A Guide To Learning Russian in Russia
As the world’s largest nation, Russia has 11 time zones, 16 international borders, and centuries of globally significant history. Does the thought of world-class culture set your veins on fire (or is that just the vodka)? While learning Russian in Russia, Tchaikovsky and the globally revered ballet companies will be just a hop, skip and a cabriole away, and, if you’ve got six days to spare, the Trans-Siberian Railway awaits. Choosing to gryzt granit nauki (“crunch the granite of science” or “study”) in Russia is more than learning a new alphabet; it will give you a window into one of the world’s most entrancing countries.
Covering an eighth of the Earth, there are a wealth of locations where you can learn Russian in Russia. Locations range from modern cities to rural landscapes that switch from tundra to forest to subtropical beaches. While the nation’s capital is similar to the biggest doll in a set of matryoshka dolls, a whole host of smaller, equally beautiful cities are nested inside Russia’s borders, just waiting to be discovered.
Russian history, from Tsar Dynasties to Soviet rule, is visible in every street and square in Russia’s capital city of Moscow. Museums and monuments of fallen heroes bear testament to the Soviet legacy, while the almost candy cane inspired magnificence of the onion-shaped domes on buildings such as St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square show impressive Russian architecture. Izmailovo Market is a treasure seekers’ paradise (particularly for authentic soviet souvenirs) and Bolshoi Theatre is the home of the world-famous ballet company. Walking through Moscow will leave you feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day to explore everything you’d like to. Thankfully, it’s known as the city that never sleeps, and visitors are often surprised by its cosmopolitan vibe, where trendy restaurants morph into even trendier all-night bars. Najdarovia!
Another popular city to study Russian in Russia, especially for those with a passion for art and architecture, is St Petersburg. Opulent buildings, such as the magnificent Church of the Savior of the Spilled Blood, line elegant waterways, which can be traversed by boat, foreshadowing its nickname, “The Venice of the North.” This city holds its own at night time, too. In midsummer, when the sun barely grazes the skyline, you can experience the “White Nights,” when festivals are held in the streets and in concert halls until dawn.
Smaller but equally impressive, Petrozavodsk is a lakeside city with a distinctly European feel (thanks to its occupation by Finnish troops in the 1940’s) and a sizeable student population. Heaving with cultural activities (such as the Karelia Philharmonic Orchestra and Karelian Music Theatre), visitors are never short of an evening’s entertainment, nor a weekend of culture. Nearby Kizhi Island and its remarkable UNESCO World Heritage pogost (two 17th-century wooden churches built without a single nail) make this an appealing location for Russian language courses in Russia.
As the eighth most spoken language in the world, learning Russian isn’t a bad idea. Whether you are looking to enjoy Anna Karenina in its original language or you are eyeing an international career where an additional tongue is a bar-raising feature for your resume, learning Russian in Russia is a savvy choice.
The most popular types of Russian language programs in Russia involve courses in small groups or individual language lessons. Focused on teaching conversational basics and available to students of all levels, Russian language schools in Russia generally offer courses for an average of 20 hours a week. Though studying Russian at a language school is an intensive option, students will quickly get their tongues around the tricky pronunciation of the Cyrillic alphabet, and the hard graft of learning Russian will most definitely prove to be worth it.
Russian language courses at language schools can be combined with homestay accommodation, in which you can live with a Russian family; this type of accommodation is perfect for students who want to have speaking practice constantly and access to exciting cultural insights. Your hosts might recount traditional tales about Fire Bird or Kikimora, or even take you to a local banya (a Russian bathhouse).
Universities offer Russian language classes for those that are looking for more structure and transferable credits at the end of their program. Russian language programs in Russia delivered on college campuses range from short summer sessions to semester-long courses, and usually offer a range of extracurricular and social activities for international students. Learning Russian in Russia at a local university often means accommodation is included, whether in self-catering apartments or dormitories shared with other international students. Dorm accommodation can provide you with an excellent opportunity to swap cultures with your fellow classmates, and you’ll always have someone to go with you when you want to see The Nutcracker or Swan Lake at the local theater.
Other opportunities for learning Russian in Russia are programs that combine courses with teaching English or other languages. A smart way of covering your program and accommodation fees, students in these programs will receive lessons in Russian from qualified teachers, while teaching classes in another language (often English, French, or Italian) and being paid to do so.
Lastly, some students choose to mix Russian language courses in Russia with an internship or volunteer placement, which provide tangible opportunities to put newly-acquired linguistic skills into practice. Any type of volunteer or internship placement will give language learners an exciting chance to develop professional skills while overcoming the impressive feat of gaining fluency in Russian.
Achieving intermediate speaking abilities in Russian takes time. Many experts argue it takes at least a year of Russian language courses, so don’t expect to magically be fluent after one month. Patience, having the confidence to speak to local people, and lots of time studying Russian are the best ways of increasing the speed at which you master the language.
Studying Russian in its home turf is the best way to be immersed both linguistically and culturally. Living in Russia will be a complete bombardment for your senses; the stunning aesthetics of the European-influenced and Italian Renaissance style architecture in every nook and cranny of the country, perhaps a glimpse of a topless President Putin riding on horseback in the countryside, or the strange yet elegant sounds of Russian words being spoken as you walk down the street, living in Russia will immerse you fully in the language and culture.
With different noun endings, six cases, two aspects of the verbs, and some fiendish pronunciation to boot, starting small when learning Russian is always a good idea. What we mean is you should be celebrating when you learn how to order that second helping of borshch (a delicious beet stew that you need to get your hands on) you’ve been dying for, or just recognising that reading Tolstoy’s back catalogue of works might not be an immediate possibility.
Learning which parts of words need to be stressed is perhaps the most likely feature to get new speakers in a pickle. Taking care with the pronunciation of certain verbs, such as saying ja plachU (“I’m paying”) rather than ja plAchu (“I’m crying”), is always important. But given that numerous Russian words are derived from English, French, and German (yup, you basically already know how to say clown (kolún), party (páti), and the always useful, banshee (bánši)), speakers of these languages will find themselves with a teeny-weeny head start when learning Russian in Russia.
Last but not least, don’t forget the aesthetic glory of the Cyrillic alphabet. There are 33 new letters to learn (well, 66, if you consider both lowercase and uppercase), but five of them are identical to their Latin counterparts, so there’s a freebie of encouragement. Once you get the hang of the writing system, the phonetic nature of the language will make learning Russian much easier.
Without a doubt, Russian is a complex language to learn thanks to a unique alphabet and tongue-twisting pronunciation, but picking up this globally valuable language is worth its weight in gold (or Russian Rubles). Even better, its similarities with the Slavic languages make the sky the limit for picking up other languages from this part of the world in the future.
Even a few days spent in Russia are enough to see that this country’s abundant history, stunning architecture, and arts scene make it a culture-hungry visitor’s dream. Students will encounter traditional, regional Russian folk music (often sung by some finely-attired babushkas) alongside delicious, hearty food, both of which are perfect for a cold, winter’s night. You might arrive to learn Russian in Russia, but you will leave with deep insight into and love for this fascinating country.
As they say in Russia, lutshe pozdno, chem nikogda (“it’s better late than never”), and this is indisputable when it comes to learning Russian in Russia. With this in mind, pack your winter coat and some Russian flash cards, and hop on a plane to Mother Russia.
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