August 3rd, 2009
The Church on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia. © 2006 Melissa Barton
I recently received a question from someone who read my Transitions Abroad article on Immersion in Russia. The reader wanted to know how to learn the basics of Russian without access to a class.
Before I transferred to Colorado College and started taking Russian, I tried a “teach yourself Russian” book (I no longer have it and can’t remember which one it was). The advantage of this type of book over a regular textbook is that they’re intended to be used without the benefit of a teacher. However, they tend to focus exclusively on very basic conversation–perhaps not a bad thing if you just want some bare-bones of grammar, vocabulary, and the Cyrillic alphabet before you dive into immersion.
If you go the route of a book, it’s definitely helpful to get one with audio CDs. A huge part of picking up the basics is learning to hear and recognize the sounds of the language. Since I did study Russian formally in college, I don’t have any particular recommendations for homestudy books/CDs. I suggest reading reviews online and trying your local library’s selection to see what fits best with your learning style before you buy.
There are a few other possibilities besides college classes, depending on where you live. Local recreation and community centers often offer casual language classes for adults. Russian is a less common offering than some other languages, but it’s worth looking. Even if your local college doesn’t offer Russian classes, there might be a student group that meets to practice conversation, or you might be able to start one in your college or community.
All of this applies to learning most other languages, although finding or starting a local conversation group will be more difficult (or impossible) if you’re planning on studying a less commonly-taught language.