This week, I completed a challenge ran by Language Boost to learn Russian over the course of 50 days. Before the challenge, I only had ‘Survival Russian’ which I used on my trip to Russia. You can read about that here. I had such a nice time in Russia that I decided I want to return. I’m also going to Belarus in the summer, so that gives me more motivation to learn the language to a higher level.

img_e1983At the start of the challenge, I was only able to order something in a restaurant, I knew general greetings, numbers and that was about it. I wasn’t able to engage in conversation beyond personal introductions. I took about 4 x 30 minute skype lessons with a teacher on Italki before my trip to Russia and my intention was only to learn enough ‘survival’ language.

The VocaBooster course teaches you 500 essential words and phrases in the language. In addition to learning these individual words, the course also gives you example sentences. The course is accessed online and you can download the vocabulary and sentences on a pdf document and there is audio for all the vocabulary included in the course. The most important part for me was the fact that there are Anki flashcard decks with all the vocabulary provided within the materials. I had tried to use Anki in the past and found it too difficult to set up (I am not so good with technical things) but using the instruction videos, I followed each step and had no problem at all. You can also download the Anki app but this is quite expensive on the iphone. However, the free web version works perfectly well so I just used that or my desktop.

img_1948I think flashcards are very effective in teaching us new vocabulary. However, I often don’t use them due to the time involved typing up all the new words into each card. With the VocaBooster course, you download the decks into Anki and it’s all done for you.

Each participant set themselves a goal of 10 new words per day on Anki. This is quite easy in the beginning but gradually becomes more difficult as some cards will need to be repeated and you still receive the 10 new ones per day, so some days I was reviewing 30 old cards as well as seeing 10 new ones. I found this limit was about right for me and I wouldn’t recommend increasing it. Some other challengers who were beginners found the full sentences difficult to learn at first. On the Anki cards, they show one keyword on top and an example sentence underneath. For beginners, it is recommended to just memorise the keywords first and when the cards are eventually repeated on another day, you can focus on starting to learn the full sentences.

My favourite street in Moscow

I also needed to put these new words into practice. From years of learning languages, I know that I don’t learn well just by self-study. I must get some speaking practice. So I went back to Italki and I decided to have some lessons with my Slovak teacher as she also teaches Russian. I booked one hour lessons and did 30 minutes in Slovak followed by 30 minutes in Russian. My Slovak is better than my Russian, but still only A2 level. However, I found it very useful to study them together. I have learned the case endings quite well in Slovak now and that has given me a huge headstart with Russian, so that I can sometimes guess the case ending from my knowledge of the Slovak rules and it’s correct a lot of the time. I also found the website ‘Russian For Free’ with some simple texts for A1/A2 learners. I started to translate the texts from Slovak into Russian and I found that a very useful and rewarding exercise to do. I then got my teacher to check my translation in the lesson.

At the end of the 50 days, I decided to make a video showing a 5 minute conversation with my Italki tutor, Linda, in Russian. I am pleased that I managed to achieve this after just 50 days, even though I can hear that I still need to improve my pronunciation of certain sounds! I had around 8 x 30 minute lessons with my teacher in total before I made the video. Videos are a very useful exercise because you can watch them back and hear your own pronunciation errors and work on them for the future, so don’t feel too embarrassed about making them. You don’t have to make them public after all!


Moving on now after the challenge, I am going to Belarus in the summer where hopefully I will be able to speak a lot of Russian. I’m also planning to go back to Russia at some point in the near future. Russian was also the lingua franca with foreign visitors in Georgia when I was there this year, although I only had ‘survival’ level at that time, but I was surprised at how important the language still was in Georgia.

I have recently bought some A1/A2 books from Red Kalinka to be able to progress. So far, I find these books excellent. The grammar explanations are in clear English and there are lots of choice of books even at a basic level ; dialogues with audio, stories with audio, grammar books to learn cases and verbs of motion and even the Classics in Easy Russian for intermediate level.

Overall, I’d recommend using the VocaBooster course to start learning a new language and combining it with speaking practice is even more effective.

Resources Used:

Language Boost -VocaBooster course with audio & pdf guide

Italki for language lessons on skype.

Red Kalinka  – Online shop for pdf Russian books with audio at all levels.

Russian For Free.