Learning Russian in St Petersburg: free apps, classes, tips and tricks

(Cheburashka and Crocodile Gena from Russian animated film. Sourced: flickriver.com, Graphics: Shima Vezvaei)

A Russian language guide for easy living in St Petersburg 

If you’ve already clicked on this article, then you probably know that H is now N and P is R. If you think that is absurd, head to the beginners section to get started with the cyrillic alphabet after learning to pronounce hello, Здравствуйте!

If you are far beyond such introductory nuances, read on! Below you will find tips, speaking events, language classes and online resources for all levels of your Russian language journey.


Beginner to advanced

In this section, you will find supplementary tools and platforms that can help enhance your Russian language learning process organised by level. Whether you are just starting out or need more rigorous immersion, scroll through some of these resources to find what is right for you.

Alphabet with Svetlana

Level: beginner

For many Russian language learners, the journey begins with the cyrillic alphabet. Learning how to read the cyrillic alphabet is not only for those committing themselves to learning Russian, but also to travellers who need to read street signs and remember how to properly pronounce the places they visit.

This youtube series is extremely helpful and simple. It is part of a larger platform called RussianPod101 which offers a variety of online classes and tools. You’ll learn how to pronounce, spell and read the cyrillic alphabet within a few days as the accordion introduction plays over and over in your head.

Duolingo

Level: beginner/intermediate

Duolingo is one of the most well-known, free, language learning apps, and there are some special reasons why you should consider it for Russian.

Duolingo has a desktop version, which allows you practice typing in cyrillic––something you are not likely to learn in an entry-level language course. Additionally, Russian pronunciation, and what feels like an endless study of the six cases, takes a lot of practice. This app gives you time to break things down slowly, consider the grammar in the lessons notes and to hear sentences as many times as you need.

Other features include daily challenges that you set yourself from one to five lessons a day. You can challenge your friends on the leaderboard (be careful of Duolingo binging–it can happen to anyone), and as of this year, you can create your own Russian language club for just you and your friends to struggle with your щ/ш and ы/и together.

Rosetta Stone

Level: beginner/intermediate

Is it possible to talk about languages without mentioning the language learning app par excellence, Rosetta Stone? Legend has it that pilots learn to speak a language fluently with the app in only a couple of months. My experience says not to trust legends.

Although an undoubtedly useful app to intuitively learn a language, Rosetta Stone is no miracle and it shouldn’t be used as the only source to learn a language. The app is designed to teach any language through pictures, from simple words to conversational exercises. Although it does not offer any kind of explanations, it is designed in such a way that you would learn the basic grammar intuitively. Perfect for grammar haters. I would recommend it as an additional tool, but only if you have the opportunity to access the app for free or with a proper discount.

Foreigncy

Level: intermediate/ advanced

Foreigncy is language training particularly suited for advanced level students who are seeking to acquire a better lexicon in a particular field.
The website’s concept offers a range of news articles arranged by language level and interests. Every exercise starts with a new list of words and expressions you need to know in order to read the subsequent article. To help work through the vocabulary, flashcards and quizzes are provided before reading the article which helps test your progress.
Once the new words are assimilated do you begin reading the article. The platform is only available in three forms of paid subscriptions from which you can choose a monthly, semestral or annual version with a price range from $10 (€9,27) to $90 (€83,45). However, you can try the trial version for free and get a grasp of how the software works and whether it is the right fit for you.

Check out some of their Russian language articles here.


Online resources for all levels

Memrise

Memrise is a great free resource particularly useful for those who want to review and improve their vocabulary while tracking their progress.

You can select a category of words you want to learn and set a daily goal. It is suited for every level, from absolute beginner to advance and it gives you the chance to select the words and sentences you want to learn. Another useful feature is that you have the possibility to create your own course with your own list of words as you follow a language course.
In addition to improving your vocabulary, some of the lessons include thorough grammar explanations. For each lesson you can see list of words that you are going to learn in advance and select your level or words you are interested in learning. You can customise how many words you want to learn per session and set your own pace.

iTalki

Learn Russian on iTalki (screengrab)

Take a private lesson online with a native speaker! Lessons on iTalki are conducted over Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime. Students can browse through an impressive database of teacher and tutor profiles to find the price, schedule and language goals that suits them.

The platform is divided into two general learning styles: professional teachers and community tutors. Professional teachers have some kind of training or teaching certificate and offer a structured lesson plan with learning materials. Community tutors are there to practice conversation in a less formal setting. Each teacher or tutor has an extensive profile for you to read through and assess what they can offer you specifically.

Prices on iTalki vary depending on the teacher, but most offer an inexpensive trial lesson to break the ice and make sure you the teacher is the right fit. Alternatively, you can use the platform for free if you are simply looking for a tandem partner.

Master Russian

Although it is in desperate need of a makeover, this website offers an array of useful resources. We recommend using it as a reference for conjugating verbs, brushing up on the six Russian cases, or browsing through the Russian idioms for advanced speakers.


Practice in St Petersburg

Weekly Couchsurfing Event (Photo Credit: Maria Ivanova)

If you have studied any other language, you know that there is no better way to learn than with practice and what better way to do so than in St Petersburg? Facebook and VK would definitely prove to be useful resources if you are looking for a language partner, but if you are looking for a more dynamic and social alternative, here are a couple of options for you.

Hi Jay

The first option is Hi Jay. Although partially meant as a dating service, Hi Jay can be quite useful and innocuous. The free version allows you to find and get in touch with native speakers in your area and also find language-related events near you.

Weekly events

(Photo credit: Maria Ivanova)

Two regular, weekly language events you can attend are the Russian speaking club and the Couchsurfing event. The Russian Speaking Club takes place every Monday and it is generally heavily attended. Participants tend to be around 19 and 25 years old with at least one Russian native speaker per table. They only post individual Facebook events, so search for International Russian Speaking Club! for the next meetup.

The Couchsurfing event, although not necessarily meant as a language exchange, is a good opportunity to get to know some Russian speakers and practice your language skills. Couchsrufing meetup events happen every Thursday in a cozy bar where the expat community and the locals meet for a weekly drink and chat.


Classes in St Petersburg

Liden & Denz

A language course is often a necessary step from a stagnating A2 level to a conversational one and a few months of an intensive Russian course would certainly help.

Language courses in the city could be rather pricey, so if you decide to start one, make sure you have learned at least the alphabet and some basic phrases on your own before joining any paid course.

Among the most renowned language courses in St Petersburg is the Swiss school Liden & Denz located in the heart of the city. The school offers various courses for every level with the possibility of arranging an extra evening course if you are able to find at least two other fellow students. If you are already living in the city, we would recommend to simply stop by if you want to know more about offers and to take a placement test. The price of an intensive course is currently around 150 euro per month for students already residing in the country and the price is subject to discount depending on the length of your course. The standard course includes 20 hours of classes per week with the possibility to add five one-o-one hours for an additional fee.

Russkiy Proekt (Русский Проект)

Русский Проект is a language school that offers individual, general, intensive and extra intensive Russian language courses for all levels. Relatively new to the scene, the school was founded two years ago in St Petersburg and was initially a German language school called Das Proekt. Because so many of their native German colleagues had an interest in learning Russian, they created Russian language courses and soon started enrolling students from other countries.

Russkiy Proekt updates their site monthly for new courses and free language speaking events. You can even start with a free trial lesson to see if the school is a right fit for you.

Upcoming courses for February and March
General course: 14 February –  07 March
Intensive course: 20 February – 13 March
Extra intensive course: 20 February – 06 March

A structured, Russian language speaking club will take place on 17 February at 7pm. You can follow their Vkontakte page for updates on the topic and location.

Tips and tricks

Learning a language, especially when cases are involved, requires quite a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to keep you locked at home in front of a book for your whole staying in the country. Make use of dead time on public transport, or on the endless metro escalators to study some Russian. How? Here are a couple of options suited for every level.

Beginner

If you already have a podcast app, then you can easily find some podcasts perfect for you from RussianPod101, One Minute Russian, Everyday Russian, Ochenporusski. Some of these Russian classes are divided by topic in which a Russian class is followed by an English translation and explanation.

On the transition from beginner to intermediate, make some time to watch movies in Russian with English subtitles on Soviet Movies. Additionally, keep watch on this video series called Russian2Go from Russia Beyond the Headlines. They often take sayings from Russian movies and teach you their applicability with useful phrases like kakie ljudi! Look who’s here!

For a more insightful watch list, check out Nicole Akakpo’s more insightful Soviet Movie review on Prospekt Magazine.

Finally, if you haven’t made a VK account yet, just do it. We assume if you are beyond the beginner level that you have already done this.

Intermediate

For the intermediate to advanced, or for those who still struggle with the normal Russian speaking speed, you can familiarise yourself with the language through News in Slow Russian or Slow Russian, which offer an online platform with transcripts and a blog in addition to the podcast with some tips and online videos.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, break out of your solitude and try asking Russians to teach you something with this useful phrase: Извините, научите меня говорить что-нибудь по-русски, пожалуйста? Translation: Excuse me, can you teach me something in Russian?

We tested it out, and it works!

Finally, make full use of the Couchsurfing platform to find a tandem partner. In our experience, finding a Russian-speaking tandem partner by making a public post on Couchsurfing is effective.

Advanced

After having followed all of our advice we are confident that you will be ready for the final step: a podcast in regular-speed Russian from the BBC. Here you can listen to news and although the listening part might be hard in the beginning, it is a good exercise for your ears and a great alternative to inveighing against the inevitable kissing couple blocking your way on the escalator, so just give it a try.

Another tip for advanced speakers is to read the local, St Petersburg news from websites like Bumaga, Fontanka, and Sobaka.

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