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A little help to climb the Russian language ladder

Good morning. I’m having a “confidence crisis”, and I wonder if anyone, anywhere, could help me out of it! I finished the Duolingo tree (English to Russian) about 3 weeks ago, and I’ve kept it guilded ever since. I practice daily, without fail, and I’ve got a couple of books of short stories (for beginners admittedly) that I can now read pretty quickly and without difficulty. I’m currently using the Duolingo course on Memrise to solidify all the vocab, and then I intend to do the reverse course on Duolingo (Russian to English).

I speak with a Russian friend on Skype twice a week (once in English, once in Russian), and I have a few other friends that I text on Viber/Facebook a few times daily. As such my speaking and writing is now OKish (I can get across most things I want to say and be understood).

Now this would be all well and good, but I’m really struggling with listening comprehension. I listen to two albums of Russian music every work day (one on my way to work (Zemfira), and one on my way home (Spleen/DDT)), I listen to Kommersant radio about 3 hours a day while at work, and I’m watching about two films a week (with English subtitles admittedly). Put simply, I don’t know what else I can do…

The problem is, none of this seems to be working, certainly not noticeably. Now, I only started to learn Russian 6 months ago, so maybe I’m expecting too much, but I don’t understand why my reading and writing is so far ahead of my listening comprehension. It’s not that I don’t understand what people say, it’s just I have to say each sentence back to myself to understand it, which means listening to any kind of continuous speech is largely impossible. I can find no serious (free) resources to help me out. I’ve found audio books but they’re all Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or the like, so way too hard for me. And I’ve found a few courses on Spotify, but they’re way too easy. There seems to be no resources for those learners who are neither advanced nor absolute beginners…

Any ideas? All assistance will be greatly appreciated. I’d prefer it to be free if at all possible.

May 17, 2016



Going purely on your comment about understanding fragments of Russian when your friend is speaking English and therefore you are not expecting anything other than a language you understand, I think you may have hit the nail on the head about your way forward.

From my experience with Italian, I can't speak for Russian as I've only just started it, I find that when I speak Italian in real life, not via Skype or similar but face to face it takes my brain a couple of seconds and then it does a sort of "backflip" I'm not trying to understand it anymore, I'm listening and responding without thinking about it, just as I do in English. I suspect, that the wall you are describing is that you are mentally trying to translate as you go along, even if only subconsciously. Hence the fact that in the middle of English, you're ok because you are expecting to understand everything said to you, so your brain doesn't try to translate it, it just understands.

I would suggest that you try listening to the resources you already use as well as things which you consider too advanced but without trying to understand anything, because listening to the cadences will help you to differentiate the words and bit by bit (it's a slow job) you will understand more and more. Above all, try to listen without translating, easier said than done I know but it takes the pressure off and you will gradually reduce your wall to rubble.

In real terms you are expecting a lot from yourself to understand all the different voices at this stage but take heart from the fact that your progress so far is amazing and that everyone hits a plateau from time to time. With the speed that you have reached your current level you will get there, just relax and let your subconscious take over ....it really does work. Good luck.:-)


Thank you. Again, that’s really helpful. It is good to know other people experience the same problems and I’m not alone. I’m not really in a “rush” as such, I just need to know I’m definitely not heading towards a dead-end, and from what you say, it seems that’s definitely not the case. Like you say, I think it’s a confidence issue as much as anything else. I need to get over my subconcious belief that if it’s not English I can’t understand it. I think I’ve over come this in my reading, but not with my listening, and therein lies the problem. Like you say, I’m sure it will come. To be fair the last time I had a plateau I was frustrated for about a fortnight and suddenly felt like I’d made a giant leap. Maybe then, as they say, the coldest hour comes just before dawn. Thanks again.


Anyone reading this post in the same situation should check these out. These are exactly the kind of things I need!!!!!!! Thank you again to annika_a, whose podcast suggestion was exactly the inspiration I needed to search a little more and find something useful!!!



Funny - I was just going to suggest the russianpodcast which I came across recently. I wonder if the Pimsleur method might appeal, which I have been using for a few months now. It has certainly helped with both speaking and understanding.


The russianpodcast.eu site is great. This site has very similar material, but only a little of it is free nowadays. Lingq has very good Russian material at various levels; the texts and audio are free, or you can pay a subscription for less restricted access.

[added] govoriporusski.com offers podcasts very similar to russianpodcast and russianforbeginners--the same 3-part format. None of their material seems to be free any more, but they are not expensive. You also might try Khan Academy on youtube or the Russian version; many of these clips are very fast, but some are not too bad, and having pictures helps.


The site you mention was new to me, and I had a listen to the podcasts on it. They are still a bit too hard for me (I'm only about halfway through the Duolingo tree, trying to keep afloat with the help of both the Duolingo vocabulary course on Memrise and the -- amazingly named -- Top 10,000 Words Part 1 course on there), but I've bookmarked it for later.

So right back at you regarding the thanks! :-)


Thanks to everyone who has commented. It's appreciated. I will try them all out.


A little more to add. When I’m reading, or texting, I don’t translate the Russian into English (except if I need to use a dictionary). Normally, within reason, I can understand the Russian “as Russian” so to speak. I don’t think, therefore, that the problem is about how I’m understanding Russian; it’s more my “speed” of understanding it. It’s like the words aren’t getting through to the part of my brain that can understand them; like there’s a wall somewhere! And funnily enough, during our English Skype chats, if my friend speaks a fragment of Russian, it seems natural to me, and I can understand it. It’s like the fact that I’m not expecting to understand it is the problem itself (because when I expect him to speak English and he speaks Russian, it seems a lot easier for me to understand).


Wow! I'm mainly impressed by how far you've made it in 6 months.

To be honest, I think you're expecting a lot of yourself. You've crossed many hurdles already, but it's quite normal to reach a plateau every now and then when learning a language.

If someone has any good suggestions regarding podcasts, that might be a way forward (in addition to or instead of some of what you're already doing). With a podcast, you can listen to the same bit of continuous speech several times, and understand more each time. The same could be done with watching/listening to the news. Also, you could try watching the same film you've already seen with subtitles again a little bit later, but this time without subtitles.

I think patience will be your friend here: keep getting exposure to the language, and it will get easier with time. And do keep challenging yourself -- if one resource starts getting too easy or boring, go ahead and ditch it and do something else instead.


I think your friend has not been fully honest about being able to understand English after 6-8 months. This is nearly impossible, unless he is a real prodigy, which most of us aren't. When I came to Israel at the age of 9, it took me a good 2-3 years to be able to understand 70-80% of spoken Hebrew (the last percents are 'fine tuning', which comes later), and we're talking about a 9 years old kid (children are better at learning languages) who was put in Hebrew speaking environment (you don't live in Russia and hear it all around you on a daily basis). Same with my English - it took a while before I could actually watch English movies without subs. That being said - I still might not understand a particular expression or slang words. Or even just bad pronunciation. Currently I focus on German, and although I listen to German podcasts, watch German movies, and try having conversations with German speakers, I still would understand no more than 50% of the total.

So I think your expectations are non-proportional. Take it easier and keep doing what you do. Understanding will follow. Also notice that spoken Russian and written Russian are two different things. We write "солнце", but pronounce "сонце". We pronounce unstressed 'o' as 'a'. Swallow consonants (especially when these come in a long sequence).

Так что не переживайте, все у вас обязательно получится. Терпение и труд - все перетрут )


just keep grinding - obviously speach is more dificult than reading because it is so much faster/no repetition/consist of stuff which is not on the ciriculum. I mean you cant compare reading short stories adopted for beginners to listening to actual spoken language which is targeted to adult native speakers and also frequently doesnt follow the same patterns as textbooks. Listening to radio and music and understanding at least part of it just 6 months of studying a language as different as english and russian is a very good result indeed.


How about some cartoons for children? They usually have relatively simple language and clear pronunciation. https://www.youtube.com/user/TVSmeshariki


Hey Mikey! I know where you are. I remember that when I was a little kid, what really helped me to learn English wasn't the classes, sure, they helped me to learn the "ropes" of the language, but "fluency" wasn't achieved with them. TV, TV and TV. I used to watch a lot of TV, FOX mainly, and they'd run Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, basically the mainstream american TV shows. The "twist" is that they ran the same episodes a lot of times (probably FOX Portugal wasn't that wealthy back then) so I had time to read the subtitles and associate sounds with words. I remember knowing what the translation for the word "X" is but I couldn't remember how to write it. That was because I learnt it on The Simpsons (for example). I think that after you learn phrasal structures and the phrasal connectors, what's left is mainly vocabulary and expressions. I think you can only find those with natives. TV is an option, podcasts are one as well, maybe radio, music?


Yes, I've been listening to plenty of music (Zemfira, Spleen, DDT etc). And now I've found some great podcasts, thanks to people's suggestions on here. I will give some of your suggestions a go at the weekend, thank you. (I have a feeling I might not be too popular at work if I spend the day watching The Russian Simpsons, but with podcasts, or the radio, nobody knows what's in my ears :-)).

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