki. I was (and am) making some limited progress in lingQ but just not able to retain and pull it out. More than 90% of the words in anki I felt like I had heard them before but I couldn’t pull out the meaning. It also took more than 10 tries to review them before success and I had tons and tons of extra reviews building up.

The last week, however, some of it has started to stick. I’m now hitting about 30-40% of the words in anki I recognize right off the bat and get the right answer.

My best guess is when learning French I had a much higher lift than I initially thought with the combination of plenty of French words already in English as well as my original Spanish. This is the opposite for Russian where almost none of the words are familiar.

According to anki I have 1,100 words learned with 270 “mature”. According to lingQ I have 220 some words. I’ve done about 30 lessons in lingQ.

Some small progress but I feel like the big heavy rock is starting to lift. I’ll post another update in a month.


Good luck, and report back on your continued progress! I got to understanding spoken Russian by reading and reading on Lingq to increase my vocabulary, and watching and watching on YT and listening to internet radio to build listening comprehension. I have never tried Anki.


Right on. Do you know where you are at? a2/b1/b2 or whatnot?
How long did it take before you started understanding complete sentences?

I did flashcards too before starting to use LingQ and my opinion is that flashcards are good for nouns and adjectives but bad for verbs (other than the really common ones). The reason is that verbs sort of require context to use them effectively, but nouns and adjectives can be learned without context. So be a little careful with getting too carried away with flashcards after a certain point.

Edit: I think my flashcard count was around 1500 or so before I felt like it was becoming more of a waste of time. I also discovered LingQ around this time and felt it was more effective (and fun) anyway.


Yeah needing context is something I just discovered is critical when the target language is unrelated to any of your other languages.

It’s like I didn’t really need context for French or Spanish because e.g. moverse or se mouvoir you can basically guess, but in russian it’s gibberish. The French/Spanish easy to guess to gibberish ratio is high whereas in Russia it’s super low. Context is the only thing makes it stick I’ve found.

Good thing though that some very specific nouns are close enough to English that they can sometimes be plugged in to create easier to recall context heavy sentences.

Like “fish” is some gibberish word, but “tuna” is something like “tunats” or “animal” is gibberish but tiger is “tigr” and giraffe also sounds like “giraffe”.

Russian is forcing me to develop generic techniques that work even if there isn’t much in common. Which is exactly what I am looking for because Chinese and Arabic are next up LOL.

I highly recommend doing mini-stories on lingQ. Hearing them again and again until all the yellow words turn white. Thanks to this method and the special stories I could start saying I understand Russian. Also, 1000 words is not enough to understand movies and series. I recommend trying to understand movies with subtitles only from level B. At level A, especially A1 is an almost impossible task. you can watch the movie and after read the dialogues in LingQ, But even that requires knowledge of a few thousand words, in my opinion.


Thank you for the advice. I agree, 1,000 words is not enough to understand full phrases. It is however, enough to start to notice some words in spoken phrases. Which is already happening. That said, I think you’re right. I’m going to lay off the telenovelas until I have at least 2,000 and keep going at the linqQ stories.

When you learn enough words many of the new ones you encounter won’t look like gibberish – I think the roots of the words show through more easily in Russian than in English, all things being equal. A couple of examples…

You mentioned “animal”. There are actually two words that come to mind, but if you mean “животное”, that’s clearly related to жить (to live) and живый (alive). An animal is something that’s alive. Or, using a word with the same Latin root as the English word, something that’s animated.

A favorite example of mine is противоречить – to contradict. That’s clearly made from против (against) and речь (speech) with the common verb ending -ить. Those happen to closely mirror the Latin roots of the English word: “contra” and “dict”. But you don’t need to also study Latin to recognize the roots of the Russian word. You’ll see this a lot.

This is probably not unique to Russian, but success in building vocabulary will facilitate further success.


That is awesome to know about word roots.
That’s also interesting about “animal” and “animate”.
Thank you for the insight.

I don’t have a clue on the a2/b1/b2 scale. On Lingq’s scale it’s something like Advanced 5 based solely on the number of known words. I did not start from scratch on Lingq. I took Russian in high school, a long time ago, and got good grades, and I learned the grammar pretty well. Of course we learned full sentences then, but very few people get enough vocabulary in high school. It was only using Lingq’s massive input method that I got enough vocabulary to start to feel at ease with the language.

I recommend using Lingq lessons with audio if you can. I did when I started German here, and I think it pays to build listening skills from the beginning. I didn’t begin Russian here, though, and used more imported material that did not have audio.

I did a lot of listening on YouTube, watching videos that you don’t need to hear every word to be able to enjoy visually. That kept the interest level high enough. At first when I’d hear “зелёная рубашка” I’d be like, “green. shirt. green shirt! Dang, what where those other ten words he said while I was figuring out green shirt?” But with enough listening practice, while continuing to learn vocab on Lingq, I’d pick out more words and phrases and sentences at real-time speech rates without having to do the impossible task of real-time in-head translation. Now many channels I can understand effortlessly. Others are still frustratingly challenging, but if I step back and consider things, I can see that I am making progress with those, too.

A word about grammar – I’d recommend getting familiar with the concepts a bit at a time, even if you don’t memorize declension tables like we did in school. It will just help to know that there is such a thing as a dative or instrumental case and maybe recognize it when you see it. In Russian the grammar does carry a lot the meaning in a sentence, and there is a crucial difference between, for example, “Собака укусила девушку” and “Собаку укусила девушка”.


Awesome. Thanks.

To add to this example, живот can mean stomach/belly which is the origin of life (womb).


Yeah I hear you on the impossible task of real-time in-head translation. I’m stuck at that for most of my words. I reckon I have a small russian language center of about 400-500 words so those I get directly without having to translate. But definitely the bulk of the rest of the words I need to “pause” and think which means I lose the rest of the sentence. Plus 1,600 words (where I’m at now) just isn’t enough. My reckoning from my experience with French and Spanish is you need a solid 3,000-4,000 words before it becomes easy enough to understand.

But yeah I’m better than what I was at the start of the month. On youtube I can understand the easy kid’s fairytales from “russian from afar” and I can understand 90% of what maria petrova says on her “complete course from 0-A1+ playlist”. I can kind of get the gist of the conversation on the “easy conversations” from “Russian with Max”. But if I try to do the A2 stuff it’s out of my reach so far.

EDIT: Damn. I just listened to one of the A2 conversations with Russian with Max. I’m right on the edge of understanding. I can make out all of the words just my brain isn’t responding fast enough. Ugh.

That said I can feel that I’m sliding through the stages. I remember this exact stage with French from a few months ago where I could kinda sorta understand some easy stories and catch a word or two here and there. So yeah progress is being made.

I think it’s important to know early on in your journey to learn languages that you need to be able to differentiate between: 1. knowledge and 2. skills.

If your goal is to understand written and spoken language and be able to speak yourself, then you will want to focus purely on skills, which means getting good at doing things and not even really having to know why or how you’re good at them (compare an athlete and the coach of a sport). This basically means spend lots of time repeating simple tasks over and over. I’d recommend doing lots of reading + listening (at the same time), and then get a playlist of simple conversations that you can play 2+ hours per day without having to look at the text (you should already know what the text is about). Really drive these audio clips into your brain. That’s how you build skills. The idea of listening and trying hard to “keep up” and “translate faster” is what you want to stay away from.

I think there are basically two ways to listen to audio:

  1. focusing on the general meaning of what you are hearing and don’t get too caught up in trying to catch individual words (most of your listening time should be using this method).

  2. It’s hard to explain this one, but listen very intently to each word to improve your ability to hear individual words. Don’t let your brain try to figure out the meaning of words that you’re not immediately understanding. You can do this with a language that you don’t even know at all since the focus is sounds, not understanding. This feels a lot like riding a wave. You basically have to feel like you’re the one speaking and you’re saying the words yourself (internally, not physically moving your mouth and making sounds, but you can do this too - it’s called shadowing). The key is to not let your brain think about words that have already passed and to keep pushing it forward to the next word without lagging behind. I’m doing this now with Arabic. I’ll listen to a short (2 min) audio clip and repeat it for 20-30 mins or so (usually while I’m walking which gives a nice rhythm to listening while you’re physically and constantly moving forward. Sound familiar? (no pun intended)).

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Thank you. That is actually an awesome post.
It’s interesting to me that there are certain techniques for learning languages that you figure out with every new language you learn.

One technique I can speak to I learned while doing Russian: Unlike Spanish and French which are largely overlapping vocabulary with English, I didn’t need to develop a technique to learn specifically the words which have no match in English. I could get away with not doing it and just brute forcing because there weren’t that many words like that. So In Spanish/French it was stuff like conjugation was the thing. But in Russian for vocab I had to figure out a specific technique because nearly every single word had no match in English. Turned out the answer was a combination of pictures plus repeating the word out loud. So yeah.

Anyhow, on your “how to understand listening”:
I didn’t even realize there was a technique to getting the most out of learning so that you are bypassing the “convert it to english” stage. But yeah it makes total sense what you say.

I know what you mean though because I’m there already with Spanish and French. How I can describe the end state I have with Spanish or French is I have no intermediate translation state. The word just “hits” my Spanish or French “language center” and I just know what it means. I don’t need to do the intermediate to English step.

That said I have no clue how that happened. It just seemed to knit together and at some point I was able to do it.

So it’s awesome you figured out a technique to do it. Appreciate it.

Exactly. Getting a feel for the meaning of the word is much more powerful than knowing a translation (brute force memory, which is different than being able to translate something). The sense of the word comes from learning it in context as opposed to learning with flashcards. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of flashcards for long term use but they have a little benefit in the very short term for certain people.

Yeah we learn how to get better at learning as we study more languages (and can apply the general process to other areas, such as music). I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is to err on the side of easy. Maybe it’s because time and energy are not as abundant as they used to be, but I also think that tackling readings (and audio) with less unknown words is better for the brain. It solidifies the words that we already “know” and helps us read faster. Reading speed isn’t something you get good at just by knowing a lot of words. You also need to know them well and get lots of repetition seeing them (even if you already know the meaning) because we need to make the recognition basically instant. It’s also much more enjoyable to read a 2000-word lesson in 20-30 mins rather than 2 hours. I really wish LingQ would not push people toward the known words count and instead make it more focused on total words read, or at least a combination of the two. This would lead people in a better direction.

I agree with you about Spanish and French. Of course there is some learning that has to be done to get the first 5000 words, but it’s pretty easy and straightforward. More difficult languages for native English speakers is a completely different challenge I think the biggest difference in learning between say Spanish and Arabic (or Russian) is that you have to take on much shorter readings for the harder languages (audio is a requirement) and make sure you can digest it before moving onto other readings in the beginning stages (to get the most out of the time spent).

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@aronald: I don’t seem to be able to reply to your reply: it only has “import” as an option.

Yeah, I’d love to hear your opinions and things you noticed about Arabic. It’s on my list but 2-3 languages out from now.