Russian Grammar Hacks?

Hello - I am at about an A2 level in Russian. Been studying for a year or so. I have private lessons twice a week. I am looking to understand what methods people use to internalize grammar concepts?

I know 3250 words - on average I am increasing my word count by 500 words per month. I have nearly worked my way through the Beginner 2 level material courses.

Do you tag words for the various cases? Prepositional / Accusative etc? For the most part I have the hang of noun conjugations although I struggle to internalise adjectives and personal pronouns when these require conjugation as well.

Or perhaps even tagging full sentences with the grammar concepts embedded in. I have started doing this with the mini stories - as Steve Kaufmann did in one of his videos. Any advice greatly appreciated.


I really need to restate this point:
There are no hacks, keep exposing yourself to the language, pay attention to the language features, including declensions and review the grammar from time to time. Just as you feel more confident with noun declensions now, you’ll get used to adjectives and prononuns.
Having said that, some extra study may help you at this stage. So-called “sentence mining” (full sentence tagging, as you call it) seems to me the most promising strategy: it basically amounts to some extra exposition to the language with a focus on the features you are struggling with. But it’s no hack and you should still expect gradual and uneven progress.
You are improving quickly and steadily, which is brilliant, but your known word count is still low, so I’m not surprised if there are still grammar points that you find difficult: just be patient and keep going.
As for my own way to study grammar. I have applied the sentence mining on occasion and it does help, but in the case of Russian, I have mostly just read/listened, paid attention and stopped my reading pretty often to check declensions/conjugations and so on.

I’d often skip Russian classes in school, and even though I did some basic grammar exercises I’ve not had any reliable understanding of what is right, untill I began to read a lot. This is exactly what has taken my Russian up to a decent level, just exposure. Not to show off, but I believe my grammar above 98% just because of this. And it applies to all the literate Russian people I know. Those who read a lot is better at grammar without any exercises. Those who broke the language down to grammar rules were doing the same. They read, they analize, they write down their observations. But not the other way around :slight_smile:

Still, basics can help, but more as an occasional supplement to the staples of language learning - reading with listening (and speaking). But it makes sense to carefully choose material, which should be of your current level (like when in an article 9 out of 10 words are unknown, you’re not gonna learn anything) and enjoyable and fun (and it’s non-negotiable rule, cuz you can’t have an infinite motivation to keep grinding through the reams of boring shit, unless you’re addicted to pain :slight_smile:

So there is a hack to learn grammar by not learning grammar, this way you’ll save yourself a lot of time and still will be comfortable with the language. You can use translation for whole sentences and for phrases as much as you want, and at some point you’ll be able to read on your own and understand even completely unfamiliar words out of context.

Also, @ftornay makes the good point about sentence mining. At the beginning, sometimes you need to observe a sentence a bit longer to figure out what is what, to group things properly.

I believe Steve reads a Teach Yourself (grammar book) for every new language he picks up. Then I believe he regularly visits other books (Assimil), throughout his LingQ study, and other books that also cover grammar.

Though the course is quite dense, I could suggest the Cortina Russian course (in the Beginner section of LingQ, so you may have already covered it). Each sentence in every lesson has footnotes that refer you to a grammar point in the reference. You will have to refer to the book, but the electronic copy of the book is free if you don’t want to buy a physical copy.

From my own experience with the course, I can say that all of your questions (and many questions you didn’t even think to ask) will be answered in depth.

It seems to me that using LingQ / Cortina this way is very consistent with how Steve approaches new languages in LingQ.

I don’t “study” (memorize) grammar rules, but I like to read or listen to explanations and find the logic behind it (to the extent that this is possible)

In the case of Russian I liked this channel:

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Many people advise against specifically concentrating too much on grammar. To be honest, I feel like I have internalized much of the grammar to the point that I don’t have to think about it mainly by reading and listening. What case does “про” take? The one that sounds right.

But! I did study grammar in a methodical manner in school, so I cannot from personal experience say that it is a waste of time – I studied it and I learned it. I think a blended approach works, and that’s what we mostly did in school. Learn about the accusative case, review the endings, then watch for it in your reading and listening. And so on with the other cases. But don’t try to swallow it all at once, and don’t let it get in the way of your vocabulary acquisition. When I came out of school I knew the grammar but had insufficient words with which to employ it.

Maybe I’m a freak, but I found grammar tables useful. That might be in part because my teachers rearranged the usual order of cases to make patterns more apparent. So this might be the only “hack” I can offer: If you do ever want to work from tables, try arranging them in this order:

  1. Nominative
  2. Accusative
  3. Genitive
  4. Prepositional
  5. Dative
  6. Instrumental

That’s different than the order in Wiktionary and in most books. The Russian Grammar article on Wikipedia has Prepositional at the end but otherwise in this order. My thoughts on this are mostly around seeing patterns, but the first three here are probably the three most frequently used, particularly in the simple sentences in beginner material.

Some people say that you can be understood fairly well if you don’t get the cases right. This may be true in simple sentences because the usual order of words in Russian and English is pretty much the same. However, because Russian word order is more flexible, recognition of the cases can be crucial to understanding some sentences. My favorite trite example is the difference in these two sentences:

Собака укусила девушку.
Собаку укусила девушка.

Sometimes I have to stare at long, complex sentences in literature or news articles while the grammar helps me sort out the meaning. Adjectives can be separated from their associated nouns by entire clauses, united only by their case, e.g. :stuck_out_tongue:

Although I say that I “know” the grammar, there are still a few bugbears. Some prepositions can take different cases depending on their usage, and some verbs take a different case than what you might think. It pays to note these differences when you see them.


Девушка укусила собаку — The girl bit a dog.
Собаку укусила девушка — The dog’s got bitten by a girl.
mean the same basically, but the first one is a statement, whereas the second one more likely would be used when, let’s say, you already do know that a dog got bitten and now somebody tells you that the dog was not simply attacked by another dog or a cat, but by a girl, like an important addition. Don’t know if it’s a clear explanation.

Девушка укусила keep the sense without собаку — The girl has taken a bite — yeah, in Russian you can express this way, but within some context around, like in literature specifically.
Собаку укусила can’t exist as a statement without девушка, because it’s like “The dog’s got bitten by!”
By whom?
By ‘by’, that’s by whom.

But it still can be used as an answer.
Who did the girl bite? — Кого укусила девушка?
The dog. — Собаку укусила! (or just “Собаку!”)

I agree with what a lot of the other people here are saying, but there’s one thing I’d like to add.

When I’m learning a language, I make a distinction between being able to reproduce grammar and recognize it. The former is what you’d find on a test- conjugate these verbs, use the correct case, etc. or when producing the language (especially when writing). This is a lot harder, and a pain to learn- especially if you’re essentially memorizing it.

Recognizing grammar is much easier. When I started learning Russian, I looked over the grammar tables, then made Anki flashcards with noun conjugations and plurals in each case. Later, I did the same with adjectives and numbers and other things. The goal here isn’t for me to memorize how to conjugate each of these things- I actually go through the flashcards very quickly- but to learn the “shape” of how each case looks. This way when I see it written in text or hear it in audio, I can recognize it for what it is. Some of the cases are quite easy- instrumental and prepositional in particular, but others are harder. But over time and steady exposure, the grammar gradually shifts from being recognizable to being easily reproducible.

Like I said, I really agree with most of the other people- exposure if key. But in my opinion, it’s so much easier with that initial push of learning to recognize the grammar (even vaguely! If you remember that instrumental words often end with an ‘m’ sound, that’s enough.).

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I don’t do grammar at all except the lingQ stories. I’m focusing 100% on listening.

Interestingly, although I have made zero effort to learn grammar I noticed from the lingQ mini stories over time that russian has more or four three verb conjugations: past, present and future plus a sort of auxiliary “I am going to” that sounds something like sibiralis. I also just noticed a couple days ago how one of the cases work. Seems to change the end of the word to “oo” if it was an “a”. Seems to be something similar to verb object subject type stuff. I find I mostly have the gist of things without putting too much effort into it after just brute force listening to a few hundred hours of audio.

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