Immersion is the best way to learn Russian
The absolute best way to learn Russian is through immersion. Immersion means surrounding yourself with the language and doing most (if not all) of your day to day activities in Russian instead of your native language. Obviously this is best done in a foreign country full of native Russian speakers.
As far as effectiveness goes immersion is the best option for learning a language. Immersion isn't the easiest nor is it usually the cheapest choice, but if you want to learn Russian and do it quickly, then from a strictly language learning perspective your best bet is to move to Russia and take an immersion course.
But immersion isn't always practical. Not everyone can just pick up and move to another country for a few months. In fact most people can't. Does that mean the rest of us are left out?....
The truth is that you can design your own Russian learning program and immerse yourself in the language over time. Granted it won't be as difficult or quick as the "true immersion experience", but it can still be very effective (and cheaper).
What you'll learn in this post:
Polyglot Benny Lewis shares his thoughts on immersion without traveling. You can check out more about his method for learning languages here.
There are ton of Russian learning resources out there and it's completely possible to learn Russian no matter where you are. Everyone's needs are unique there is no one size fits all when it comes to learning foreign languages.
In this post we'll recommend different resources depending on your availability, budget, and level. Ultimately we hope this post will give you the information you need to pick and choose the right learning method for you.
We should probably talk a little about inputs and outputs.
Inputs & Outputs (why they matter)
There are four aspects of language learning: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
Four Parts of Learning Russian
Of these four options two are inputs: reading and writing; and two are outputs: writing and speaking. You will need to develop all four skills to become fluent in Russian.
But you'll need a different amount of practice for each depending on your level in Russian.
Beginners will need more input than output, learning grammar and vocabulary because it's kind of hard to speak or write if you don't know any words.
Speaking and writing are still important at this level, you just don't need to practice them as much as in other levels. You're still very much trying to find your legs and learn to walk in the language.
Beginners have their pick of courses in the Russian language because most learning materials are aimed at new learners. The time commitment and budget will vary person to person. Some learners may want a very ordered and step by step approach while others like to simply jump in and learn how to swim.
The important thing at this level is that you're learning the basics of grammar and vocabulary.
3 Russian resources for beginners
5+ minutes a day
Duolingo is the best known language app, and for good reason. It's proven to be an affective way to learn basic grammar and vocabulary in a game like setting. Their Russian course features grammar explanations before each lessons. Best of all its free!
20+ minutes a day
Rocket language courses are built around recorded audio. Their Russian lessons are built around dialogues between native speakers (as well as English explanations). They also feature voice recognition and an in course Russian keyboard to get your feet wet in speaking and writing.
From $4+ per month
15+ minutes a day
Russianpod101 uses primarily audio lessons in a podcast format. It has flashcards, vocabulary, and word sheets. The podcast is a great way to learn grammar, vocabulary, and work on pronunciation. Russianpod101 isn't as structured as Rocket Russian but it's still a great way to develop listening and reading skills (podcast transcripts are available).
As an intermediate Russian student you'll want to gradually incorporate more speaking and writing into your learning. Your knowledge of the language will start to noticeably increase and you'll want to use everything you learn.
You also want to increase the difficulty level of what you read and listen to. You don't want things to get too easy.
Guard yourself against plateaus by keeping the time spent practicing inputs slightly higher than the outputs. Otherwise you could find yourself practicing the same old words and phrases, without learning much new material.
At the intermediate level you probably don't have a level of Russian high enough where you can jump into a conversation with any native speaker. So it might be a good idea to ease into a conversation with a language teacher or tutor (ie someone who has experience working with Russian learners).
This can be done online or in person. They will be able to help you through any bumps in the road and you're likely to get a lot out your talks with them. Whether you practice with a friend or a teacher it's important to level up your Russian speaking practice!
3 Russian resources for intermediate learners
30 minutes a day
Pimlseur is a completely audio based course. It's centered around a call-recall-response method that helps you practice responding in Russian. Pimsleur strikes a great balance between inputs and outputs (it's the only audio course I know of that does this). It's also a great tool for improving your Russian pronunciation.
$6+ per hour (price varies between teachers)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
One of Italki's Russian teachers
Italki is an online market place that connects language learners with language teachers for one-on-one language classes via video or audio chat. You can connect with language speakers from around the world and practice your speaking skills.There 350+ Professional Russian teachers and informal tutors on Italki.
*with a purchase of $20 or more. After your first purchased lesson a credit of $10 will be added to your account
Starts at $15 per month
5+ minutes a day
Fluentu is a site that helps you learn a language through native videos. Use in site flashcards, captions, and games to learn new words in context while watching Russian TV shows, movies, commercials, and more. It's a great way to push your listening skills and Russian vocabulary.
Advance learners should have a more or less equal level of Russian inputs and outputs. Their ability in the language should be pretty functional at this point.
The important thing at this level is keep yourself challenged and continue to refine your Russian in all four skills.
At the advanced level you don't need as much of a hands on approach like you did in the earlier levels. It's best for your learning to keep everything in Russian as much as possible. Any talk with a native speaker or any feedback on your writing or speaking will profit you greatly.
It also may be a good idea to occasionally work with a professional teacher who can help fine tune your Russian speaking ability. Often a teacher can point out blind spots in pronunciation, slang, idiomatic expressions, and other parts of the language that aren't always easy to pick up on.
3 Russian resources for advanced leaners
Write posts in Russian and post them to Lang-8 to get feedback from native speakers. It's one of the best ways to practice your writing, and it's free! This site is simple to use but very effective.
Speaky is a free online language exchange where you can meet and practice with language learners from over 180 countries. Practice with Russian speakers over video, audio, or text chat. Just remember to help them with their English too!
$6.50+ per hour (varies between teacher)
30 minute or 1 hour lessons
Verbling is a site similar to Italkli. While it doesn't have the selection of Russian teachers Italki has, Verbling favors teachers with experience and certification, so their overall quality of teachers is a little higher.
There's more than one way to learn Russian. Which way is the best depends on your level and learning needs. More important than a good course is a love of the language. Enjoy every step you take toward Russian fluency. The journey won't always be easy but you can bet it's worth it!