Patsy Lightbown, professor in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Montreal,
highlights the fact that it would take between 12,000 and 15,000 hours for a 6-year-old
to learn his native language.
How long would it take for a more mature learner to learn a foreign language, then? And not just any–but let’s say, Russian.
It is extremely difficult and nearly impossible to answer the question “How long would it take?” It depends on far too many criteria such as the student’s free time, whether he or she has already learned other foreign languages (which will facilitate the process of learning a new language), but especially his or her learning goals.
After all, what do we mean by “speaking Russian”?
- Is it to be able to cope in situations of everyday life in Russia?
- Is it to become familiar with and juggle Russian expressions as if they were part of your mother tongue?
- Is it to be able to follow a Russian film without the help of subtitles?
What your definition of “Russian speaking skills” are therefore greatly affect the learning time that will be required to learn the language.
Is Russian Really a Difficult Language?
An online Cyrillic keyboard can help you master the alphabet.
In one of its rankings, Mosalingua – one of the main actors of language learning – highlights the difficulty of learning the Russian language. Indeed, according to their ranking, Russian comes third. Only learning Chinese (number 1) or learning Arabic (number 2) would be more complex for a learner.
As an adult it’s not as easy to pick up a language just by hearing it: you have to study and memorize vocabulary and grammatical structures, as well as use them. This takes time and effort. Unless you’re a genius, you can’t learn a new language without time and effort; that’s just the way it is. Russian is just like any other language in this respect.
Try not to get discouraged from actually starting to learn it because although based on certain objective realities (such as Russian’s complex grammar or conjugation, pronunciation, accents, etc), the classification is by nature subjective and will sometimes vary significantly from one learner to another. Learning Chinese will probably be easier than learning Italian for a Japanese student. Take the example of Ioannis Ikonomou, a Greek polyglot, for whom learning Chinese was much easier than mastering Hungarian.
Japanese and the other four in the Mosalingua ranking (Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese) have a different writing system and alphabet. In this case, for Russian, it will be necessary to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, which is certainly much more accessible than Chinese characters or Japanese kanji for English-speaking learners.
In the space of only a few sessions, the learner will already have good command of the Russian alphabet, which can be impressive at first sight. Remember that some letters of this alphabet are common to the Latin alphabet, which will make it easier to learn and understand.
With A Great Method and Good Motivation You Can Quickly Learn the Basics of the Russian Language
You certainly don’t need to learn the whole dictionary, some applications offer the 1000 most used words in Russian.
With real motivation, learning the alphabet will take only a few days. This won’t mean a true mastery of the language, but it’s a beginning!
A beginner’s level will only require a few months of learning, or even a few weeks for those who have already anchored the language learning mechanism. As a beginner, you will be able to converse on basic subjects and give basic points of views on things.
But there is also more you can do if you keep going a little bit. To enrich your linguistic palette, you should learn some idiomatic expressions and some new Russian vocabulary words.
Some dictionaries or applications list the 1000 most used words in a language. It is a tool that can be very useful and devilishly effective.
At this stage of learning, it is vital not to overlook Russian grammar, as it will be more difficult to correct mistakes later, when learning progresses.
As far as pronouncing is concerned, it is experience and long-term practice that will gradually make it possible to positively correct one’s accent.
It Will Take a While For you to Arrive at an Advanced Level in Russian
No language is so simple that it only takes a few minutes a day for only a few weeks to speak it fluently (from phonetic pronunciation to grammatical rules to vocabulary or oral comprehension)…
Let’s face it, having a level comparable to a native will inevitably take a lot of time and personal investment. Methods that seek to prove otherwise are not serious and will never help you to progress as quickly as they claim.
You may see someone advertise just weeks or months to master the basics of a language correctly, but the total mastery of Russian for a job for example will take several years.
Language experts believe that today mastering Dostoyevsky’s language could take more than a decade of practice. Acquiring an advanced level takes from 2 to 5 years, depending on the availability of the learner, his or her reliability when learning, and the methodology used.
There is no point in running when you learn a language, it is better to start at the right time and walk.
Some Tips to Reduce Learning Time for Russian
Nevertheless, if you follow the tips below, it will be possible to optimize your work time and progress quickly.
Choosing the Right Method
This is pretty obvious. Choosing an effective method when learning a language is the most logical advice one can give. But why are we focusing on it first?
Because often, the method itself is neglected!
And when that is the case, it is difficult to have conclusive results and especially quick results. It is extremely important to have a precise roadmap in your learning so as to have a linear progression.
Some language learning professionals have understood this and offer solutions that are virtually amazing to the learning experience.
Here are three tips from TED translators, as seen on their blog in 2014:
- Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. German translator Judith Matz suggests: “Pick up 50 words of a language and start using them on people — and then slowly start picking up grammar.”
- Make language-learning a lifestyle change. Elisabeth Buffard, who in her 27 years of teaching English has always seen consistency as what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love.
- Play house with the language. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something useful and worth caring about. “Use every opportunity to get exposed to the new language,” says Russian translator Olga Dmitrochenkova. Label every object in your house in this language, read kids’ books written in it, watch subtitled TED and TEDx talks, or live-narrate parts of your day to an imaginary foreign friend.
The learning giant Babbel has understood that it was necessary to provide learning tools in line with everyday life. The many interactive exercises on their website will allow you to improve your skills Russian skills on your own and to learn more quickly than with other methods starting at the beginner to intermediate level.
Though nothing will ever replace your good big Russian-English, English-Russian dictionary, interactive methods do use multiple media tools that minimize downtime and allow you to practice in public transports, on your lunch break, or even whilst taking a bath!
Mosalingua also focuses its language learning methods on the assimilation of information. Based largely on the forgetting curve, the application suggests that the learner take a lesson regularly by sending reminders. Those who have tested this highlight that they forget much less with this method.
There are many podcasts to learn Russian, but beware, not all of them are equal!
Beyond working a certain amount, we think it is important to work again and again over time and in a regular fashion. We estimate (and we are far from being the only ones!) that working regularly 30 minutes a day will be more effective than one 3:30 period at the end of the week.
Why? For two reasons:
- First, the brain is more active and concentration much higher for shorter periods of time. Remember those 4 hours of psychology class Monday morning? Working regularly in smaller slices of time is much more efficient. The Pomodoro method also works tremendously well with language learning,
- Secondly, working day after day and reviewing what you learned the week before or the week before that will allow the brain to remember information and store it in the long-term memory. This is also much more effective than working 3 hours in a row and once a week.
Finally, working regularly allows you to create a work routine, which is strongly favorable to intellectual performance.
Get Some Help with Russian
Feel free to take Russian conversation classes to progress!
The ideal way to quickly learn a language like Russian is to use a private tutor. Indeed, language courses with a private tutor are personalized and will help to deepen some misunderstood or poorly understood concepts. This is also your opportunity to learn a little more about Russian culture.
Please note that it is also possible to learn Russian for free by exchanging in English with speakers of the Tolstoy language. A linguistic immersion is extremely profitable in terms of progress! Many sites exist to connect learners with Russian natives.
And yes, you will benefit in learning Russian more quickly!
- From the outset, forget those supposed methods that will claim to teach you Russian and master all the subtleties in 8 weeks, with 15 minutes of revision per day. Keep in mind that learning a foreign language is a long-term process that will require a lot of investment on your part.
- Nevertheless, it is quite possible to acquire a beginner’s level rather quickly and thus be able to manage a basic conversation. As for further mastery of the language, it will be necessary to select the method with which one feels most comfortable (with the books or via the applications? Why not both?).
- It is impossible to give a precise time indication of how long it will take you to learn Russian. As we have seen, certain criteria will make it possible to optimize learning and gain time in your quest for mastering Pushkin’s language (think regular work and optimal use of brain activity).