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Looking for tips to learn Russian

As a native English speaker, I found that it was not easy to learn German without guidance. I first tried learning it without memorizing genders. That didn’t work out well.

As someone who speaks no Slavic languages, I don’t want to make the same mistake again. When I’m learning Russian words, what do I need to pay attention to that I normally don’t in English?

July 20, 2018



I am a German native speaker who started learning Russian recently and I think that you can compare Russian a bit with German. Well, it doesn't use articles but the words still have genders which needed to be learned. Then there are the cases. Russian has six cases (German only four) but it necessary to learn when to use which one. Finally, the verbs use different endings for each pronoun (as well as German does), the adjectives adapt their endings according to the nouns they refer to (again it is similar with German) and of course, the nouns change their endings depending on the cases they appear in the sentences.

I know it might be only my feeling but I think German and Russian have a lot in common. (However, there are differences too.. ;-))


Yes, you're right. You can find common things with German and for example with French language, besides we have a lot of words taken from that languages.


Well, I'm Russian, in our language the most difficult things are - cases (we've got 6), declinations (3). But there are only three times, (Past, Present and Future, well, when i've studied English it was very big problem to learn all times =)), we have no articles, and we usually have no strict order of words in sentences like in most of European languages. For example, "I love you" - you can translate it like - Я люблю тебя; Я тебя люблю; Тебя я люблю, Люблю тебя я...and so on.


Hi Phobos_Raven, I have reached the verbs and I must say - although there are "only" three tenses - I am struggling now with verbs of motions and then I read about imperfective and perfective verbs.. I get the feeling there are some other difficulties hidden.. besides tenses ;-))


Well I have been studying Russian pretty much exclusively for the past 4 months or so. I would say get a combination of audio books, books and videos to supplement duolingo.

I highly recommend the following: Red Kalinka's course (I should have started it earlier); Behind the wheel Russian by Mark Frobose (listen to it as many times as you can); Learn in your car Russian (not as good but you need to listen to all the audio material you can muster); youtube videos by Ru Land Club (Nika Minchenko) and Antonia Romaker, Elena Jung is pretty good too; Collins Gem Russian phrasebook — for when your phone dies; DK Russian-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary; "The everything Essential Russian book"; Russian Grammar (Barron's Grammar Series) — it's very small and concise; "The new Russian Penguin Course" (more advanced); Russian grammar Quickstudy Academic Outline reference chart; Language Fundamentals: Russian Language Fundamentals Card Guide; and then finally watching TV shows like Кухня.

The difficulty only begins with the Cyrillic alphabet, although that's really the least of your worries. Next you'll need to contend with three genders. Significantly more pronouns than English. Verb conjugations and noun declensions (six cases) which English does not have. Verbs of motion are also kinda tricky, if only because there are so many of them and they use a lot of prefixes.


Impresionante la cantidad de bibliografia que das, me causa curiosidad si sos autodidacta o de donde sacaste todo eso, cualquiera sea el caso impresionante. En tu opinion crees que dicha bibliografia puede servirle a un hablante de español nativo que si entiende ingles?


Thank you. It is my own list. It is just the way I study (video/audio/books/apps). I was thinking of making a youtube video about it. Yes, these resources will definitely help you if you can already understand English! And Red Kalinka is based in Spain. Maybe the grammar books might be harder to understand in English...

I am just very fussy when it comes to learning materials. Especially with audio. Each course if very different. For example I don't like Pimsleur or Michel Thomas audio methods. I prefer native speakers (and preferably female for some unknown reason).

For example if you look up "parallel audio" Russian app [Aprende Ruso Rápido con 501 Frases Usando Parallel Audio], where they teach Russian vocabulary from English & Spanish, they speak way too slowly. The speaker sounds almost disabled, he speaks that slowly. I wanted to listen in Spanish, but I couldn't, eh, 'aguantarlo'. I'm forgetting my English, seriously. I couldn't stand it. That's it. I couldn't stand it. LOL.

Sorry I don't write my reply in Spanish, I've very rusty with it.


You will find that the way of saying things in Russian is in sharp contrast to the way we speak English.


I'd say that the best way to go about learning Russian would be to read and listen, read and listen, read and listen, and when you're not sure you've done enough, do more reading and listening.

"When I’m learning Russian words, what do I need to pay attention to that I normally don’t in English?"

Nothing in particular. There are prefixes, suffixes and roots in the words like there are in English words.

For example, airplane. "the word airplane, like aeroplane, derives from the French aéroplane, which comes from the Greek ἀήρ (aēr), "air" and either Latin planus, "level", or Greek πλάνος (planos), "wandering"." - from Google

Russian has a lot of these words, too.

друго - Another Друг - Friend

Eventually, you become so intuitive with Russian that you won't have a lot of issues remembering words.


I've learned russian by a German podcast and did quite well. The genders are not that a big problem to me as they are quite regular and only few exceptions need to be memorized apart from those ending in a soft consonat.
When I began writing that proved to be very difficult, because German relies greatly on vovals which aren't important in Russian when they don't have an accent and vary largely depending on the accent's position, so I didn't know how to write them until I had a raw grasp of the word's root at a quite large vocabulary of about 5000 words.
The other hard part for me were the perfective and imperfective verbs, what I think isn't difficult for an English speaker because it is not that different from the English continuous form which I now, by help of Russian, understand much better.


Don't worry about genders in Russian. For the most part, the gender of the word is shown by the ending of the word. There are only a minority of words were the ending doesn't help you, and even so the gender can sometimes be guessed by the preceding letters or general 'feel' of the subject.

When learning verbs, save yourself the hassle and learn them in both their perfective and imperfective form. This will save you time later.

Similarly, when learning adjectives and verbs, learn them in their nominative (masculine) and infinitive forms respectively (i.e. Говорить instead of Говоришь; Испуганный instead of Испуганнего or Испуганной).


I recently started studying Russian on Duolingo.

I found adding the Russian iphone keyboard (to get the Cyrillic alphabet) turned out to be one of the best things I did. The phone knows what language you are typing within the lesson, so it switches automatically. The alphabet is actually quite easy to pick up.

Other thing I saw is that, in one way, vowels are more like English as opposed to Spanish. What I mean is that in Spanish, the letter A is basically pronounced the same no matter where you see it, same for all vowels. In English it can be pronounced a half dozen ways depending on the word, but we already know them all, so it's easy for us. (Bod, Bawd, and Baud are spoken exactly the same where I'm from. A non-Midwesterner is probably reading this and thinking "Like, what?")

Example: One of the first words we learn in the course, молоко moloko (milk) is not all the same vowel sound, you don't say mow low koe, but it's closer to how we would say it in midwestern dialect English if we just tried to read mollaco. Once I realized the vowels are sometimes just a suggestion (more like English, not at all like Spanish), I started picking it up faster.

I'm still trying to get over the G sounding like a V when it shows up near the end of the word as эго (looks like ego, naturally I would say eggo, but you say evo, say what again?)

Anyway, add that Cyrillic keyboard if you can.


The best option is to find a native russian speaker that is able to interpret every particular word for you. It would be really hard to understand the difference between за:резать (zarezat'), пере:резать (pererezat'), от:резать (otrezat'), при:резать (pr-ee-rezat'), у:резать (-oo-rezat'), с:резать (srezat'), до:резать (dorezat'), вы:резать (vyyrezat). As you can see, all these words have ^резать^ (rezat'), but they cannot be translated into english "cut". The same with everything. You need to speak/chat/listen to native speakers and understand them as well. After all, you learn russian. You should learn it from russians. Even though an english speaking will give you tips, you won't understand the language (word, phrase etc) completely.


Interesting. And this is where the duolingo Russian course fails IMHO, with prefixes.

Here is what I get when I put that into google translate:

slaughter, cut, cut off, slaughter, cut back, cutting down, cut, cut. I notice one of those is the perfective form of the verb, yes? (срезать)

I'm just starting to learn these prefixes. So I'm curious to know: What is the difference between зарезать and прирезать? What is the difference between перерезать, дорезать and вырезать?

Hopefully you can help! :)


Is "ср'езать" the perfective form of the verb? - Yes, it is and the imperfective form looks the same but the word stress falls on another syllable (срез'ать).

From what I had found in Wiktionary I chose the translations that seemed the most widespread (the examples of objects are mine):

"Срезать" - обрезать верхнюю часть чего-либо - to cut away, to cut sth off, first of all the upper part of sth vertical (e.g. a tree, a flower, also to cut off/remove the top, the tip of sth) or maybe to remove a part that is sticking out (e.g. a branch "срезать ветку", a loose thread from some piece of clothing "срезать нитку"). In general I understand the verb "срезать" as "to remove/cut sth off some surface". We can also use this word to say that we take shortcuts on our way somewhere (срезать путь, срезать угол по пути куда-либо). The translation "to cut down, reduce" is also possible when talking about some regular payments: salary, pension, welfare, grants, educational aids etc., but I think the word "ур'езать" is still better here.

The verb "отрезать" can also be used in most of these situations (except for the trees, flowers, taking shortcuts and reducing payments in my list of examples).

"Зарезать" and "прирезать" mean the same, with the only difference that the verb "зарезать" simply states that someone (a human or an animal) is killed with a bladed weapon, as the word "прирезать" sounds more cynical and can be translated as "to finish someone".

перерезать - to cut in two (a rope, a ribbon, anything you can think of) дорезать - can have several meanings: 1. to finish cutting, cut everything up (закончить резать). 2. to keep cutting sth untill you reach some point and stop (дорезать до какого-либо места). 3. to cut some more (дорезать еще) though this translation is not so obvious, just "нарезать еще" is the one that comes to mind first. вырезать - cut sth out, also carve sth out

Besides the above explanations, the verbs you asked about have even more meanings. I am writing only about some of them.
Sorry, if something is not clearly or fully explained, I am not a coherent writer, unfortunately.


Зарезать (zarezat') - прирезать (pr-ee-rezat') mean pretty much the same. They're changeable. "Я зарезал свинью, человека" - "I slaughtered a pig, a human", "Я прирезал курицу, человека" - "I slaughtered a chicken, a human". I'd say that прирезал is slightly more focused on the killing part, while зарезал simply puts it as the fact that someone's been killed.

Перерезать (pererezat') - to cut smth or smn in two pieces. You add "на две (2), три (3), четыре (4) etc части (parts)" if you want to be more precise. "Я перерезал ленту" - "I've cut a ribbon", "Я перерезал ленту на четыре равных куска" - "I've cut a ribbon in four equal pieces". This word can have the meaning of killing, too (oh, that hard ruzzian :-D), but it's rare to see.

Отрезать (otrezat') - to cut smth or simply to separate something. Separate is more precise, but it's changing to "to separate smth from smth or smn with a sharp object, instrument". "Я отрезал лапу его кота" - "I've cut off a leg of his cat", "Я отрезал кусок нити" - "I've cut a piece of a thread", "I've separated a thread in two pieces (I take one of them because I need it and leave the second one)" You can put it in a different way, too (I'm not a native english speaker so I can't really determine how it's called in english): "Сказал, как отрезал" - I (me) or he said something in a way that is firmly, hard determined. A1 says something like "Я люблю тебя и ты моя!" (I love you and you're mine!) to A2, then A2 or A3 (the one that was nearby) replies with "сказал, как отрезал" in the meaning that the one who said it is for sure would do what he said. I'd explain better if my english skills were better ;-;.

Урезать (-oo-rezat') - to lower smth, to shorten smth, not especially with a sharpened instrument. "Я урезал ему зарплату" - "I've lowered his salary".

Срезать (srezat') - to cut or to cut off smth from the top. "Я срезал на той дороге" - to find a shortened way to the destination point. Smth like "I found a better, faster way on that road", "Я срезал цветы" - to carefully cut flowers off its roots.

Дорезать (dorezat') - to cut more slices of smth, to end cutting. Can mean a threat as "i will kill you next time" ("в следующий раз я тебя дорежу"). "Я дорезал колбасу" - "I ended up cutting sausage", "Я дорежу ещё колбасы" - "I'm going to cut more slices of sausage".

Вырезать (vyyrezat') - to cut smth out, to genocide (simply kill everyone of a particular group), to draw on smth with a sharpened instrument, to make wooden objects, figures etc. "Я вырезал три фигуры" - "I've cut out three figures", "Я вырезал её семью" - "I slaughtered everyone of her family", "Я вырезал её семью" - "I've cut out her family" (cut out of smth like photo, picture etc), "Я вырезал своё имя на дереве" - "I've drawn, written my name on a tree" (using a knife), "Я вырезал фигурку коня" - "I've made a small wooden horse" (not necessarily wooden, could be any material, but usually it's wood).

Actually, there are more of them (надрезать (to make a slight cut), порезать (to cut smth, smn), резануть (slang word of резать), врезать (to cut smth into - literal, to put smth into prepared place, or to punch smn)). My post of these words wasn't about translating them. I can put here plenty of these in ten minutes. It's casual for russians. Убирать, забирать, прибирать, набирать, отбирать (DO NOT TRANSLATE THESE :-D). Without right guidance the learner would lose plenty of time on casual things like this one. It's like learning the language without practice. Language is about speaking. Try to learn chinese without speaking, :-D. I am not saying that you do not need to learn it at all, but without everyday speaking practice with native speakers (via net, mail, video) it'd take decades to learn single language. It's much easier to understand.


I do not think that the Duo or any another course fail somewhere. It's good at the beginning, to understand structures, some words and types of these words etc. But when you need to speak with another person, you cannot do this, because you hardly understand him (her). Even though you've been studying hard, you cannot. That's why i suggest to concentrate on speaking-writing-listening etc practice of natives. They speak, gesture, behave etc in a different way. If you want to understand the language, you should learn it from them. Instead of reading english topics about russian words, read russian topics about russian words (with a translator ofc). Find some sites... forvo (pronunciation), do not learn russian (this is about all languages, not especially russian) words in their literal meaning (like forms of резать. literally all of them mean smth close to cut, but we do not use it as simple "cut"). For example, [Я врезал ему] - I gave him a punch - while [Я врезал её] в рамку - I've put it (her) in a frame. And for the differences you can check below (or above, that Duo forum :-D). Those aren't all of the possible meanings, but the main uses.


This is a hard question to answer, as Russian is quite different from English. German is a lot closer related to English, as well. I think the best suggestion I have at the moment would be to study the tips and notes that come with each lesson. Also, if you run into things you cannot make heads or tails out of, you can always ask on the forum. People are exceptionally helpful ♥


I suggest starting with phonetics and listening practice, then moving on to writing (and writing by hand really helps learning the spelling rules). Familiarize yourself with the genders, but don't bother memorizing them. Learn the cases (and genders) in context and the same applies to verb aspects and motion verbs.

RU-land has a lot of excellent videos on Youtube and I found the lingvist app to be quite good (thought they do have room for improvement) after having finished the Duolingo tree (some prefer to do them side by side). Get a good grammar book or two to complement the Duolingo course, read the comments here as there are a lot of valuable tips hidden in the sentence discussions and supplement the course with simple texts (maybe buy a textbook for those, I get mine from the library since I live in Finland and there's a ton of learning material available here) or watching tv or something that gives you a better context for the words.

learning Russian is fun! I hope you enjoy it too :)


The suffixes and the genders I guess


It sounds like you already know plenty! The suggestion already made to try to chat with Russian speakers is a really good one. Finding a pen pal or two can also be really helpful.

Are the suggestions made here about the Pushkin Institute or here about beginning reading or here too easy?

Some of these suggestions (Русские подкасты and "A Taste of Russina") are intermediate, and I think the earlier 'casts are still available for free; plus Старое (or Детское) радио has plenty at all levels.

And there is a huge amount of material in Russian on YouTube (as you know); I like "Easy Russian,", here, which is not so easy, and lots of these "Hidden Gems" (just how are they hidden?), here are good.

Which among these suggestions are at a good level for you now, as there's plenty more things to suggest at any level?

[Added: I ran out of steam, hunting up links . . . well, actually it was time for dinner. I'll be glad to try to make more targeted suggestions, if you ask, indicating what is at your level, with a link or two, right now.]

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