https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

One reason why is Russian so difficult.

Well. It just is.

Don't you like those kinds of answers? They only tell you what you already know?

Okay. For my real answer: I believe the first reason Russian is difficult to learn is "You must learn much more vocabulary than you do for other languages."

I am building vocabulary lists for each movie I am watching. The lists will be about 250 words each. And they will account for about 60% of the words used in the film.

If you google 'vocabulary frequency list' you will find large numbers of lists, AND information about why they are important. Basically, the importance has been known for at least 100 years. And the frequency listing of words has been used to write "Children's Graded Readers."

As I built this first frequency listing for "The Irony of Fate," I found that English has around 250 common words that account for 60% to 65% of our words used. YET, Russian requires 1,000 known words to reach the same level of understanding.

Thanks to angelosgeorgakis for telling me about this film.

So, if I learn the 250 most common words in English, I will normally understand 2 out of 3 words in a conversation. BUT, to reach the same level in Russian, I must learn 1,000 words. I must learn 3 to 5 times as many words in Russian to reach the same level as in English. (The problem becomes worse the better you want to understand Russian.)

SO, this is 1 reason Russian IS difficult.

Basically, you could learn 3 other languages as easily as you can learn Russian. And then there is the grammar.

Have fun!

Wayne

2 years ago

57 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/alexm768

I wonder, what are these magical 250 words exactly?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
Theron126
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"A", "the"...

It's worth noting that there's a very big difference between understanding two-thirds of the words in a conversation and understanding two-thirds of a conversation. In English if you know just the articles, you'll know a fair number of the words in a conversation but you won't have any idea what it's about.

The claim that you need to know 4 times as many Russian words to understand the same percentage of words in a conversation seems plausible to me. But because English has more words that aren't essential to getting the gist of a sentence, I find it questionable to deduce from that that by knowing only 250 words in English you'll be at the same level of understanding as if you know 1000 words in Russian.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Shady_arc
Shady_arc
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Indeed, the difference is big. Moreover, the statistics is about the same for English and Russian: knowing 250 words lets you understand about 50–60% of all words in a conversation (provided that you know all their forms, i.e, "me" = "I", "was" ="were" ="is"= "be" ="am" = "are"). But this does not help you much: for one, "hello" is not in the English top-1000.

On the other hand, most frequent 1000–2000 words are more useful, including not only the glue that holds the words together, but a fair share of popular words that can carry some message.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tattamin
Tattamin
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There's also the fact that English has a large number of phrasal verbs which can have wildly differing meanings. Learning e.g. "take" counts as one word, but you do not really know it until you understand all the meanings it might have, depending on whether it is followed by up, down, into, on, back, off, ...

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

True.

But, I doubt that affects a frequency listing to any significant degree.

Have you seen studies that indicate otherwise?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tattamin
Tattamin
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I haven't, actually.
But just imagine how much you can express with just a dozen of verbs and the same amount of prepositions, where in most other languages you'd to know need 70 or 80 different words/verbs. That is what in my opinion makes comparison so hard.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Shady_arc
Shady_arc
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Russian prefixes work in a similar fashion. Suffixes are way more predictable in their meanings, which tend to be "technical", for lack of a better word. Most prefixes are more abstract and polysemic—as are the English particles. Words like распустить, выпуск, запуск, запущенный in Russian or English phrasal verbs like give up, go on, take off, take after—they all let you make educated guesses at what they mean, especially if you encounter one of them in context. And still, a learner cannot reliably deduce their meanings while only knowing the parts they are built of.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

I agree that the difference is big, but I would like your source that the 250 most common words in Russian is equivalent to the 250 most common words in English.

I have studied word frequencies for years, maybe I have just missed your source.

Thank you.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Shady_arc
Shady_arc
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There is a frequency dictionary based on Russian National Corpus here. It is not extremely precise and has some mistakes (the word for "goth" being in the first 5000), yet it is fine in the first thousand. This particular list was compiled a few years ago when the whole colloquial corpus was about 970 000 words long. To give you an idea, these days even 100% pure "spoken non-public speech" subcorpus is larger than that.

For quite some time now, I have been compiling a frequency list of my own using the spoken corpus, trying to resolve homonymy on the way. It was sort of inevitable, given that such list was fairly useful for planning the course. The statistics and the frequencies are somewhat different from what you can find in the list I linked you to—however, the members of top-250 and top-1000 lists are roughly the same (maybe, in a different order). As expected, the list has a steeper distribution curve than the one based on the main corpus (which is mainly written language).

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bookrabbit
bookrabbit
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Have you seen the 10000 word list on memrise? If so would you say it is an accurate frequency list? Worth learning?

And how many words are in the Russian tree? (For which I heartily thank you, it is wonderful.) I am only up to 750 words on the memrise course but most of the new words I have already seen in the course.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Hugo9191
Hugo9191
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I couldn't reply to bookrabbit on his post so I'll reply here: I'm doing that course, currently going on 320 words. From all that I've learnt there, most of them I already knew from this course, so it's a nice memory helper. Some of them I didn't know and I learnt there, some that I consider important. And then there are a few that I really don't know why I'm learning. Overall, I advise you to try it out, I like both the course and their methods of spaced repetition.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

While you gave me pause, do 'a' and 'the' account for 20% of the English language?

Did I read you correctly?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Shady_arc
Shady_arc
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Not exactly. The, a, and, of, in, to, be, and have are about 20% of all words used in English speech and texts, on average. Add I, you, for, it, and that—and you are probably over 25%.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/an_alias
an_alias
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Isn't this why Jabberwocky is so popular among (English-speaking) linguists?

The actual nouns/verbs/adjectives can be complete nonsense, it's the function words you mentioned that provide the clues to the meaning.

Well, that and some wordplay on familiar words and sounds that are now used by marketers to come up with names of companies and products that evince appropriate emotions.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
Theron126
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No, I wouldn't say it's anywhere close to that. I wouldn't know precisely what the percentage is. Shady_arc seems to have done some research though.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
msgur
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/So, if I learn the 250 most common words in English, I will normally understand 2 out of 3 words in a conversation. /

I know more than 10000 words in English and I can understand about 1 out of 5 words in american movies) listening is the most difficult part of learning English for Russian native speakers. You could learn Italian + Spanish + Portuguese languages as easily as you can learn English)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bookrabbit
bookrabbit
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Listening skills are a separate issue. With a vocabulary of ten thousand words you will be set fair when that clicks. I am still processing Russian words too slowly to follow speech as of yet, but it will come, so in the meantime I am working on increasing my vocabulary. Within the last month my processing of Spanish caught up with the speed of speech. It is an exhilarating experience to suddenly understand what was just a blur of sound.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
msgur
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The problem is american prononciation. I can easily understand Spanish because we have all Spanish sounds and words are prononced almost exactly as they are written

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bookrabbit
bookrabbit
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Out of curiosity do you find British pronunciation any easier? We tend to sound letters more clearly I think.

Anyway, keep at it, it will come. Watching lots of tv while using English subtitles too should help. Binge watching is an immersion of sorts. I never analyse what I hear, just let my mind assimilate it all. It isn't the conscious brain that processes language.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
msgur
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Yes, British pronunciation is a little bit easier. I can understand most of CNN and I have watched american tv shows Friends and Seinfeld, I understood 80-90% of them. But last week I tried to watch the movie Straw Dogs and it was very hard to understand

We have the excellent site for listening skills https://puzzle-english.com/pieces/#132621

https://puzzle-english.com/videopuzzles

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/formagella

Use English language subtitles, you will learn to understand most of the stuff in the normal movies, but in certain movies the accent or slurring is stronger.

When you feel ready, watch The Wire. Without subtitles if you're feeling suicidal.

I have to wean myself off subtitles though because they're limiting my progress now.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

Further, you should be using word frequency lists. Since the AVERAGE American only 'knows' 20,000 words, you should be WELL ON YOUR WAY.

So, I logically deduce somewhere along the way, you started learning words which are not frequently used in English. 'Logically' and 'deduce' are probably not in the top 10,000 words. They are 'germane' to this discussion, but not important when watching most movies.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
msgur
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I have never used any word frequency lists. I have read a lot of books in English so my passive vocabulary is ok. I know the word deduce (дедукция - lat. deductio) and I know logically (логично or логически - from the Ancient Greek)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

I agree.

But, I can learn Japanese, Korean, and Spanish in the time I have spent on Russian.

Having been conversational in those languages, I know that you are correct.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Soph1931

AHAHAHH... No. My friend, Japanese is a whole 'nother story!! I quit Japanese after learning it for 2 years because I wasn't at beginner level yet. The kanji has two reading at least, each. Then there's the conjugations, and the word order. It's very hard. Much harder than Russian. Then you mention Korean, and that's very hard as well!! Spanish is easy, yes, but not easy enough to also learn Japanese and Korean in the time it would take you to learn Russian.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bookrabbit
bookrabbit
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It is certainly the vocabulary that is giving me the most trouble, although I seem to have reached a point where words are beginning to be related to each other and I recognise the root and so can guess the meaning, and anticipate the form. The grammer, apart from becoming accustomed to the verbs, does not seem difficult. It is in some ways easier than German, at least less juggling with word order is required.

I have found with other languages that I need to able to understand 3-5000 words to read and listen well and then to be able to pick up more through context. As I am struggling to get to even the 1000 word mark in Russian this may take some time. And from what you say the number may need to be higher for Russian. Patience clearly required!

Out of curiosity does anyone know how many words are in the Russian tree? I hate that the number of words you have covered isn't shown anymore. Not that I know them all yet, but hopefully by the time I finish gilding the tree I will.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

DO NOT try to learn Russian by roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

My SMALL experience with Russian prefixes and suffixes is that they do NOT modify in a logical manner.

That is my 2 cents on that.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/bookrabbit
bookrabbit
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But they provide clues, and ways to distinguish one word from another, so they don't just blur into a sea of letters. I have found it helps to compare them to German words. And doing the Spanish from Russian course I see there are other similarities there. Every hook that can mesh a word into memory is helpful. Russian words are slippery fish!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Vegnio
Vegnio
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I wonder if those 1000 words are different words, or various forms of the same word.

I have heard several times that you need to know ~2000 words to be able to speak fluently in a language.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

There is variation between languages, but that is close for non difficult languages.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mosfet07

I read somewhere that English has much more roots than Russian. On the other hand, Russian definitely beats English by the number of wordforms.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

Great point.

I think part of why Russian beats English is that words are not universally formed - I.e., I can form English words by knowing the root, the prefix, and the suffix. And there are not very many exceptions to this. At least not that I am aware of.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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If you want to see what you can do with the most common words I recommend trying lingvist.io. There you learn words from sentences on flashcards. The most common words come first. You can choose texts to read based on how many words you know (it shows the percentage). There's also a "preview" box with a sample text. In that text the words change color when you have seen them. This box shows very well how the content words aren't among the most common ones, and if you don't understand them, you just won't be able to understand the text.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/alexm768

Your link seems not corresponding to your description. Are you sure it is linguist.com and not something like lingq.com?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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I fixed it :) It's lingvist.io I have learned 2800 words there and I know 86% of the words in the sample text. Here's how it would look to someone who doesn't know the words. Can you figure out what's missing?

"Ce ... montre le ... des mots que vous devriez maintenant comprendre dans n'importe quel .... Par exemple, si vous avez appris 1000 mots, vous devriez comprendre à peu près 71% des mots d'un … .... C'est aussi simple que ça ! Si ce ... s'élève à 90, la langue devient vraiment utile et l'... de nouveaux mots presque .... Après, ce sont les ... et ... de langue qui se ... à vous. Bonne chance !"

Of course I know enough French to actually know all of the missing words, lingvist just doesn't know it :D

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

I love this!!!

Thank you.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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I wish they had more languages, though.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

This reminds me of the old flashcard program that I used.

I will look it up and see if it is still similar.

Thanks

Wayne

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3
piguy3
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I just tried out lingvist.io Yeah, it's quite well set up. Being a native English speaker with a pretty well developed English vocab, I found some online site to estimate French vocab size, and it came up with something like 15,000. But I know there are lots of holes. Now I've got a good way to ferret them out of the top 5000 words of the frequency list. Thanks for mentioning it!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chirelchirel
chirelchirel
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Oh, I've forgotten what the site is called… there are too many sites with ling or lang in them :D I'll try to find it and fix my post.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/wayne902574

Thank you!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jaydenhuck
Jaydenhuck
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Soo many people say the exact same thing as what you're saying and it really baffles me. If you put solid effort into learning Russian and maintain motivation and dedication, you will become conversationally fluent sooner than you expect! Once you get a foot-hold into the language, you will be learning and retaining more and more, easier and easier. It's like learning a new word in your native language - it isn't hard at all to remember it because you can subconsciously find the roots and words similar to it, and you hear it around you so you're exposed to the word and "revising" it. Just take it slow and understand everything handed to you and you will be on the road to fluency in no time! Good luck :)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jannelies1

Well, for me as a Dutch person, vocabulary is the easiest part because there are many, many words in Russian that come from Dutch ;-)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
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"Going by the wordfrequency.info list of 5k most frequently used English words (here's the list itself), I get the following numbers:

1 - 100: 0 matches. (1 Proto-Indo-European relative in my/мой; day/день are false cognates).

101 - 200: 8 matches. School/школа, student/студент, group/группа, problem/проблема, American (adj)/американский, company/компания, system/система, program/программа.

201 - 300: 7 matches. Number/номер, million/миллион, national/национальный, fact/факт, business/бизнес, service/сервис, political/политический. Although night/ночь both descend from the same Proto-Indo-European root, they now only share one common letter, so I'm not counting these.

301 - 400: 15 matches. President/президент, real/реальный, minute/минута, idea/идея, information/информация, social/социальный, public/публичный, office/офис, person/персона, history/история, result/результат, moment/момент, second/секунда, process/процесс, music/музыка.

401 - 500: 12 matches. Nation/нация, college/колледж, interest/интерес, effect/эффект, class/класс, control/контроль, role/роль, economic/экономический, show/шоу, leader/лидер, police/полиция, federal/федеральный.

501 - 600: 23 matches. International/интернациональный, model/модель, season/сезон, position/позиция, special/специальный, form/форма, official/официальный, center/центр, site/сайт, project/проект, American (noun)/американец, situation/ситуация, industry/индустрия, product/продукт, doctor/доктор, patient/пациент, test/тест, technology/технология, computer/компьютер, type/тип, film/фильм, Republican/республиканец, organization/организация."

"Greek, Latin and French were the languages of educated persons for a long time in the history of Russia. Many words, especially of scientific origin, are the same between English and Russian, because they were borrowed from the same sources."

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mosfet07

The last paragraph is important. Almost all words you listed are borrowings both in English and Russian, and from the same source.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/an_alias
an_alias
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This is what I meant in that other thread. They're not words from English, but the source we both borrowed from is the same.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Vegnio
Vegnio
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Can you give some examples?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ruslanruskan

I grew up with Croatian, English and German. Croatian is a slavic language, so the 3 years I've spent on Russian have been extremely easy for me.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Apahegy

Basically, you could learn 3 other languages as easily as you can learn Russian. And then there is the grammar.

Well then. I guess I'll say goodbye to Russian and in the same time learn Basque, Hungarian and Greenlandic.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Theron126
Theron126
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Don't give up. Russian is worth it.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/msgur
msgur
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You could learn other 5 languages as easily as you can learn Hungarian.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Tattamin
Tattamin
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This might of course depend on what your native language is.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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...and how interested you are in each language, and what tools you have at your disposal, and which concepts in particular are hard or easy for you... The list goes on.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Apahegy

Alright, then instead I'll learn Basque- Finnish, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin - and Greenlandic.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poin-dexter

I really like learning vocab, I know that if I just stick the words into Anki, and keep consuming native material to cement the words in my head, I'll get there in the end. Using it (grammar) is much harder imo. First, there were cases which I'm just about on top of at this point, at least in theory, so it's down to practice. Now I need to get to grips with verb aspects which make my brain hurt. It's probably the same for all languages though, in that respect. They all have their tricky bits.

Кстати, я тоже люблю фильм "Ирония Судьбы". Он очень смешной!!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/RosMary5882
RosMary5882
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as for me english is too difficult!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LovecraftCthulhu

Agree with you. I can't understand Russian language's difficulty since I've learned it when I was 9 years old, but I must say that English is very difficult for me. Studying it for about 2 years now and still struggling with English tenses, prepositions, pronunciation and other stuff. Also one more thing which makes English so difficult - it has a lot of words for the same things. Variety is too big, you should have very wide vocabulary just to read some ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ light novels. Sorry for using swearword, I'm little bit nervous now)

2 years ago
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