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Is Russian really so hard to learn?

Do you know how painful labour is, on a scale from 1 to 10? I’ll tell you. It is as painful as you had decided in advance. The same is with language – it will be as easy/difficult, as you had decided beforehand.

There are 5 categories of language difficulty. The Russian language is considered to be 4 out of 5. Let’s have a look at the table of other languages:

The table above shows how hard different languages are to learn for the English native speaker – based on how similar they are to English (e.g., Chinese language has most linguistic and cultural differences), how complicated the grammar system is, phonetics etc.

Don’t let this table to put you off learning Russian language, of course it is a guide and many people will find some languages harder/easier to learn. Like, Hungarian is in the same group, but it has 34 cases (vs. Russian’s 6), Finnish has 15 and sometimes is considered by many people harder than Chinese; Thai is a tonal language and even if you managed to learn their alphabet and started to read (which takes a hell of a long time), you have a 20% chance to get into the right tone to say what you actually meant.

Let’s have a look why Russian is in fact not as scary as it seems:

1. Cyrillic alphabet. It might seem strange at first, but you will soon understand that it is really easy. I will write in my future posts how to make the alphabet even easier to learn.

2. There are much less words in Russian than In English. There are 150,000 in Russian and about 600,000 – 1,000,000 words in English, so every time I try to read a book in English there is a bunch of words which I never saw before.

3. Russian sounds are phonetic, e.g. you read what is written, unlike English, where you can never guess how on Earth the word is pronounced. Plus, the sounds themselves are quite similar to English ones, well, at least comparing to Thai, Chinese and many others!

4. Cognates. These are the words which sound and mean the same in both languages – and there are probably more than you think, for example парк, бар, метрó, банк, аэропóрт and many others, and I plan to post them in my blog as well.

5. We don’t have so many accents. I’ve been learning English since I am 10 years old, so for 20 years already, but all my efforts fade away when some Glaswegian with a very local accent tries to speak to me, or my father-in-law from Leicester says “an ouse” instead of a house, or “Jawonowt” – would you like anything?

6. Russian doesn’t have phrasal verbs. To catch up with, to get carried away, pull up, pull over, pick up, give up, put up with, take over, take up, take after – In English some verbs like to put, to get, to take have more than 20 definitions depending on the preposition after them.

7. There are only 3 tenses in Russian: past, present and future. Unlike English, where there are at least 12.

8. There are no articles in Russian, which is probably my biggest pain in English: like when I ask for “a” bill in the restaurant.

I hope this article not only convinced you to start or continue learning Russian, but it might also give you an idea about your own language, if you are an English native speaker: being born with a native language, we don’t really imagine what challenges it brings to foreign learners. My husband Mark can barely distinguish Present Perfect from a perfect present! :)

Still finding Russian tricky? Get in touch for a Russian lesson with me.


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