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How Hard is it to Learn Russian? (Language Profile)

By JD / November 10, 2017

I'm excited about today's language profile because it's on the language I've been studying for past 6 months or so: Russian.  

This video only scratches the surface

With the possible exception of an asian country or two, Ukraine and Russia are the most popular destinations for western men looking to meet foreign women. Western men bring home slavic wives often enough that we now have the stereotype (albeit a negative one), of the "mail-order bride". 

In this post we'll look at the most widely spoken language in the Slavic family, and the ups and downs you're likely to face if you decide to learn it. We'll also discuss whether or not it's important to know the language before going overseas.

The hardest parts of learning Russian

1) Grammar

Russian grammar is notoriously complicated. I studied Spanish on my own for about a year and was conversational (but far from perfect) around 3-4 months. With Russian I've been studying 6 months. On a good day I'm conversational but I still have trouble making basic sentences sometimes, where as I never had that problem in Spanish.

One of the main reasons Russian grammar is so difficult is because it uses a grammatical case system (just like other slavic languages including Czech, Polish, and Hungarian). In a case system nouns change into different forms (cases) based on their function in the sentence. 

There are a total of 6 cases in Russian, meaning that you will have to choose between them for every noun you use. If that wasn't weird enough pronouns and adjectives also change with the cases. To a new Russian learner making a simple sentence can seem overwhelming because you have to juggle the different rules for each case (many of which have exceptions). 

This video does a better job at explaining cases than I ever could

There's a lot of other things that make the grammar difficult. Verbal aspect, flexible word order, and verb conjugations are just a few that come to mind. 

Needless to say if you're serious about learning Russian, make sure you're in it for the long haul.

2) Pronunciation

Russian pronunciation is about as bulky, harsh, and intimidating as Russian stereotypes. Seriously you can find 3-4 consonants strung together in a single word. Russian words can also get pretty long.

Check out the Russian equivalent for the verb "to travel": путешествовать (pu-te-shest-va-vat. Now Russian words get longer than this. This was one of the first verbs I learned. The first time I heard it I literally thought: "Oh my God, I'm never going to be able to remember this word, yet alone say it." 

If you're interested here's a great video on pronouncing the Russian consonants

If you're new to the language the long words and numerous consonants will be a challenge. 

But learning Russian isn't all that bad

Aside from certain parts of grammar and pronunciation I haven't had too much trouble in the language. People often make a big deal about the fact that Russian uses the Cyrillic Alphabet, but I think their overreacting. Once you learn the sound system it's just a matter of practice. I could more or less read Russian sounds in 2-3 weeks. 

Also, while there are plenty of parts of Russian grammar that are difficult, there are some that are easy, like speaking in the past tense or making conditional statements.

How long does it take to learn Russian?

The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) says that it will take a native English speaker approximately 44 weeks or 1,1000 classroom hours (not including homework or self-study) to become fluent in Russian. 

I don't have the time to dedicate 25 hours a week to taking a Russian class, so my progress is a lot slower, which I'm completely fine with. If you're studying consistently for an 1 or 2 a day at least five days a week my guess is that you'll be conversational on a basic level in 4-6 months and perhaps fluent in a year or more (I'll let you know when I get there).  

What countries speak Russian?

Russian is widely spoken throughout the former USSR, but the use of the language differs between different countries. 

 In Ukraine there's a bit of linguistic (as well a cultural and political) split between Russian and Ukrainian. In the west most people know and understand Russian but prefer to speak in Ukrainian. In the East you can find regions that speak exclusively Russian. I spent a summer in west Ukraine when I first started learning Russian and found quite a few people who were offended I wasn't learning Ukrainian. 

In Belarus the vast majority of the people speak Russian, though at home they may speak Belorussian. In central Asia both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan use Russian as an official language along side their native ones.

From what I can gather the majority of the population in many of the lesser known former Soviet republics  (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, etc) still have a significant amount of Russian speakers, but as a foreign language it is either being phased out by English or has a negative association because of international politics. 

How much Russian do I need to know?

If you're planning on meeting European women overseas chances are you're looking at Ukraine or perhaps  Russia. The Russian language will get you far in either country with the exception of Western Ukraine (think Lviv). 

I can't personally speak for Russia, but in Ukraine the English level is pretty low. In the major tourist cities like Kiev and Odessa there will be some English speakers, but if you venture outside these cities don't expect people to use much English. 

If you plan on traveling around within either country it's a good idea to at least learn the basics to get by. 

To actually date and meet women in Ukraine in Russia you don't absolutely have to learn the language. We often recommend that guys exclusively contact women with a high level of English in popular major cities. This makes dating possible without having to tackle the language, and it helps ensure that you're not taken advantage of. 

There are also a few reputable introduction agencies who provide trustworthy translation services, just be prepared to pay a bit more for it. These agencies also handle all travel once you leave the airport so you don't have to worry about getting around. 

If you still want to learn Russian

You don't have to learn Russian to a high level (or at all) to date abroad, but if you do learn it you'll possess a huge advantage over not knowing. If you can learn the language at least semi-fluently you'll be able to meet women more independently versus using the all-inclusive introduction agencies. 

If would definitely be great to able to meet any women from any city you wanted without having to go through a third party for translation, travel or meetings. Knowing Russian allows you to do that. 

Not mention learning a foreign language can be a rewarding and fulfilling thing to do in itself. I also imagine knowing the language could go a long way in impressing a Russian speaking lady and letting her know you're serious.

Resources for learning Russian

If you want to get your feet wet in the language I recommend booking weekly sessions with a Russian teacher on Italki. There's also a great online Russian language school called RU-Land Club which I've heard good things about (they also have a great youtube channel you can check out).

If you just want to get your feet wet or learn the basics to get by checkout Russianpod101. It's cheap and effective. I've been using it a lot for help with grammar. 

Final thoughts

Overall I think Russian is an awesome language, though at times I have a love-hate relationship with it. For me learning a foreign a language is a difficult yet immensely rewarding adventure akin to dating abroad. 

...But I could see how others might not feel the same way. Don't feel like you have to learn the language to go overseas, because you don't. But if you do decide to learn it, you'll have a lot more opportunities to travel, make friends, and of course meet women.

About the author


Founder of FWHL. When JD's not writing articles he's probably practicing his Russian or trying to play AC/DC on his guitar.

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