I can’t believe I’ve been here 3 weeks already and I only have 10 days left! I’m embracing my bipolar relationship with the Russian language, enjoying the food, the country (yesss, finally some pictures of singing babushkas) and routines that make me feel at home.

There are days when the Russian language is giving me severe depressions, I mean how can it take the whole day just to learn a few words?! Luckily on those days somebody tells me that they’re surprised that I’ve only been here for a short while and that I speak very well. I guess having played the game taboo before helps, anyway, it feels similar, the only difference is that instead of about 5 words that I can’t to use to explain something there are about 20 each time. I’m not sure if this has happened to me when learning other languages, or if I have simply forgotten that it felt the same. But it’s too late to stop in any case 🙂

Here are my top tips for learning a language that are (mostly) lazy-proof and can (mostly) be done without investing a lot of time, I’ll just stick to those and keep going:

1. Finding a method that works for me,

which is loooots of audio and a good grammar basis to complete it. I found both mostly online for free for Russian (for some languages I bought an audio course, either Assimil or Pimsleur, and a book that explains grammar well because somehow I can’t live without it). Some people have other approaches that work for them, like simply going to a country and learning intuitively like a child, but I need the grammar to make sense of it all.

2. Using apps that I can practice with while I’m in the tram or eating.

My favorite one is the free vocabulary app available on www.pons.de that works for a lot of language combinations. With this app I can finally remember Russian words actively, wohooo, because there are more steps between seeing the word and actually reproducing it. Only 10 words are asked at a time, so it only takes a couple of minutes to learn the batch. I usually go through the steps matchmaker and alphabet soup before going to the LexiTest and the success rates are much higher than with simple flashcard programs (like http://www.teachmaster.de , which is great as well, but it doesn’t have these additional steps). Words can be imported into lessons directly from searches in the dictionary, or from a vocabulary list in an excel sheet. I created some vocabulary lists by topics with the help of www.engoi.com, which has loads of language combinations. I’m just so proud of myself when I get anything between 50% and 97% right after the first go.

3. Listening to podcasts while I’m on my way to places.

The podcasts I listen to are specifically for people learning the language, they last about the same time as my way to school and I can use them without a book. It’s a perfect way to use that spare time and I know I would be too lazy at home anyway. Even if I don’t listen all the time I do grasp new words and improve my listening comprehension. I don’t regret paying for http://www.torpod.com/ which is fully in Russian (mp3 and PDFs can be downloaded). The podcast I used at the start was www.russlandjournal.de which is for free and very good as well (the explanations are given in German). Other methods I have previously used for other languages and that I can recommend are Assimil (has to be used with the book, however, no more than 15 to 20 minutes needed per day) and Pimsleur (can be used with or without book, since all the explanations are given in English in the audio itself).

Some people like listening to the radio or sbs podcast instead, which is great as well when you’re at a level where you understand a good portion of what is said. Otherwise I tend to find it less useful than podcasts specifically made for foreigners, so that people don’t speak as fast. I admit it can take some time to find the right one in the google jungle, but it’s worth it.

4. Cheat sheets for grammar (DYI if needed).

Somehow I’m never happy with the grammar and verb tables I find online or in books, so I create my own and practice with those. Sometimes I fiddle around until they fit on one printable page.

This cheat sheet is great for daily use (Russian conjugations and declensions in a glimpse): http://www.gaertig.at/88001/Uploaded/deklinationsschieber.pdf

I had a hard time finding good exercises for declensions and finally found this one http://www.russianforfree.com/exercises.php , however, make sure you don’t do declension exercises over an extended period of time – I had nightmares the following night about me looking for the right declension and just couldn’t find it!

5. Finding a fun way to practice the language.

For some this could be talking to people in online games, for me watching TV series works great. Hopefully soon my listening comprehension will be good enough to watch TV series in Russian without feeling completely lost, so far I haven’t found any with subtitles. The advantage is that TV series are mostly shorter than movies and thus less frustrating to watch in the beginning when only about 50% of what is said come across. For me it works great for Portuguese and I follow the same principle as with the podcasts, I take advantage of “usable time”: for example I watch at the same time as I’m cooking sometimes, or to wind out in the evening. Will try again soon for Russian and see what happens.

6. Speaking (doh) and not caring about saying it all 100% correctly.

I guess it’s simply not possible anyway to get it all right, especially in a language with declensions, because by the time you find the solution it’s too late. Which is fine, because people will probably still be able to understand you, or help you out finding the right word. There are some websites to find native speakers to do a language exchange (e.g. livemocha), but somehow I never ended up using them for a long time. So I’m here now to meet real people 🙂


To come back to what I’ve actually been doing in the last few weeks, here are some galleries.

We did several excursions with the summer school, where among other things I could prove how photogenic I am with a head scarf (almost as photogenic as the babushkas who were singing for us).

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(Explanation about the headscarf: Women are to cover their heads in Russian Orthodox churches, not sure about the exact theological reason. In any case it’s quite handy that they have them at the entrance, since my own headscarf somehow disappeared in the depths of my luggage.)


Food is very important, since for some reason I’m a stomach with legs at the moment (I just need a good excuse to eat yummy pastry). Luckily food in the school cantine is cheap and it includes some traditional dishes. I still haven’t tried all the “must eats”, but in any case I love the variety of products made from tvorog (curdled cheese or Quark in German). Unfortunately I found out that I don’t like one of the Russians’ favorite foods, which is buckwheat (gretsha). I accidently bought it thinking it was rice and tried to acquire the taste, but nothing to be done. Good for coeliacs if they look for gluten-free options I guess.

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Some bar interiors, just because I liked them. I found my favorite beer and to my happiness I heard that they have cider here as well! So this will be my next mission.

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Graffiti, on my way to town and street scenes.

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Learning Russian

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Salsa with and without rain – Yekaterinburg by night. Why stop dancing when you can as well continue? Here is a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaoEKUsej60&feature=youtu.be

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Hoping to get about as much of all of this in the next days, before I head on the St. Petersburg…