Suggestions to get started in Russian

Hello everybody,
after long thinking, I have made up my mind and will start learning Russian in 2014. So, I’d like to ask some questions to Russian learners and speakers.

  1. I have already bought a grammar book and an exercise book, and will soon buy the Assimil course.
    I wonder if anybody here has any experience with Assimil courses for Russian. I had started learning Russian about 6 years ago, but dropped it after a few weeks (lesson: it’s not a good idea to learn a language to please someone you like, but who doesn’t like you so much…). I was using an older Assimil course in 71 lessons. The more recent edition has 100 lessons and I am considering buying it, because I have realized that courses with 70 lessons are often too intensive and require too much effort. I have already dropped the 71-lesson Turkish course and will probably also drop the 64-lesson Catalan course.
    So, is there anybody who has studied Russian with either edition of the Assimil course? Can you give me your feedback, please?

  2. I fear learning the Russian handwriting will be the biggest hurdle for me (my handwriting in Latin alphabets is already ugly enough…). Do you have any suggestions on how to learn and practise Cyrillic handwriting?

  3. Typing in Russian may also be a problem, since the layout of the Russian keyboard is very different from my QWERTY keyboard. How do you type in Russian (assuming you are not Russian)? Have you bought a new keyboard with Cyrillic letters on it? Or stickers to put on your keys? Or what else do you do?

I think that’s it for now, but may have further questions later on.
Thanks in advance for your answers,

1 Like
  1. I took two years at my University which got me started, so I’m not much help here.

  2. This just takes a lot of experience writing. I know you have penpals, maybe you could write someone letters regularly. I’m not a Russian native speaker, but if you wanted to write me I’d be more than happy to hear from you. To actually learn it I would NOT suggest looking at videos because they are long and boring. Instead, look at this chart:
    and then drill yourself over and over again by writing it out.

  3. I use a “cyrillic phonetic” keyboard, which superimposes similar sounds on my keyboard. Russian keyboard online - Virtual Russian Keyboard - Type Russian letters on English keyboard using on-screen Cyrillic Keyboard
    Above is a site of the cyrillic phonetic keyboard. You can type your messages there and it will come out cyrillic. Macintosh computers allows you to pick “international keyboards” and so that’s how I switch between the standard American keyboard that I normally use and the cyrillic phonetic keyboard.


  1. I used Pimsleur to start (I borrowed the CDs free from the public library). It worked really well for me because I was starting from scratch (I knew only 2 Russian words before that: yes and no). So you may find Pimsleur boring. I moved on to LingQ after about 2 months.

  2. My strategy was to focus on the sounds first, so the first month or 2, I did not teach myself to read. I also don’t read transliteration. When I start learning to read, I read Russian words right away. Now when I read Russian text, I either recognize a word right away, because I have been seeing it a lot of time, or I will try to pronounce it, then I may have already known it from its sound.

  3. I use the keyboard provided by Google Translate. It may not suit your need, but it is sufficient for me for now.

thanks for your suggestions. My grammar book came with a small book teaching handwriting, so I think I will try to copy the words and sentences contained there, in the beginning. I was wondering if someone may have any particular strategies. As for the keyboard, the link you provided was interesting. I found a program here which is supposed to install a Cyrillic phonetic keyboard on my pc, but it didn’t install because apparently it’s a 32-bit software and my pc has a 64-bit processor. On Windows, I could only select the standard Russian keyboard layout, which is a pain to use (at least until one gets used to it).

thanks for sharing your learning strategies. Yes, you guessed it, I find Pimsleur quite boring. I tried it for Swedish and Turkish and didn’t like it. Moreover, I usually learn from reading more than from listening.

I am now trying to type in Russian with the on-screen keyboard. It’s taking long, but not so long as it did without using it.
Does/Did anybody use the on-screen keyboard? What about keyboard stickers?

I have bought two sets of Italian/Russian keyboard stickers. I’ll let you know how they work, in case anybody is interested.
I’m still interested in hearing about someone’s experience with Assimil for Russian, and about handwriting tips.


  1. Typing in Russian may also be a problem … Have you bought a new keyboard with Cyrillic letters on it? Or stickers to put on your keys? Or what else do you do?

Im a Russian native speaker living in Russia. In Russia everybody use a keyboard with Cyrillic/Latin letters on every key. I think you can buy such a keyboard (and youll be like Russian native :-).
Or just put stickers on keys.

I have the Russian Assimil. It is a good product but I generally found it very difficult. It gets really difficult really quickly and I found I could not keep up with it.

I recommend the LingQ library! There is a lot of great stuff in there.

@sdom: I have just ordered keyboard stickers with the Latin and cyrillic alphabets. I hope they will work fine.

@Colin: from what you wrote, I suppose you have the 71-lesson course, right? I will also use LingQ, although I plan on using Assimil first, especially for grammar.

I have the 71 lesson course.

That’s what I thought. It may not be very difficult for me, as I know Polish, but I may easily get demotivated, so I guess I will need to buy the newer edition, and use the older one as a pre-intermediate course later on.

@sdom Both QWERTY and ЙЦУКЕН are just random layouts developed in the 19th century. The only logic beneath them was to reduce the clashing of typebars. There is no need to learn ЙЦУКЕН from scratch for someone long familiar with QWERTY: it makes much more sense to use a phonetic (QWERTY-based) keyboard layout (ЯШЕРТЫ or ЯВЕРТЫ).
Here is a solution for Windows users: Russian Phonetic Keyboard: to-print page
Mac OS X already has a phonetic layout. Those using Linux don’t need my instructions whatsoever :smiley:

Here’s a link to an app can be installed on windows and will give you all the diacritics for the major European languages, and the Russian keyboard with the яшерты layout. Very highly recommend it.

Thanks a lot, Eugene and Will! I will check the app later on. However, I have already bought the keyboard stickers, so I will wait before buying that app (since I still need to buy the Assimil course and a dictionary).
Have a good Sunday! :slight_smile:

Of course, it is very important to have a keyboard with Russian letters.
But what about the textbooks I’m quite skeptical though I as a teacher know maybe 100 such textbooks.
Every textbook has something positive and something negative.
That’s why it’s almost the same what textbook you’ll use.
But what the cruisal: to study the new language almost every day and not to be in hurry at least in the beginning.
And there are a lot-lot-lot different materials in the Internet and also in the Russian library of
I’ve tried also to write a lot of courses for beginners to facilitate their efforts in receiving first basic knowledge in Russian.
That’s why you can try my courses Русский с нуля, Вопросы и ответы, Первые шаги - maybe they can help you with basic vocabulary and basic grammar.

Thanks for your advice, Evgueny.

eugrus wrote: There is no need to learn ЙЦУКЕН from scratch for someone long familiar with QWERTY: it makes much more sense to use a phonetic (QWERTY-based) keyboard layout (ЯШЕРТЫ or ЯВЕРТЫ).

@eugrus: I don`t see the advantages in using phonetic-similar system on keyboards (as ЯШЕРТЫ or ЯВЕРТЫ).
I think that for non-native the similarity between W/Ш or R/Р or Y/Ы (an so on) makes no sense.
Otherwise such a similarity can be a source of confusion.

Mike, welcome to the wonderful world of Russian.

My experience was as follows.

I bought Teach Yourself Russian, Colloquial Russian, Pimsleur and Assimil for Russian, just about the time we were starting Russian at LingQ. I only used the Pimsleur once and found it totally boring. (To each his own). I used the teach yourself and colloquial books to get an initial sense of the issues in Russian grammar, and as content to listen to and read. Once we had Russian at LingQ, I spent most of my first two months repeatedly listening to Who is She. We had very little else in our Russian library at that time. Assimil for Russian is good in terms of the interest level of the lessons. Note that I only use I Assimil for the content, and don’t use the translations, explanations or notes. After that I started into Tolstoy’s Kreuzer Sonata, for which I had the audiobook.

Bear in mind that at that time LingQ was very slow, it took 4 to 5 seconds to save a word. Today with the quantity of lessons we have in the library at all levels, and with the greater ease of use of the site, I would spend basically all my time with LingQ. I would however also get myself a book, a starter book.

I use a phonetic keyboard for Russian, the one that comes with my Mac. I ordered stickers but I found them inconvenient to use. I sometimes regret that I haven’t learned to type with a truly Russian keyboard, but for my purposes the phonetic keyboard works.

Good luck. With your knowledge of Polish and familiarity with the delights of Slavic grammar, you will learn quickly.

steve wrote: “I sometimes regret that I haven’t learned to type with a truly Russian keyboard, but for my purposes the phonetic keyboard works.”

I meant “a truly Russian keyboard” is a natural and habitual way of typing Russian.