We teach Russian as a foreign language for 6+ years. Our teachers get often asked ‘ How long does it take to learn Russian ? ’ It’s a good question since it’s always a good idea to have some good perspective on the goal that you’re setting. You’ll be amazed, but reaching fluency in 3 months is within your grasp!
Learning a new language doesn’t need to be a long process. If we have the right framework for learning faster, an average student with dedication can reach conversation fluency in Russian in a few months. Interested, if you are an average learner or your learning abilities are even of higher level?
The following short test will help you estimate your chances to reach conversational fluency in 3 months.
Just put down the number of the most appropriate answer (try to choose the only one which describes your situation best).
2. What is your level of intelligence (IQ)?
3. How many languages do you speak?
4. Why do you want to learn Russian?
5. How much time are you going to spend on a focused and dedicated language learning?
Test results interpretation.
The figures you have just put down are your points. Overall sum of the points will help you approximately estimate your chances to learn Russian in 3 months. The value of the number determines the level of success.
5-10 scores: To learn Russian language fluently will take you an extraordinary amount of effort and time. You will be making slow and measured progress. It will take dedication plus perseverance. But reaching fluency will take you definitely longer than 3 months.
11-19 scores: You will not be a word-sponge while learning Russian, but will probably be able to reach conversational fluency in 90 days. 200 hours of study might be enough for you to have a simple conversation with a native. You will definitely be able to discuss your hobby’s or your work or your daily routine. It means that about 2.5-3 hours of focused learning per day will help you acquire functional knowledge of Russian in approximately 3 months.
20-35 scores: Lucky you are! To get to beginner fluency from scratch might take 100-150 hours for you. You are able to learn Russian quickly and effectively spending only 1-1.5 hours per day. And everyone will be amazed with your ability to hold conversation with natives in 3 months.
So, let us analyse…
It’s a well-known fact that a child’s skill with learning an additional language comes naturally. The younger you are the faster your language skills will develop.
There is an language learner rule which help you count how much time you would need to master a new language. Your age in years
approximately equals to the number of months you will have to spend on learning.
However, this rule doesn’t apply to anyone. We know lots of examples which proves the contrary. William Adams was the first ever English man to arrive in Japan about 400 years ago at the ripe old age of 35. He learned the language fluently without any text books. Adams was also made a Samurai, given a vast estate and married a Japanese woman.
To give more examples, let’s consider NASA astronauts. They are typically recruited at age 35-44, are all required to learn Russian to a very high level. In case there is an emergency, they need to communicate with a Russian on the ground.
Indeed, older people learn new languages all the time. Edinburgh University researchers point out that millions of people across the world acquire their second language later in life: in school, university, or work, or through migration or marriage. Their results, with 853 participants, clearly show that knowing another language is advantageous, regardless of when you learn it. Canadian studies suggest that knowing a second language can help us to stay cognitively healthy well into our later years.
A person’s IQ is defined by how that person performs on one of several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence. Psychologists and statisticians have carefully vetted the questions in an IQ test to make sure they provide an accurate measure of your language and other cognitive skills.
The purpose of the verbal component of IQ tests is to measure your language skills. These questions measure how well you use language to express your thoughts, understand ideas, and converse with other people. So, IQ scores provide an excellent representation of standard language ability across different age brackets.
Moreover, there is a strong correlation between IQ scores and working memory which is crucial to learning a second language. If an individual has a weak working memory, it slows down their ability to effectively place things in long-term memory. The lower one’s IQ, the lower one’s working memory is likely to be. By contrast, a person with a profound level of intelligence, who has an equally strong working memory can ‘mentally juggle’ multiple variables in a new language. This means they can analyse and retain new knowledge about sentence structures, grammar rules and long lists of vocabulary. That allows gifted people to learn language extremely fast. To sum up, high IQ scores prove crucial in helping individuals learn languages quickly, effectively and likely much more easily.
3. Prior Linguistic Knowledge
It goes without saying, learning your fourth language will be easier than your second. The thing is that language learners have the ability to translate skills from one language to another. That is because they are able to recognize the rules and patterns of language, even if the vocabulary is different. The more other languages you have learned, the faster you’ll grasp new grammatical concepts or recognize words. So, once you have studied and acquired a language, your skill at learning Russian will increase.
Moreover, your chances to improve fast are definitely higher if you have already learnt one of the Slavic languages. Apart from Russian, 9 more languages having at least one million speakers belong to this group. They are the following: Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene.
The Slavic languages descend from one parent language – Proto-Slavic. Due to this fact they have much in common. The familiarity between Slavic languages will vastly speed up the progress. If you know another Slavic language, then learning Russian will be twice as easy than if you only speak English and Spanish for example.
There is an old and wise Chinese proverb. It says ‘One can lead the camel to water but no one can make it drink’. But if we have the right motivation to push us, we can achieve anything that we want.
An American psychologist Howard Gardner in his book ‘Social Psychology and Second Language Learning: The role of Attitudes and Motivation’ defined motivation as the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes toward learning the language.
There are two types of motivation that should be considered when referring to foreign language learning. They are language learning motivation and classroom learning motivation. Language learning motivation refers to the motivation to learn or acquire a second language.
The most important motivational dimension in Gardner’s theory is the interpersonal / affective dimension. Language learning is motivated by the positive attitudes towards the target language community and by the desire to communicate with its members, and maybe even to become like them.
For that reason, if you learn Russian to understand and talk to your partner’s family, your language learning motivation is very strong. In this case you will learn fast and quite easy. Moreover, you will be able to practice Russian with your in-laws immediately!
As for the classroom learning motivation, it mainly depends on the learning methods and content choice. The use of engaging content along with various language activities help strengthen the motivation.
Since your goal is to converse with the Russians, then find a native-speaking language tutor. Firstly, she can interact with you using real spoken language. Secondly, she will keep you accountable. Thirdly, she will provide personalised language tutoring.
Our university-trained language teachers provide the highest quality Russian lessons over Skype. They are all native Russian speakers fluent in English.
In order to make the language learning process a motivating experience, our teacher creates a personalized learning programme focused on the student’s goals. Lessons are tailor-made to suit your needs and learning style. Your Russian tutor will provide enjoyable Skype lessons which sustain and boost your interest and motivation. So, if you take a structured approach that focuses on speaking, then you’ll surprise yourself within some months!
Hermann Ebbinghaus was a German psychologist known for his discovery of the forgetting curve. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve. In 2015, an attempt to replicate the forgetting curve with one study subject has shown the experimental results similar to Ebbinghaus’ original data.
The forgetting curve hypothesizes the decline of memory retention in time. This curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. In other words, we can have the most effective materials in front of us, but if we don’t review and expose ourselves to the material, it’s useless to us. Well, we normally forget about 60% of what we have learnt during the 1st hour which goes after learning!
Ebbinghaus hypothesized that the speed of forgetting depends on a number of factors such as the difficulty of the learned material (e.g. how meaningful it is), its representation and physiological factors such as stress and sleep.
He asserted that the best methods for increasing the strength of memory are:
Later research suggested that, other than the two factors Ebbinghaus proposed, higher original learning would also produce slower forgetting.
Spending time each day to remember information, will greatly decrease the effects of the forgetting curve. Some learning consultants claim reviewing material in the first 24 hours after learning information is the optimum time to re-read notes and reduce the amount of knowledge forgotten. Evidence suggests waiting 10–20% of the time towards when the information will be needed is the optimum time for a single review.
The more you put in, the more you get out. That’s a fact.
Learning Russian is a gradual process. While you may not be fluent after a dozen lessons, we guarantee that if you put in the daily practice, you’ll see that you’re literally getting better every week.
In the first 10 hours that you’ll be learning Russian, you will learn 20 times (if not a 100 times) more than in the last 10 hours. That’s because in the beginning everything is new and you’ll pick up so many new interesting words and grammar.
So, summing everything up, let’s formulate
1. We need to review the material in 30 minutes after learning. And then make at least 2 retentions before we go to bed.
2. Real learning happens when you process information. And this is done in between learning sessions, mainly while you sleep. For that reason, a little bit every day is better than a lot once.
3. Learn with dedication when you are not tired. 1 hour of focused learning plus 2 retentions per day can teach you more than 3 hours of distracted learning. Chances are that studying for 4 hours of a Saturday might be focused for the first hour. But the other 3 won’t be nearly as intense because your brain will get fatigued.
4. A learning session (ideally 60-90 minutes long) should be proceeded and followed by physical activity. Let your brain rest and your body work out.
5. Alternate types of activities during you learning session every 10-15 minutes. Because in quarter of an hour your attention gets declined. To stay focused, simply shift, say, from reading on writing. For example, first learn new words or grammar, then practice. After that listen or read or do speaking exercises.
6. We memorize meaningful information better. The closer the information to your previous experience and knowledge, the easier you learn it. So, try to connect any word or grammar point to what you already know.
7. Creative thinking, unusual associations and vivid imagination can help you merge things which are not logically connected.
8. When we process information, we better memorize it. So, do as many operations with the material as you can. Analyse or classify, create schemes, tables or graphs. Ask yourself questions or even make drawings if you like.
9. Group the words into lists of 7 and repeat them from time to time. Why 7? It’s an average volume of information which can be memorized at a time. Same is good for memorizing grammar structures and speech patterns. They should not be longer than 7 words.
10. Involve all senses of perception into language learning. Not only read or listen the material. It’s necessary that you repeat it after the speaker or read it aloud. And it’s very useful to write it with a pen! As you may know, ‘speech’ parts of human brain are connected to our fingertips. So, writing and drawing is not such an absurd idea!
11. The researchers say we better memorize the material we learn at the beginning and at the end. So, you should spend that time on learning the most difficult stuff.
12. Most people (about 60%) perceive and memorize visual information better. So, it’s great to connect anything you learn with visual symbols. For enlarging your vocabulary, we recommend flash-cards which are used for Russian babies and toddlers. Just search for videos with Glen Doman cards (‘карточки Домана’ in Russian). They are 2-3 minutes long, so you can look through them a dozen times every day.
Actually, some words are very commonly used while others are rarely ever seen. How many exactly is a question that you can answer with a lexemic frequency dictionary. These dictionaries contain frequency-ranked lists of words. They are made by taking and analysing a huge corpus of texts from news and journalistic articles, research papers, administrative texts and fiction. After grouping each words by lexemes it is possible to list how many times they came up in the corpus. A lexeme is a ‘unique’ word that does not depend on conjugation or plurals or declensions. For example, the lexeme ‘to be’ would cover ‘am, is, are, were, being, been’.
It’s an interesting fact, that these lexemic frequency dictionaries were compiled during the Cold War. The purpose was computerized automatic surveillance of other countries and especially Russia. Now such dictionary is an invaluable tool for all learners of Russian. It enables students of all levels to get the most out of their study of vocabulary in an engaging and efficient way. What is more important, it helps to answer the main question ‘How many words should I learn?’
If we analyse a lexemic frequency dictionary of Russian, we can count that only 75 most common words make up 40% of occurrences. The 200 most common words make up 50% of occurrences and around 3000 most common words make up 80% of occurrences. In other words, it means that you can understand a large part of most texts with only 3000 words.
Of course, reading comprehension does not really mean you have learnt the language! But 3 thousand words certainly gets you to a more or less autonomous stage in your learning. After that you can learn many words by their context.
Moreover, Russian word-building system is not too complicated. Indeed, all you need is to learn the meaning of 25 widely-used Russian prefixes and 40 more suffixes. That will help you enlarge your vocabulary significantly. Thus, your 3000 words can now be multiplied by 2!
So, knowing simple word-building rules and 80% of the occurrences is sufficient enough to reach conversation fluency.
But that brings us to the next question
If you memorize 30 words per day, then in 3 months you’ll have learned 80% of the language.
How will you reach your goal in the shortest amount of time?
This brings us to the Pareto’s Principle.
In summary, Pareto’s Principle dictates that 80% of our desired results come from 20% of our output / effort. Do you remember yourself finishing an important project just within a few days before the deadline? Do you remember asking yourself a very wise question ‘Why didn’t I do this huge volume of work during the first days after the project start? Why am I doing it now, during this last sleepless night?’
Our qualified Russian tutors are here to help you with whatever your goals may be. Whether it’s wanting to become 100% fluent, enough to be able to communicate with your family/friends, or simply maintaining your current skills. Having a teacher can not only guarantee you reach your goal, but it will accelerate your goal. Having a native speaking professional, who is dedicated to helping you reach your goals is pivotal to your progress. Especially when they know your personal goals, learning style, and knowledge gaps. Maybe you need someone to explain specific grammar rules that you’re struggling with or sentence structures that can be corrected with a simple exercise.
Once you have the basic foundation of the language, you need someone to play catch with (i.e. practice speaking the language and receive immediate feedback). Your language tutor can have a deeper conversation with you on a regular basis. And unlike a normal conversation partner, they have the professional experience to recognize the same patterns of mistakes you’re making and put you on the right path.
Besides, when you learn Russian over Skype, your learning envorinment is definitely low stress. Firstly, you can have lessons at the comfort of your home. Secondly, you don’t need to travel or have a guest. Thirdly, enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of an online class with a friendly and patient tutor. In short, learn Russian at your convenience and save your money too!
In this article we did our best to answer your question how long does it take to learn Russian. If you take your study time serious – you will be able to have simple conversations in Russian in 3 months.
Here is a testimonial of our student:
Yelena has been giving me lessons two hours per week for just seven weeks and already I am able to hold Russian conversations with my future parents in law!!! I am amazed at how fast her methods have got me to this stage and will continue to use her lessons until I am fluent! In short, I couldn’t be happier with the service….. I really couldn’t!
James Giddings (email@example.com)
Interested to try it out? Book a free trial lesson now!