Taming the Cyrillic Beast: First Impressions

Taming the Cyrillic Beast: First Impressions
16 May 2016

I’ve just finished my first week of classes – so I thought I’d check in with my progress, including Cyrillic, and let you know how a typical day of lessons goes at Liden & Denz. My class is an interesting group of people: a Turkish woman who is in Moscow with her family, an American and an English woman who have both been teaching English in the city for a while, and a Hong Kongese student on exchange from her university in Scotland! Everyone brings enthusiasm and new ideas to the table.

Cyrillic greeting: Здравствуйте ребята!

Our lessons start at 10 every day and run until about 2 o’clock with a few short breaks, from Monday to Friday. We have two instructors who take turns teaching us: Sasha on Mondays and Fridays, and Anya is with us from Tuesday to Thursday. We’ll usually start with a bit of news which we get from Metro, the daily newspaper that’s available for pick-up in most major cities around the world. Each student chooses a small clipping, reads and summarizes the news to the group, and highlights any new words we might not have come across before. In our level, B1+ (approximately lower intermediate on the CEFR), reading Cyrillic is still a challenge, and this is definitely a great way to get the gears working (sometimes it seems like I can literally feel my brain struggling!) We’ll also turn on Live News and practice oral comprehension, which is equally challenging. Both of these exercises are practical and familiarize us with vocabulary that’s relevant to everyday life.

Each day, we’ll also devote some time to topics on which most people will have an opinion, for example, friendship or gender relations. Last week, we spent a lot of time philosophizing on the qualities and characteristics of long-lasting friendships, as well as cultural differences between men and women. As the lesson goes on, our instructors will take the opportunity to challenge our knowledge of Russian grammar, and will build on previous knowledge by incorporating new words and structures.

Since my goal is to eventually be able to translate from Russian into English, written and oral comprehension is my focus and also the hardest part. To compensate for my reading deficiency, for example, for the first few days after my arrival in Moscow, I just memorized what names of the stations I needed looked like when was getting around the subway, because you simply don’t have the time to slow down and read (especially during rush hour) and everything is written in Cyrillic!

The school’s approach is communicational, and should definitely be supplemented with either individual reading on your own time or additional individual lessons. While learning any language is a serious undertaking, learning Russian is not for the faint of heart, and requires dedication if you want to truly master it. I have so much respect for people starting to learn it from scratch!

3 Tips To Maximize Your Immersion Experience

What can you do to make sure you get the most out of your time in Moscow (Or St. Petersburg or Riga)?

Beyond showing up to class awake and caffeinated (which should go without saying), the following three tasks will go a long way:

  1. ENGAGE – take any opportunity to speak Russian, whether it’s at the grocery store, the cinema, the bar, or those you see working around the school. Most Russians will be patient and help you out. It can be scary and intimidating, but take advantage of the native speakers around you while you can, as you won’t be immersed for ever.
  2. LISTEN – whether it’s a Russian-language podcast, or the news, or an audiobook, try and listen to as much spoken Russian as you can. There are plenty of blockbuster films playing in the city as well, so push yourself to watch them. Pro tip: movies are usually cheaper earlier in the day. Even if you don’t understand everything right away, you’ll absorb more than you might think.
  3. READ – Liden & Denz has a good-sized library with many classics of Russian literature adapted to different learning levels. Switching from a Latin-based alphabet to Cyrillic might be the hardest of all, especially as you get older. Skim the ingredients on your milk container, switch your phone and computer settings to Russian, or pick up a translation of a classic in your mother tongue. The more you force your brain to visually interpret the language, the more you’ll connect it to what you hear around you.

I hope some of this might help you on your own learning journey!

Until the next,


This blog was brought to you by Maria, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz

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