Top 10 Russian hacks

Russian is one of the six official languages of the UN. It is spoken by approximately 166 million people in the world. It has an even bigger presence on the Internet: according to W3Techs, Russian is second only to English in terms of website content.

Well, it takes time, effort and motivation to master a language; more importantly, it's down to how you study and a positive mindset! Here, we have 10 tailored tricks for people who are learning Russian or are thinking about starting their Russian lessons.

Remember, there's no shortcut to mastering any language. So in addition to these 10 hacks, practice, practice, and practice. The more you practice, the more confident you'll feel about your progress; and the more confident you are, the more invested--and therefore, better--you will be!

Resources for further reading:

Hack #1: Start with Sounds

Now that you've decided to learn Russian, it's time to dig into the language learning process. But where should you even begin?

The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and recognize written Russian sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.

Unlike English, most Russian words are pronounced just like they're written. So, it's always a good idea to learn how to pronounce Russian sounds before memorizing vocabulary and studying grammar. In order to do that, you're going to need to learn the Russian alphabet.

The Russian alphabet is not as impossible to learn as you might think. It has even got some letters that you already know! And in fact, some words you will be able to read and understand without using Google translation!

Have a look at some letters here:

Russian letters Pronounced as in English

  • A a in 'car'
  • O o in 'for'
  • K k in 'take'
  • M m in 'much'
  • T t in 'tin'
  • C s in 'set'

Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record

Rocket Record lets you perfect your Russian pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!

Can you recognize these words?







See the whole Russian alphabet here. You can also find a pronunciation guide on YouTube, listen to songs or watch movies. All of these are great ways to learn Russian sounds and set the foundation for a great Russian accent.

Hack #2: Learn on the Go

Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study Russian. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn Russian on the go.

A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique. Check out this video for a sample of how this shadowing technique is done with a foreign language (in this case, it's Chinese) :

This language learning technique involves listening to Russian with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three main keys to this exercise:

  1. Walk outdoors as quickly as possible. If you feel shy or embarrassed to do this in public, find a road or path where you can speak Russian loudly and proudly without many other people around you.

  2. Maintain a perfectly upright posture. According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.

  3. Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice. This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.

Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense. This may feel silly at first, but the results will amaze you. By speaking out loud as soon as you hear Russian sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.

Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of Russian. You'll also understand more and more words as your studies progress.

Try it with the first interactive Audio lesson from Rocket Russian. Click here to find a free download, save it to your phone and you are ready to go!

Some other great tricks for learning Russian on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to Russian audio in the car.

Make learning Russian a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.

Hack #3: Learn the Practical Words First

Learning a new language requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memories" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the words in a language to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half! Most people in any language use between 5,000 ~10,000 words.

The minimum number of words for a Russian beginner is 780. In order to achieve Level 1, which is equivalent to the Key English Test, you need to learn about 1 300 words. So what does that mean for you as a Russian learner?

By learning the practical words first, you can cut your work load by a half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.

Here are some of the most common Russian words to get you started:















That's ok

Hack #4: Take advantage of what you already know

Believe it or not, you already knew some Russian words before you even started studying the Russian language! Many words were borrowed from English, Dutch, German, French and other languages over a period of time. These words, known as cognates, make learning Russian easier.

The words "Emotion" and "Restaurant", for example, have the exact same meaning in Russian as their English equivalents. They're just pronounced a little differently and are spelled with cyrillic, of course. These cognates can make your language learning much easier and faster. Take advantage of them!

Here's a handy list of Russian words that you already know:



metro, underground



















Hack #5: Hooked on Mnemonics

As many who have learned a foreign language already know, repeating vocabulary often just isn't enough. Sometimes our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.

That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involves telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song or rhyme that you associate with a particular word.

For example, let's say you want to memorise the colour word коричневый (kareecnhivyi) which means "brown". You can imagine a brown biscuit, which is always crunchy.




Or, let's say you'd like to memorise the word быстро (bystra) which means "quickly". Think of а small bistro bar where you can have a quick snack .




This fun technique isn't limited to vocabulary: you can also use it to memorise grammatical rules, pronunciation rules, and even phrases and idioms.

And remember, if you have trouble memorising a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always invent your own mnemonic device.

Hack #6: Keep a Russian Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards

Keep a journal, document, or book with all of the Russian vocabulary you learn in one place. Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you to organize all of your new words and phrases, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.

Learners who keep vocabulary notebooks tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress more quickly in their learning.

This notebook can also be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. You can use your Anki flashcards on your phone to learn on the go when you're on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.

Your Russian notebook and flashcards are a fantastic future reference for studying. They can be used anywhere and anytime you have a few free minutes.

Hack #7: Find the patterns

The Russian language is an inflected language, like Latin or Greek, while English is not. That means that Russian words are comprised of relatively stable roots and inflections. The latter can vary depending on a word's function in a sentence or its intended meaning. But don't despair when you come across a word that looks familiar but has got some extra letters at the front or end!

These high number of inflections can be used to your advantage!

Initially, when you start learning a Russian word you might not realise that it could have lots of "relatives", i.e. related words which all have the same root. And, different inflections will create different meanings. By recognising these inflections you'll be able to understand new Russian words, even those you haven't seen before. This quickly boosts your vocabulary.

Let's have a look at some families of words:


  • холод (noun - the cold)
  • холодный (adjective - cold )
  • холодильник (noun - fridge - "device that makes cold")
  • холодать (verb - to grow cold) -Похолодало. ( It's got colder.)


  • слово (noun - a word) -словарь (noun- a dictionary)


  • боль (noun - pain)
  • больной (adj. - sick)
  • больница (noun - a hospital) -болеть (verb - to be ill)

A letter

  • письмо (noun - a letter)
  • письменный (adj. - writing/ written)
  • письменность (noun - written language)
  • писать (verb - to write)
  • писатель (noun - a writer)
  • записать (verb - to record; to make a note)

As you can see the roots of words tend to connect words within a specific concept. Learning one root from each family will make it easier to acquire the rest. You will soon be able to see the patterns and distinguish verbs from nouns and adjectives.

Hack #8: The Scriptorium Technique

Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of Russian.

The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:

  1. Read a sentence out loud.
  2. Say each word aloud again as you write it.
  3. Read the sentence aloud as you have written it.

The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down, pay attention to detail and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.

The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your Russian language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels.

The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember... practice makes perfect.

Hack #9: Read, Watch, Listen

Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines...Anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning.

You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games. While these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning significantly.

Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning without knowing that you're learning.

After a while, you'll find yourself using words and constructions that you didn't even study! This is all thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book, listening to the radio, or watching a series.

If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite Russian radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the Russian language without needing to hit the books.

If you want to take integrated Russian learning to the next step, go to Karaoke! By singing to the subtitles, your reading and speaking skills will be challenged in the most fun way!

Hack #10: Interact... Without Needing to Travel

Try to interact in Russian on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:

  • Speak with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
  • Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, co-worker, or yourself
  • Visit a local store or neighborhood where Russian is spoken and interact with the locals
  • Join a weekly or monthly Russian conversation group...or start your own group!
  • Speak online with a friend, family member, co-worker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
  • Contribute to a blog or forum in your target language
  • Sing along with music in your target language
  • Watch a movie, series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
  • Read a passage from a book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
  • Talk to yourself in your target language (this really works!)

The key is to interact, speak, and think in Russian as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Take advantage of all of the excellent Russian learning resources, and make Russian a part of your daily life!

By following these ten language learning hacks, you'll learn Russian faster, better, and enjoy doing so.

До скорого! (da skorava)

Natalia: Rocket Russian

Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement

Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities!