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Is Russian Hard to Learn? (4 Common Mistakes & 10 Best Russian Resources)

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Is Russian Hard to Learn? - 4 Common Mistakes & 9 Best Russian Resources
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Russian has a reputation for being a difficult foreign language to master. But how hard is Russian to learn, really? From common mistakes to the best resources to get started, here is everything you need to know about learning Russian.

The truth is, Russian, just like any other language, has some aspects that may be hard for language learners. At the same time, there are things about it that are surprisingly easy to learn.

This guide is the ultimate guide in answering the question ‘Is Russian hard to learn?’ And covers everything you need to know. We will take a look at things that are easy and difficult about learning Russian, discuss common learners’ mistakes and misconceptions about the language, and I’ll share some top tips and my top 10 resources to learn Russian.

How hard is Russian to learn, really? Read on to find out!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why learning Russian is easier than you think
  • How to Master Russian grammar 
  • 4 Common mistakes in Russian and how to avoid them
  • 4 Misconceptions about learning Russian that are holding you back
  • The Verdict: Is Russian hard to learn?
  • Why Russian can be hard to learn: 9 things to look out for
  • How to learn Russian: Top 10 Best Resources for Learning Russian

When it comes to language learning, what does ‘hard’ really mean?

Many factors influence how hard learning Russian may feel: your mother tongue, your previous learning experience, even your mood during a particular learning session can make learning harder or easier.

Ranking languages based on how long it takes an English speaker to learn them, the Foreign Service Institute has placed Russian in Category 3. It means that, on average, learning Russian would take an English speaker longer than learning Dutch or Danish (Category 1), German or Indonesian (Category 2).

Does this mean that learning Russian is much harder than learning German or Dutch? Not necessarily. The ranking created by the FSI is focused on time, not on difficulty. And there are things about the Russian language that simply take a bit more time to learn thoroughly. For instance, to memorize noun declension forms, you need to practice them quite a few times.

Does learning Russian have to be hard, though? Not at all!

Why learning Russian is easier than you think

Russian is a language that may seem a bit ‘scary’ on the surface: for instance, it uses a different script that seems a bit confusing and has many inflection forms for different parts of speech. But there are quite a few things about the Russian language that make it – or at least some of it – surprisingly easy.

Russian is a phonetic language.

Most letters in Russian correspond to just one sound, and words are mostly pronounced just as they are written. You just need to memorize a few rules, and you can read Russian quite easily, as there are very few exceptions.

Here’s an example of a rule you need to remember: the unstressed ‘o’ is pronounced as ‘a’, so молоко (milk) is pronounced as ‘ma-la-KO’. More on vowel reduction in this short video:

2. The Russian alphabet is actually fairly easy to learn

The Cyrillic and Latin alphabets share the same Greek roots and, as a result, some of the letters are similar – which is a great start, compared to many other scripts that look totally unfamiliar. Some letters, like ‘M’ or ’T’ are almost the same in Russian as in English.

Some letters are a bit trickier as they look just like English ones but make different sounds. For instance, a Russian ‘P’ is pronounced as ‘r’, and ‘H’ – as ’n’. These letters seem confusing at a first glance, but when you get to know them and have some practice they are fairly easy to remember.

Other letters are entirely different, like ‘Ф’ (‘f’) or ‘Ж (‘zh’), but they are also quickly learned with a bit of practice.

Find more tips on mastering the Russian alphabet here:

3. You already know some Russian

There are a lot of cognates between English and Russian, that is, words that have similar forms and meanings in both languages.

Some similar words are the result of shared Indo-European roots: сын (‘syn’) is a son and сестра (ses-TRA) is a sister.

Other words have been borrowed from English into Russian, or borrowed by both languages from other sources. Here are a few examples:

  • Кофе (KO-f’e)* – coffee
  • Центр (tsentr) – center
  • Парк (park) – park
  • Менеджер (ME-ne-dzer) – manager
  • Радио (RA-d’i-o) – radio
  • Теннис (TEN-n’is) – tennis
  • Класс (klas) – class
  • Диск (d’isk) – disk
  • Видео (V’I-d’e-o) – video

*Note: The apostrophe you will see after some letters in the pronunciation guides marks a special way some consonants are pronounced in Russian. They are the so-called ‘soft’ or palatalized consonants: they are pronounced with the middle of the tongue touching the palate. They can seem a bit tricky at first, but easily mastered with regular practice. Find more about palatalized consonants here and in this video:

You can find 50 more examples of shared vocabulary in this video:

There are over 1000 such cognates, which means that you already know about a thousand words in Russian.

However, make sure not to rely on cognates too much and double-check new words to make sure, as, along with cognates, there are quite a few false cognates, also called ‘false friends’. These false cognates are Russian words that seem to be the same as in English but actually have a very different meaning.

Here are some examples:

  • Интеллигентный (in-t’el-l’i-G’ENT-nyy) is not intelligent, but cultured.
  • Магазин (ma-ga-Z’IN) is a shop, not a magazine.
  • Аккуратный (ak-ku-RAT-nyy) is neat, careful, not accurate.
  • Проспект (pros-P’EKT) is not a prospect, but an avenue.

False friends can lead to misunderstanding and embarrassment, which can be easily avoided by looking words up in a dictionary – even those that look 100% English.

4. There are many things about the Russian language that are actually very easy

All languages, whether they are known as ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ among learners, have features that are harder or easier to learn. There are some tricky aspects to Russian grammar – we’ll take a look at them in the next section, – but there are also quite a few things that are very easy.

Here are some of the ‘easier’ features of the Russian language:

  • There are no articles.
  • The word order is very flexible.
  • Most questions are made simply by changing the intonation.
  • Many negative forms of nouns, adjectives, and verbs are made by simply adding ‘не’ (n’e – not) to them.
  • The verb ‘to be’ does not exist in the present tense.
  • To be polite, you only need one word – пожалуйста (pa-ZHA-lu-sta), or please – which can be added to any request to make it polite.

By the way, to learn more on how to be polite and other useful Russian travel phrases, check out this guide .

5. There are lots of great resources

On the Internet, you can find lots of excellent and helpful resources to learn Russian, both free and paid. Check out the ‘Recommended resources’ section later in this guide.

How to Master Russian grammar

Grammar is the ‘scary beast’ of many languages that lots of learners struggle with. It is often the most common answer to ‘Why is Russian hard to learn?’. But how hard is it, really?

In Russian grammar, there are quite a lot of rules, and learning them will take some time. However, there are surprisingly few exceptions, which means that after you master these rules, you will be able to speak correctly in the majority of situations.

Here are some of the trickier aspects of Russian grammar. This is by far not a comprehensive grammar guide, but this list should give you an idea of what to pay attention to.


Russian is a gendered language, and each noun – as well as adjectives and pronouns modifying them – is either feminine, masculine, or neuter. In some forms, for instance, in the past tense, verbs agree with nouns in gender as well.

Gender is a purely grammatical category, except when it comes to living beings – then the grammatical gender corresponds to the biological sex of the person/animal.

In some cases, such nouns have the same root but different endings: кот (kot) is a male cat, while кошка (KOSH-ka) is a female one. In other cases, two different words are used to describe males and females: мужчина (muzh-CH’I-na) is a man and женщина (ZHEN-shch’i-na) is a woman.

To speak Russian correctly, you need to memorize the gender of nouns and how adjectives and other parts of speech change to agree with them. There is nothing inherently hard about it, but you need some patience and ample practice.

Here is a video on gender in the Russian language to help you make sense of it: 


Making plural forms is a bit more complicated in Russian than in English. Apart from a few exceptions, most Russian words take a plural ending of either и, ы, я, or а. However, this is just the nominative case (more on cases below). There are six cases in the Russian language, so a noun can have up to 6 different plural forms.

Don’t let it overwhelm you, though. This may sound like a lot, but this is just it – many new forms to memorize. The rules themselves aren’t really complex, and there aren’t that many exceptions to them. Make sure not to rush things, study the rules for making plurals in detail and devote sufficient time for practicing different forms – and you’ll master the Russian plurals.

Here are some more tips on Russian plurals here:


There are six cases in Russian, these include: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional. Understanding each of these cases is essential to speaking Russian correctly. With singular and plural, a Russian noun can have up to 12 different forms.

Here is an example with the word стол (stol – table), a masculine noun:

  • Nominative: стол, столы (stol, sto-LY)
  • Genitive: стола, столов (sto-LA, sto-LOV)
  • Dative: столу, столам (sto-LU, sto-LAM)
  • Accusative: стол, столы (stol, sto-LY) (accusative forms of some nouns can be the same as nominative ones, but not always)
  • Instrumental: столом, столами (sto-LOM, sto-LA-m’i)
  • Prepositional: столе, столах (sto-L’E, sto-LAKH)

The key to mastering Russian declension forms is simply patience and ample regular practice. There is no need to try and wrap your head around complex notions here, you just need to memorize correct forms for each case – quite a few of them I’ll admit, but this is one of those cases (pun intended) where practice does make perfect.

Still confused? Here is a video on Russian cases explained: 

Perfective and imperfective aspect

Perfective and imperfective verbs are a common feature of Slavic languages, including Russian. Simply put, perfective verbs describe definite and/or completed actions, while imperfective ones describe actions that are going on or happen regularly. The use of perfective and imperfective verbs also depends a lot on the speaker, their speaking style, and the context.

The perfective aspect is often translated into English using perfect tense forms, but it is not a fixed rule, and translation depends heavily on the context.


  • Он читал книгу (On ch’i-TAL KN’I-gu) — He was reading a book.
  • Он читал книгу каждый день (On ch’i-TAL KN’I-gu KAZH-dyy den’) — He read a book every day.


  • Он прочитал много книг (On pro-ch’i-TAL MNO-go kn’ig) — He has read many books.
  • Он прочитал эту книгу вчера (On pro-ch’i-TAL E-tu KN’I-gu vche-RA) — He read this book yesterday. (Or even ‘He finished reading this book yesterday’, as the form прочитал implies a completed action)

The best way to get a feeling of perfective and imperfective verbs is to listen and read as much Russian as possible to see different possible contexts of their use.

You will find a more detailed explanation of perfective and imperfective verbs with examples in this video:


You may not give too much thought to using capital letters, but capitalization actually works differently in Russian.

The first word of every sentence and proper names are capitalized just like in English. However, the following words are not capitalized, including names of the days of the week and months, words derived from proper names, words describing someone’s nationality, titles and modes of address.

But Russian is not all about grammar. It is a very creative language with lots of interesting, beautiful, but also kind of funny expressions – just check out this list of hilarious Russian idioms, many of which are commonly used in everyday speech.

4 common mistakes in Russian and how to avoid them

There is a saying in Russian that goes like this:
Предупрежден – значит, вооружен (Pr’e-du-pr’e-ZHD’YON – ZNA-ch’it, vo-o-ru-ZHON) — Forewarned is forearmed.

And this is what we’ll do in this section. Some mistakes are commonly made by learners of the Russian language – mistakes that can actually be avoided if you know about them and prepare in advance.

Although making mistakes is a natural part of learning a foreign language (or anything, for that matter), learning from other people’s mistakes is possible, too – and it will also save you some time.

1. Ignoring word stress

Word stress is very important in Russian. It often distinguishes between different grammatical forms: руки with the stress on the first syllable (RU-k’i) is the plural nominative form, hands; pronounced with the stress on the second syllable (ru-K’I), it is the genitive singular form, of (one’s) hand.

Stress also often distinguishes between different words. Take a look at this example:

  • Я плачу (ya PLA-ch’u) — I am crying.
  • Я плачу (ya pla-CH’U) — I am paying.

When learning new words, pay attention to where the stress falls, mark it when you write new words down, and make sure to repeat the word out loud a few times – with the correct stress, of course.

So, where do you put the stress in Russian words? Find out here:

2. Using the wrong ‘you’

There are two different forms of second person singular in the Russian language. In informal situations, ты (ty) is used, while in formal situations, Вы (vy, usually capitalized) is appropriate. The formal Вы agrees with verbs in the plural form even if you are addressing one person.

This is somewhat similar to addressing a person by their title and surname compared to addressing them by their first name.

Using ты in Russian can sound rude when used with strangers, elderly people, or your superiors. The rule of thumb is to start with Вы with everyone. Then, as you get to know the person, or realize that the situation is quite informal, you or the other person may suggest switching to ты.

3. Translating word for word

This is often very tempting: taking a sentence in English and translating it word for word into Russian to put your message across. It works for some phrases, doesn’t it? It does, but for just a small number of simple phrases, for instance, Я люблю тебя (ya l’u-BL’U te-B’YA) is I love you, translated word for word.

However, Russian and English sentence structures are too different for this to work often. In English, relationships between words in a sentence are primarily shown with word order and various auxiliary parts of speech, such as prepositions. In Russian, word order is very flexible, with relationships between words shown primarily through inflections.

Quite often, to come up with a correct Russian equivalent of an English sentence, you need to move words around quite a bit. But part of the mistake is that you try to translate English into Russian instead of trying to speak Russian.

To avoid that, don’t learn Russian words separately. Instead, learn set expressions and always look at sentence examples featuring the words you learn. And it goes without saying, you need to listen and read a lot of Russian to get used to the ‘Russian way of putting things’.

4. Confusing similar words

Just like in many other languages, there are words in Russian that look very similar, especially to a foreigner – the difference is often in just one letter, – but they mean very different things.

Just take a look at these examples:

  • Девушка (D’E-vush-ka) – a girl
  • Дедушка (D’E-dush-ka) – a grandpa, an old man
  • Кошка (KOSH-ka) – a female cat
  • Кочка (KOCH-ka) – a bump on the road

Be careful when learning these words – double-check in a dictionary when in doubt. It is also a good idea to look at these words in pairs to compare and contrast. And don’t forget about sentence examples!

4 Misconceptions about learning Russian that are holding you back

Many things can affect your success in learning Russian, and one of such things is wrong and/or negative ideas about learning Russian. Believe it or not, if you approach doing something with the idea that it is hard to do – that’s what it most likely will be!

Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions about Russian – and try to dispel them.

1. ‘Russian is one of the hardest languages to learn’

Is Russian hard to learn? I’m hoping your answer will be ‘no’ – or close to it – by the end of this guide. But is Russian one of the hardest? Not really.

It may be time-consuming, with all the different forms and the practice needed to truly master them. But it can also be a lot of fun, and not hard at all.

2. ‘I won’t be able to use Russian in the future’

With over 250 million speakers, Russian is actually in the top 10 of the world’s most spoken languages. There are fairly large Russian-speaking communities all over the world. Russian speakers are also quite active in different corners of the Internet.

Even if you don’t need Russian for work in the future, there are many other ways to use it: chat with Russian people online, for travel, to read great works of Russian literature, watch movies and TV shows, and more.

3. ‘I am too old/poor/busy to learn Russian’

No offence, but these are just excuses. With motivation and dedication, adults can learn languages just as well as children do. Not all language-learning resources cost a lot of money – some don’t cost anything at all.

It may be a bit harder to argue with ‘busy’. However, even if you juggle a lot of work, family, and personal responsibilities, you can still probably find 5-10 minutes a day to learn Russian – and that is all you need to get started.

4. ‘Russian pronunciation is hard’

Russian pronunciation is different from English, for sure. But different doesn’t have to be hard. Don’t rush things and take some time to study the peculiarities of Russian pronunciation – and it won’t seem that hard at all.

You can find some great tips on Russian pronunciation in this video:

How to learn Russian: Top 9 Best Resources for Learning Russian

What is the easiest way to learn Russian? By enjoying the process and having fun! Winston Churchill nailed it when he said:

Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. 

And as Leonardo da Vinci once said:

Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

Here are some 10 great resources to get started with learning Russian, today!

1. Uncovered Russian (Top Recommendation)

Serious about learning Russian? Make sure you join Uncovered Russian which will take even complete beginners to a solid intermediate level al by using the power of Story Learning. 

Uncovered Russian is included in my friend Olly Richards series of Uncovered beginner courses including Russian, and other languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, German, ChineseTurkish and Japanese! These are excellent story-based courses that take even complete beginners to a solid intermediate level.

Uncovered Russian is course is based on a 20-chapter story in simple language, and includes everything learners need to go from the complete beginner level (A0) to the intermediate level (B1).

All Uncovered courses include dozens of video lessons and exercises to help learners improve every aspect of the language, including: vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Uncovered is for complete beginners (A0) and false beginners (A1 or A2) who have already learned some of the language but haven’t yet reached conversational fluency. The course covers levels A0 to A2 in the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).

Olly speaks 8 languages himself, so he really knows what he’s talking about.  Now you can try Uncovered for FREE! Visit Uncovered Russian to start your free trial.

2.  Play your way to Russian with Mondly

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Mondly for years. You can read my full Mondly review here. Its ease of use, friendly interface, and variety of interactive lessons are super important to me. I’m currently using Mondly to learn Norwegian with short bursts of fun and interactive lessons daily. Click here to get 95% OFF Mondly’s Lifetime subscription using my special reader discount. Watch my full review below.

4. Get a private tutor on italki

I feel like italki is the secret weapon of the polyglot world. Literally, every linguist I’ve spoken to uses italki to connect with native speakers online to help then learn languages. italki allows learners to connect with both professional teachers for lessons and native speakers for more informal sessions.  This is a very convenient way to learn and maintain your development as all sessions are run via Skype. Some teachers even offer a free trial.

To supplement my own language learning I personally use italki multiple times every week. This is where I get 1-to-1 support and speaking practice with a qualified teacher or community tutor. Read my full italki review here and sign up to italki here to find Russian teachers from all over the world

4. Join utalk

Want to have fun whilst learning Russian? Struggling to find decent Russian language resources? I recommend getting uTalk. Available as a desktop site and app, uTalk is awesome for learning key words and phrases in Russian especially if you want to use it for travel purposes.  It’s great for beginners getting started in a language and invaluable for intermediates looking to fill in gaps in their vocabulary and pronunciation. 

What I love most about uTalk is that you can jump around their extensive library of topics and choose what you want to learn, when you want, and at your own pace.  Because I believe in uTalk so much, I reached out to them and we’ve teamed up to offer you an exclusive 20% OFF reader discount across all of uTalk’s 140 languages! This offer isn’t available anywhere else! Click here to claim your exclusive 30% discount.

5. Watch movies in Russian for free

Check out the Mosfilm Youtube channel for hundreds of Russian movies.

6. Watch Russian native speakers answering various questions

7. Join a course on Glossika

Glossika offers over 60 languages. Each language course focuses on AI-based repetition training through listening and speaking. Through being exposed to complete Italian sentences you acquire vocabulary and grammar without having to cram the rules. Glossika tracks your progress and helps you review what you’ve learned at just the right time. You don’t have to always look at the screen either – so you can easily learn on-the-go, which I love! With all the languages available for one price, it’s an amazing option for polyglots or if you’re a busy language learner. Join Glossika here.

8. Listen to Pimsleur

A hugely popular audio course (especially with these Polyglots) is Pimsleur. I know tonnes of language learners and polyglots who swear by Pimsleur to learn multiple languages. Developed by Dr. Pimsleur, Pimsleur is almost entirely audio-based and is available in over 40 languages from Albanian to Vietnamese. There is some reading material, but they are designed to be read as you listen to the audio. There is no homework or written work which is great because you can learn with Pimsleur anytime and anywhere. Pimsleur is great for helping you improve your listening skills as all recordings are by native speakers so you get an authentic learning experience. Get your FREE 7-day trial with Pimsleur here and see for yourself!

9. Learn Russian with Bite-Size Russian – Immersive Audio Course

Improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation with Kris Broholm, founder of Actual Fluency Podcast. His Bite-Size audio courses are available in ItalianFrenchSpanishGerman and Russian and are full of comprehensible listening practice for beginners (this can be so hard to find!). Each of his language courses include:

  • 100 lessons of authentic dialogue, recorded by two native speakers, mobile app for hands-free learning, immersion listening, simplified grammar explanations, transcripts, vocabulary, and translation sections for in-depth study.
  • Plus a 14-day guarantee (if you don’t like it simply ask for a refund, and Kris will process it no questions asked.

Pick up Bite-size Russian here.

10. Join RussianPod101

RussianPod101 is a Russian learning podcast focusing on audio lessons, but it is also much more than that. It features a comprehensive Russian course from beginner to advanced, with audio lessons, grammar and vocabulary practice. It’s a wonderful option if you want to focus on listening and conversational Russian. You can sign up for free and get a 7-day free trial of the full course. You can find a lot of free audio lessons are available on their YouTube channel too!

The Verdict: Is Russian hard to learn?

So, is Russian hard to learn? I am hoping you don’t think so by now.

Russian is a beautiful language with its own unique features. Some may seem easier or harder to master than others. But don’t let the seemingly hard things deter you from learning Russian.

Терпение и труд всё перетрут (t’er-P’E-n’i-ye i trud vs’o p’e-r’e-TRUT) – Practice makes perfect, slow and steady wins the race.

This Russian proverb is very true when it comes to learning Russian. It is not that hard, you just need some time and some терпение (patience).

Why Russian can be hard to learn: 9 things to look out for

Is Russian Hard to Learn? - 4 Common Mistakes to avoidHow hard is Russian to learn? Each individual learner will answer this question differently. But to help you prepare and master the Russian language with a bit less effort, here is a recap of some of the things to look out for when learning Russian:

  1. The tricky letters of the Cyrillic alphabet (like ‘H’ or ‘P’) – don’t let them deceive you, they make totally different sounds.
  2. Russian inflections – Russian is a heavily inflected language, with parts of speech changing depending on their relationship to each other and the meaning the speaker needs to convey, so make sure to study verb conjugation and noun declension carefully.
  3. Exceptions to the rules – Russian grammar is fairly regular, but there are still very few rules without exceptions
  4. Same but different – some Russian sounds may seem similar to English ones, but they are still pronounced slightly differently: for instance, the ‘r’ is rolled, the ‘u’ is more rounded, and so on.
  5. Word order – word order is quite flexible in Russian, but it is not a complete free-for-all, you can’t just throw words together and make a sentence
  6. Noun gender – this is a purely grammatical category that needs to be memorized and can be somewhat confusing
  7. Perfective and imperfective verbs – very common in Slavic languages, these can be tricky for speakers of other languages to master
  8. ‘Soft’ or palatalized consonants – as there are no such consonants in the English language, these can take a while for English speakers to get the hang of
  9. Prefixes – there are lots of prefixes in Russian conveying subtle shades of meaning which are often easily confused by learners

Interested in learning Russian? Don’t miss these!

Want to know more about learning languages? Start here!

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Is Russian Hard to Learn - 4 Common Mistakes and 9 Best Russian Resources

Over to you!

Are you learning Russian? What other tips would you add to this guide? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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