Russian Pod 101: The Easiest Way to Learn Russian Online
One of the greatest challenges travelers to Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, etc. face is simply navigating basic signs around the cities. As someone who spent the majority of 2016 living in Ukraine, I’ll be the first to tell you that not being able to read is a huge pain.
When you speak English as a first language, it’s fairly easy to pick up languages that at least use the same letters as you. However, when you go to a location that speaks Russian like the ones I mentioned above you end up staring at a stop sign wondering what on Earth you’re reading.
(It’s pronounced almost the same but spelled ‘стоп’.)
Of course, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. You’re just getting off the airplane, trying to get a bus to the city center. You’ve got your apartment host waiting for you. And you can’t figure out which sign goes to…
Yeah, that’s the time you’re really gonna wish you’d at least started to learn Russian online—even if just a little bit.
Eventually, after a few weeks in Ukraine I got tired of feeling like a complete outsider. I wanted to be able to do basic things such as order an Americano without milk, or just figure out what street I was on. In order to do this, I realized I was going to need to buckle down and learn some Russian.
I ended up enrolling in a program called Russian Pod 101 (link) and buckled down on it. My intention was to learn Russian online. I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to commit to living in Ukraine, and didn’t want to deal with enrolling in an actual in-person class. On top of it, I had other work projects that required my attention—I didn’t realistically know how much time I could commit to going to class.
I wanted to learn Russian online so…well, hopefully so I wasn’t always so lost.
What Is Russian Pod 101, and Can You Really Learn Russian Online?
If you’re a self-learner, you’re absolutely going to love Russian Pod.
My issue with learning languages has always been the practicality of it. It doesn’t do me any good to know how to say ‘Mom/Dad/Sister/Cousin/Second Uncle twice removed’ when I’m out and about in Kiev. I need to know the basic stuff that makes life easier to live.
Things such as…
- Which metro stop is this?
- May I have a [insert food/drink]?
- Where is [insert attraction]?
- Maybe even an “inside joke” or two
I don’t need to ask someone about their family because I’m simply not going to be doing that. Sure, there is a time and place for that, but if you’re traveling abroad you need to learn how to handle yourself in day-to-day conversations, not have intimate conversations with people.
That’s a flaw that many language study programs have—they teach you too much fluff. While this is “easy” as it’s only a matter of saying individual words, it’s absolutely useless in real-world application.
Here are some of the best features of Russian Pod:
- Alphabet lessons: Fairly obvious, you need to be able to grasp what the individual letters mean.
- Choice of lessons: want to know how to communicate at the airport, or order lunch at a cafe?
- Common words and phrases: Russian words themselves are tricky and it’s good to drill them in to memory.
- Pronunciation review: Unlike a language like Spanish, you can’t butcher Russian relentlessly and have natives understand you. It’s so different from English your pronunciation is going to need work.
There are tons of other features of Russian Pod 101 (don’t get me started on the cute Russian girls who teach some of the lessons), but these four things are going to help you lay a foundation while you learn Russian online.
The Elephant in the Room: The Cyrillic Alphabet
Take a look at the Cyrillic alphabet. To an English speaker, this might as well be from another planet. I used to joke with native Russian speakers that Cyrillic to me was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics (except I wasn’t joking).
Do you think I’m kidding? Take a look:
At the same time, there’s really nothing fun about learning an alphabet. It’s something that we learn when we’re three years old. There’s no joy in having to study a new alphabet with more complicated sounds when you’re thirty.
However, Russian Pod does a good job of giving you the basics on Cryllic without making it an overwhelming grind. This will allow you to get the basics down (which are necessary) and you can move on to the more exciting part and really learn Russian online.
Choice of Lessons
There’s one thing that I’ll keep coming back to regarding studying Russian online—you need practical application. Russian Pod covers this by allowing you to really have your pick of situations.
Their ‘learning paths’ are brilliant. As you can see, even as an absolute beginner I have my pick of over ten different paths depending on my situation. For example, if I was only transiting through Russia on a long layover, I’d probably opt to take the path to learn how to communicate at the airport.
And this is just the beginner paths. If you are a intermediate or advanced students there are even more starting points for you to take advantage of. As you can see, each of these paths goes pretty in-depth too, with most of them having well over ten lessons in the individual paths.
This allows you to pick and choose the lessons you want to take based off of what you’re planning to do while traveling to the FSU states—more efficient learning and more time for fun!
Common Russian Words and Phrases
Flashcards are one thing, but Russian Pod takes it a step up by including pictures of the common words and phrases they give you. Rather than just throwing the already-difficult letters in your face, this will allow you to simultaneously form a photographic memory of some of the words (pro tip: if you have a somewhat photographic memory, try to use it to remember Cyrillic words).
This has the double affect of tapping into the more visual part of your brain instead of just relying on the logical side of it to remember pronunciations and letters.
I remember the first week in Ukraine, when I tried to say “Spasibo” to my waitress. She looked at me funny, and the girl I was on a date with doubled up with laughter as the waitress walked away.
Apparently, I was pronouncing “Spasibo” (spa-SEE-ba) more like “sa-BOO-ya” which sounds like the Ukrainian version of “come with me”.
To this day, the girl I was on a date with still teases me about it.
It would have been most helpful to have the pronunciation review of Russian Pod before going on that date—that’s for sure!
Russian is simply very difficult for those of us who speak English as our native tongue. The letters don’t sound the same even though they look the same, other letters don’t even have a remotely similar sound, and to top it all off the conjugations are all over the place.
Being able to enunciate words in their proper way will greatly help you out if you end up in a sticky situation.
If you want to buckle down and learn Russian online, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Russian Pod. It gives you practical advice that you can use and practice in the real world, while foregoing a lot of the unnecessary work that many other learning methods choose to dedicate themselves too. I’d much rather be able to ask someone for a coffee than ask them how their second cousin is doing.
PS: If you study Russian, you could also consider signing up to a dating site for a bit of additional practice. It’s a great way to get the hang of typing on a Cyrillic keyboard and familiarizing yourself with some basic words.