Learn Russian from the beginning!
How to use this course
Following this course will help you to understand, speak and read most of the Russian you are likely to need on vacation or business trips. The course is based on recordings made in Moscow. You will hear ordinary Russians and other Russian-speakers in everyday situations. Step by step you will learn first to understand what they are saying and then to speak in similar situations yourself.
Before producing the course we talked to many people about why and how they learn languages. We know how important it is for learning to be enjoyable - and for it to be usable from the beginning. There is not a lot of point in knowing all the complexities of Russian grammar if you can't ask for a cup of coffee! There is a grammar section in each unit, but its main function will be to help you to understand and use the language.
We have introduced the Cyrillic alphabet in the first five units. Do remember that it is difficult to learn an entirely new alphabet, and that it takes time. The exercises in each unit will help you to learn the letters, as will writing out the new words and phrases you meet.
In the first five units we have transliterated all the words, that is, we have provided the nearest equivalents in Latin script to the Russian sounds. You will see that the spelling and pronunciation of Russian words do not always correspond! A few guidelines are given on pages 5 and 6, but our best advice would be to listen as much as possible to the native speakers on your recording and follow their pronunciation.
General hints to help you use the course
- Have confidence in us! Real language is complex and you will find certain things in every unit which are not explained in detail. Don't worry about this. We will build up your knowledge slowly, selecting only what is most important to know at each stage.
- Try to study regularly, but in short periods. 20-30 minutes each day is usually better than 4 hours once a week.
- To help you learn to speak, say the words and phrases out loud whenever possible.
- If you don't understand something, leave it for a while. Learning a language is a bit like doing a jigsaw or a crossword puzzle; there are many ways to tackle it and it falls into place eventually.
- Don't be afraid to write in your book and add your own notes.
- Do revise frequently. (There are revision sections after every three units.) It also helps to get somebody to test you - they don't need to understand Russian.
- If you can possibly learn with somebody else, you will be able to help each other and practice the language together.
- Learning Russian may take more time than you thought. Just be patient and above all don't get angry with yourself.
Suggested study pattern
Each unit of the course consists of approximately thirteen pages in the book and around ten minutes of recordings. The first page of each unit will tell you what you are going to learn and you will also find our Study guide there. The Study guide tells you the best way (we think) to tackle a unit. As you progress with the course you may find that you evolve a method of study which suits you better. That's fine, but we suggest you keep to our pattern at least for the first three units, or you may find you are not taking full advantage of all the possibilities offered by the material.
Lessons contain step-by-step instructions for working through the course: when to use them on its own, when to use the recording on its own, when to use them both together, and how to use them in each case. On the recording our presenter Andrei Bell will guide you through the various sections. Here is an outline of the study pattern proposed.
Listen to the dialogues, first without stopping, and get a feel for the task ahead. Then go over each dialogue or suggested group of dialogues in conjunction with the vocabulary and the notes. You should get into the habit of playing the recording repeatedly to give yourself time to think, listen to sentences a number of times, and repeat them after the speakers. Don't leave a dialogue until you are confident that you have at least understood it.
Key words and phrases
Study this list of the most important words and phrases from the dialogues. If possible, try to learn them by heart. They will be practiced in the rest of the unit.
Practice what you have learned
After each group of dialogues there are some listening and speaking exercises. To do them, you will need to work closely with the course. You will, for instance, often be asked to listen to a piece on the recording and then fill in answers or mark off boxes on the page. Or you will be asked to write an exercise and then check the answers on the recording. Use your pause/stop or repeat buttons to give yourself time to think. Normally in the last exercise you will have an opportunity to practise the most important language in the preceding dialogues.
At this stage in a unit things should begin to fall into place and you are ready for the grammar section. If you really don’t like grammar you will still learn a lot without studying this part, but most people quite enjoy finding out how the language they are learning actually works and how it is put together. In each unit we have selected just one or two major grammar points.
Alphabet and Read and understand
In these sections you will practise reading and using the Cyrillic alphabet, and, later, understanding signs, menus and so on which you may come across in Russia.
Did you know?
In this section you will be given some practical background information about Russia.
Your turn to speak
Finally back to the recording for some more practice, this time using the main words and phrases of the whole lesson. The course only gives you an outline of the exercises, so you will be listening to the recording and responding. For the first half of the lessons you will usually be asked to take part in a conversation where you hear a question or statement in Russian, followed by a suggestion in English as to how you might reply. You then give your reply in Russian and listen to see if you were right. You will probably have to go over these spoken exercises a few times. In the later lessons, as you become more confident, we will suggest situations which you might expect to encounter in Russia. Try these first yourself, and then turn on your recording to see how a Russian might talk on the same theme.
The answers to all the exercises (except those given in the recording) can be found by moving the mouse through this key.
Symbols and abbreviations
This indicates an important word or phrase in the dialogues.
The Cyrillic alphabet and the transliteration used in this course
[i] or, sometimes, [ее]
not transliterated in the course
[у] or, sometimes, [i]
All letters given in square brackets reflect pronunciation.
As you can see, such a list is only useful for reference, since it can only approximately give the Russian pronunciation. Furthermore there are features of Russian which make our transliteration, based as it is on actual pronunciation, deviate from this norm. Most importantly:
I. о is pronounced [o] when it is the stressed syllable and closer to [a] when not stressed. A similar change occurs with я [ya] which can sound like [i] the further it is from the stressed syllable. It must, in fact, be acknowledged that any vowel sound which is not in stressed position may become blurred and even indistinguishable from other vowel sounds. Since this applies especially to the many different noun endings, such a situation can be very convenient for the learner!
II. Certain consonants sound more like others in particular combinations or at the end of a word. For example: в [v] will be closer to [f] before с [s] and some other consonants. We would stress that this is not a rule as such, but simply what the vocal chords force us to do (compare the English absorb v absorption).
From the above examples, you have seen how important stress - where you put the emphasis on a word - is in Russian. The stress can often change in accordance with a word's role in a sentence. Unfortunately there are no simple rules to help the learner. This need not inhibit you in speaking: a word wrongly stressed will probably be understood. However it is crucial to be aware of these possible changes, since pronunciation is sometimes radically altered. Most of the stresses are marked in this course, so that you can become accustomed to them. Russians do not, however, normally mark them in the written script.