Russian listening comprehension - how to understand better?

When I listen to podcasts, youtube videos, Tv Shows or course/ textbook audio I noticed that my understanding is pretty low. Once I get a transcript or read a text, the understanding is much higher. I wondered if someone had any ideas about how to improve my listening skills. I think I am around B1, because I can follow B1 content quite easily.


I had the same issue with French. In my case repeated listening while reading transcripts in LingQ gradually improved my listening comprehension. I also selected content carefully when not using a transcript. Thus films are generally harder than interviews and lectures. Content from more formal media is generally clearer than a YouTube video from an amateur. I’ve been doing this for a year, and seeing gradual improvements. I assume it just needs time, and in a few years my comprehension will be excellent.

As an aside, a Korean friend who came to England at age 15 speaking no English, who lived here for 30 years, told me that he cannot understand films in English even though his English is fluent albeit with an accent. This suggests one has to actively work on comprehension, not just hope it improves.


thank you, I will try to keep the source in mind when choosing material.


How many listening hours do you have? What content have you been listening to? And what has your listening routine looked like?

The way I study, my Russian listening comprehension increases much quicker than my reading comprehension. Nearly all my study is listening while reading. After a few beginner materials (Mini Stories and three other beginner courses), I moved onto Russian With Max, and I’ve since finished his YouTube videos and have moved onto native content. Not saying my listening comprehension is great (I only have 200 hours of listening after all), but it’s alright and continues to progress every week.


I don’t count the hours, but I listened to a lot of “Russian with Max”, though not all of it, I listen to the Narnia books on this website, and Harry Potter. I also watch a cartoonish TV show for teens on Youtube, plus 2 normal TV shows (one plays at a hospital, the other is a thriller/ action show). I talk to a friend each week, and I try to repeat in English, what she told me in Russian.

I will listen to Russian with Max, and maybe Russian with Dasha/ Anastasia and Russian Progress to get some more practice.
However, I do have trouble with listening while reading; I sort of get distracted, by one or the other, but maybe it just takes practice. I also get bored by learning related content, so I prefer “kids” books and shows. However, when I did listen to Russian with Max, I really felt the benefit, so I will try to get back to it.
Thank you for the recommendation.

Did you listen to Russian with Max on Youtube or on LingQ?


Could you maybe elaborate a little bit on how you actually used Russian with Max? Did you watch the video first, without using the transcript, or did you dive into listening while reading right away? Did you listen again afterwards (actively or passively?)

I used to listen to the videos 2 to 3 times, one time without the text, then I read the text, and then I listened again. Nowadays I prefer to either listen, or read, for the books/ audiobooks basically. I am very impatient :wink:


Understanding spoken content is harder than understanding written content. It seems to be true in every language: speakers talk too fast, and they slur or even omit sounds. Listeners “auto-correct” what they hear. A listener can do that (without even thinking) if they know the language well enough. Someone learning a new language can’t do it.

The only way to improve this (that I know about) is practice. I watch youtube videos with subtitles in the TL (basically, a transcript). That lets me match what I hear with the sentence that is spoken. Gradually, I understand more and more without needing the subtitles.


You might be right that it takes a little practice to get used to, but I imagine it would be quite fast. I’m very used to it these days as I’ve done many hundreds of hours of it. Listening while reading is my preferred language learning technique, especially if you have a translation underneath. It’s reading while listening to bilingual texts, so you have the opportunity to quickly find the definitions of unknown words. You train your reading ability, listening ability, vocabulary, and grammar all at the same time. I consider it the best technique I’ve encountered in language learning, hence why it’s the vast majority of my study time these days.

I just watched his videos directly on YouTube with Language Reactor. I only watched each of them once. The vast majority of them have Russian subtitles, which comes out to about 50 hours of content. Though, Max speaks ‘teacher Russian’. He speaks slowly, clearly, uses high-frequency words, and quite a few anglicisms. Yulia speaks a little faster and uses less-frequent words and phrases.

If you have a high vocabulary, then you would probably benefit more just studying native content. The only reason I studied Russian with Max was because I had a low vocabulary. Also, if you are interested in understanding everyday conversation, you should listen to people speaking in informal, improvised contexts. In audiobooks, they speak very clearly, pronunced, etc., which is quite different from everyday speech.

Most likely you are finding Russian listening comprehension challenging because you haven’t done enough of it or you are studying the wrong content (eg. teacher Russian / audiobooks instead of improvised, everyday speech). Hard to tell though, as you don’t record your listening hours.

Perhaps this is true in the languages you’ve studied, but this is not my experience in Russian. My aural vocabulary is much higher than my reading vocabulary. I know the spoken form of many more words than their written form. The only way I understand many written words is by pronuncing them out loud (or subvocalising). Only after I hear the word, do I understand its meaning. The reason is because of the alphabet. It is taking me a very long time to get used to the cyrllic alphabet. I have ~900k words read (90%+ of this was listening while reading) and I still feel quite far away from being comfortable with it. When people say it only takes a few hours to learn the cyrllic alphabet, it’s means simply that. You learn the cyrllic alphabet. To actually be able to use it at anything other than snail’s pace takes much, much longer.

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I think, you are right about the content. I bore easily, when it comes to teaching content and slowly spoken things.

I found a plethora of tv shows, interviews and audiobooks and podcasts, that I want to go through. I do love audiobooks, so I will stick to those, even if the language doesn’t correspond to everyday conversations.

As I said, I watched a lot of Russian with Max, but in the past. The autgentic content does not come down to 50 hours (I watched 12 hours of TV shows, one documentary, listened to one or two hours of a podcast and watched about 10 hours of cartoons, I probably just need more time)

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Hi Safran. I am between B1 and B2 in a closely related language (Ukrainian), and I used to study Russian. Back then, I loved Russian with Max. What a great guy. (I do hope we can avoid any political commentary and focus on language learning.)

Here’s what I do to improve my listening. I listen to what looks interesting. If it’s too hard, meaning, I’m not getting at least part of the gist, I switch to something else. Sometimes I just lazily listen to the radio even if it’s hard, but I still switch the channel if I’m getting nothing. It seems to be working. I can understand most of what my Ukrainian italki teacher says, and he uses a good amount of advanced vocab. Occasionally I look up words when I’m listening, but I prefer to use reading for most of my vocabulary building. Listening for me is mostly a time to recognize words I already know.

I will add that as my known word count goes up here, my listening comprehension goes up everywhere too. Good luck!


Yeah, you really need 500 hours of listening to have alright listening comprehension and 1,000 hours to be good. Language dependent, of course, but anything less than this, you simply have to do more listening. To have great listening comprehension, you’d be looking at a few thousand hours.


I absolutely agree that ( the joy of ) language learning should be excempt from political stuff.

Did you learn Russian to an advanced level? I wanted to start Ukrainian, too, but it is too closely related at my current level of Russian (which is probably around B1)

I agree that Russian with Max is a good resource.
I also feel that I should work on listening and reading independently, as this gives me better results than “multitasking”. Your method seems valid, I’ll try it.

Good luck with your Ukrainian!

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Does that lower figure need to be listening to 500 hours of unique content? Or could repeated listening count towards that total?

You can listen to them however you want, including repeating content, but if you have less than 500 listening hours and struggle with listening comprehension, the answer is merely quantity. Though, 500 hours of listening isn’t really much. You’ll still struggle after you hit this number.


This is an interesting point but actually not universally true, because of the issue of passive bilingualism and illiteracy. In my opinion what is missing in most second language learner´s experience, and what exists in illiterates and passive bilinguals, is associating the sounds with actions. They have a pragmatic understanding of language even if they perhaps mispronounce some words. Second language learners have a more theoretical understanding of language and very little practical understanding. The solution? In my opinion it is CLIL strategies. Learn things in the language, take lessons that involve you achieving something like origami etc, and learn as much imperative as possible. As an example, the British army, which has lots of second language soldiers, use the principle of EDIP - explain, demonstrate, imitate, practice. This means lots of people who are frankly not amazing at the language can easily function in it and know a lot of commands, both receiving and giving. They understand the commands on the radio/phone/nightclub etc - which is also something that really throws off second language speakers who do things in a classroom.

As far as the cartoons go, I think Peppa Pig level is the best for improving user understanding in a short time, as it has speaking related to objects and actions directly in frame. In my opinion you can learn a lot more from this level of cartoons (as well as children´s encyclopedias like the DK series) than years of lessons.


Try to find things which involve following along (following steps etc). has a Russian site which you can search terms like “how to…” Unless you have a feedback mechanism like a result (i.e: folding paper to make an aeroplane) how do you ever really know you understood what was said? A lot of the time native speakers are forgiving or don´t actually realise you don´t understand what was said or you are saying.

The book by David MaCaulay “How Things Work (now)” is a real gem of gaining functioning language. If you can get some copies of his series and get through them, you will be doing well in any language. Маколей, Дэвид — Википедия (

A vast amount of very important vocabulary in any language is learned through the educational process and the fact the child HAS TO, which is often completely neglected in courses/books related to conversation. There is always the temptation to talk about language rather than use it. If you go through explainers (even successful books like the DK series translated) you will get lots of great insight into the language and despite the fact many great books are aimed for “7 and above” they contain a huge amount of foundational language. I know people who are incredible at English, but when talking to them about the content in these kind of books in their native languages, they struggle to find the words in both English and their native language - one example was a pine from a pine tree. Yet they recognise them when they see them and they´re incredibly important in making logical discourse.

My personal project - bi lingual translation between two second languages, Slovak and Swedish. I will translate the DK Kid´s encyclopedia from Slovak into Swedish and this will most likely involve me having to translate it into English too.

This is not intended to replace other learning, but 30mins to 1hour a week, it is a very comprehensive syllabus which is like building a house on rock instead of sand - it allows everything else to be connected to it. Some people learn languages in a specialist manner which can have great results, but they are often quite lopsided results, meaning someone can speak about philosophy but not know how to talk about football etc. With a focus on the core language (as a solid 30mins-1hour a week), you can add anything else much easier later. It also reinforces whatever else you already know.

The problem one has when getting advice from lots of Slavic language speakers is that they don´t really understand what you don´t understand. They know what their problems are in the language, and transfer them to you. That means because they struggle with accurate grammar at a high level, they think “learning Russian” or “learning Slovak” is a load of tables, lists of exceptions and spellings. However this is an advanced problem, they had a functioning understanding of their languages by at least 6 years old which is far higher than most people ever reach once learning a Slavic language, after encountering all the bs with grammar and either quitting or just learning meaningless grammar rules but never having a chat.

Learn the way the natives did - how tos, explainers, following instructions, building vocab and kids content (genuine kids content, i.e: abridged stories, not the archaic language). It will essentially be like a kid´s bicycle with stabilisers. After a while you can remove them. The main thing is - know it is possible to be better at any aspect of a language than another - passive bilinguals, illiterate people, those who can read Japanese comics but can´t understand a spoken word, Chinese people who can write essays but can´t order a hamburger… It´s all out there.


No. At best, I was A2 or B1 in Russian before I switched to Ukrainian.

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I will share what I do, but I will preface this by saying Russian is the easiest language I’ve ever had to “learn to hear”. Mostly because I’ve grown up hearing Russian all my life, especially music. That said, I got nothing for “free”. I only knew about five words until this year.

But I managed to learn how to produce pretty much every sound in Russian within a few weeks, and I hear words more clearly than know them. This isn’t to brag at all. I just had a different background than you. In French learning, listening comprehension is almost non-existent for me. But, I think it’s all about how you personally want to structure this. For me, I’m currently avoiding listening in both Russian and French. I still listen to music often, and I understand more and more.

But just like you said, I zone out and get ‘bored’ a lot, trying to listen to something I barely even have the vocabulary for. The way I ‘solved’ that problem in LingQ was just to avoid it. Until now. Now I understand most of what I read, I don’t think about any of the text or the words or the grammar, they’re just words. So now that I’ve started to pick up listening in French again, it’s actually rather interesting, fast, and enjoyable.

Perhaps it could be an idea for you, if you’re bored and underwhelmed, wait until you can read a new book with very few new words, or podcasts, and then just listen and read along to them. If it’s too slow, raise the speed even. Maybe it won’t be immediate that you start learning to listen that way, but listening isn’t very fun if you hear all the words clearly without understanding them.

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The biggest dictionary of the modern Russian language contains about 200K words. You must have read the derivative/conjugated forms of the lesser number

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@Safran I’ll pass on a tip from LeifGoodwin in another topic.

Read/Listen to a sentence a few times.
Look away and just listen – don’t try to translate – as a baby might.

I find this allows me to retain the details of the sounds such that I can then find the words more easily. My subjective experience is that trying to hear the sounds and understand them simultaneously is too complicated – the two processes interfere with each other. It also allows me to relax while I’m listening.

My listening comprehension has made a big jump since I added this little exercise. Of course, I’ve been at French for a while (I assume this exercise would work with Russian too) and maybe it was just time for a breakthrough.