Top tips for learning Russian while in Russia
Many people have heard the classic advice, that the best way to learn a foreign language is to go to a foreign country where it is spoken by the population. While immersion in this way will certainly help with fluency and understanding, simply going to the country will not automatically mean you return fluent in your chosen foreign language. It is important to have sufficient motivation and initiative to actively develop your language skills while abroad. Having spent the last 3 months in Russia, attempting to master the complex Russian language, here are my top tips for making the most of your time in Russia (or any foreign country where you want to learn the language).
Take language classes
Without a doubt, the most useful asset to my language learning while in Russia has been the Liden & Denz language lessons. Studying and speaking Russian for several hours 5 days a week in small, intensive classes with professional teachers is an invaluable way to properly understand how to speak the language correctly. I would certainly recommend attending some form of formal language classes or speaking practice while abroad if possible, as learning from native teachers provides unbeatable insight into how to master their language.
Speak to locals
In general, speaking to locals also provides helpful speaking and listening practice, as well as insight into the local culture. Cafes and bars are great places to start up a conversation. However, if you’re looking for a more official way to make a pen pal, I would recommend an app called ‘Tandem’. This connects people from all over the world who want to practice speaking in foreign languages. While in Russia, you can match with a Russian who might want to practice your native language, and help each other out in this way. If you get on, of course you can meet up in the city, and make a new friend!
Another great way to speak to locals is to stay with a host family while here. By living with Russians, you have the perfect opportunity to communicate in their language. You also receive great insight into the place you’re staying, be it the country’s culture, history, or tips on where to go and what to see. Liden & Denz offers to arrange a host family stay if you want, and this can be organised with either breakfast and dinner included, or just breakfast (as meals are a great way to get to know and properly speak to your host family).
Watch TV, listen to music or podcasts in Russian
Watching television in Russian also provides good practice. While in the country you have access to a wider range of native shows, for example on Netflix, and can also ask locals for recommendations. Listening to Russian music will also help a surprising amount – if you’re ever out and about and hear a song you like the sound of, why not use the app ‘Shazam’ to find the name and add it to your playlist. Or more traditionally you could just try to ask someone around you! Podcasts also provide great listening practice, and I would particularly recommend ‘Russian progress’ podcast, which is available on Spotify and provides practice for foreigners learning the language.
There are also lots more small things you can do to help while here, such as putting your phone in Russian, or putting in the extra effort to translate any signs or writing you see around town. If you’ve come all the way to a new country to learn the language, you may as well do everything you can while here to help you reach fluency. And of course, the most rewarding part of learning a language abroad is the satisfaction as you gradually understand more and more around you, and can finally communicate with locals without asking to repeat or automatically getting an English response!
By Alice, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz in Saint Petersburg