So you want to travel to Russia but you don’t even know the letters of the Russian alphabet?
Don’t panic: it is now possible to learn to read Russian from home, in a fun and educational way.
The most important thing is to stay motivated: in just a few sessions, it is quite possible to learn the Cyrillic alphabet (which, helpfully, also contains Latin letters).
Without having to go through language courses or sign up for classes online, the Russian learner can become an expert in Slavic reading through self-study.
Discover all our tips for learning to read Russian quickly!
Watch Russian TV to learn how to read Russian
Especially prolific and watched worldwide, Russian-speaking television is an excellent tool to practice reading the Russian language!
Children, students or adults, of all levels will be able to learn to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet by watching the television program of their choice.
For beginner students, we’d recommend starting with children’s tv shows or music channels whose lyrics are more accessible, while advanced students may be interested in news and other political channels.
The television offers a total immersion in Russian culture since the programs will only be available in the Slavic language: a great way to get to know the Russian pronunciation and understand the way Russian vocabulary is really used!
It’s worth checking out what channels your cable or satellite provider might offer. Some of the most popular are:
- Channel 1 Russia: Traditional channel that broadcasts movies, series, and sports,
- Vremya: channel on the history of Russia,
- Dom kino: channel with Russian movies,
- Euronews: European news channel available in Russian,
- Muzika pervogo: Russian music channel.
In order to work on their Russian reading, the learner can change the TV settings and activate the Russian subtitles - or closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing in the original version.
The most popular Russian television channels are often difficult to get in the US, but they can be viewed on the Internet, via web platforms or using Russian applications.
It’s a great way to learn Russian for free while having fun!
Here are our top picks for immersing yourself in Russian entertainment:
- Rossia 1: the top state-sponsored channel in the Russian Federation,
- Karussel: a popular channel for children’s programs
- RTR Planeta: a general-interest channel that broadcasts documentaries and cultural programs,
- 100 TV: the regional channel for St. Petersburg,
- Trety Kanal: a channel showing programs on law, finance and health.
It’s also worth noting that the state-sponsored RT channel is undergoing some ambitious foreign expansion plans and is frequently adding new broadcast countries to its list all the time.
Improve your Russian reading by watching movies
Russian and Soviet cinema remains, even today, a major player in the European cinema scene!
During Soviet period Russian cinema was particularly prolific, thanks in particular to its silent cinema and its adaptations of prominent literary works.
Watching a Russian film allows you to both discover a bit more about Russian art and culture, as well as to learn to read the Russian Cyrillic alphabet without even realizing it!
There are several Russian films available on Netflix, such as the famous Night Watch thriller: here, the viewer can both display Russian subtitles, but also edit the audio, to watch the film in your native language, while seeing the Russian translation.
Here are some classics of Russian cinema that are definitely worth adding to your ‘wish’ list:
- Ivan's childhood,
- The Russian Ark,
- The mirror,
- The Battleship Potemkin,
- Moscow does not believe in tears,
Learning a language by watching a film is a teaching method commonly used by foreign language teachers because it allows you to discover the language of a country through its culture. It also makes it easy to acquire colloquial Russian vocabulary.
To be a true multilingual Russian speaker, why not take some time to enjoy their cinema?
Watching Russian TV series in order to read Russian
All Slavic language learners, and particularly the younger Russian students, will enjoy improving their Russian reading by watching TV!
Unlike films which generally only last for a set 1.5 hours, a tv series can be followed over time and brings a regularity to your learning.
Students will be able to memorize Russian words naturally, without having to pay for a Russian lessons taught by a language teacher.
Our advice: start by looking at an American series that you know by heart so that you can make a mental translation of each term and phrase used in the Slavic language.
However, the best thing is to watch a Russian-speaking series to really immerse yourself in Russian culture!
The best series or miniseries to learn Russian are:
- The kitchen,
- A Moscow saga,
- Rasputin (featuring French actor Gérard Depardieu!)
- Nacha Russia,
- Papiny Dochki …
If you own the DVD version of a series, a good place to start is to simply change the settings to display the Russian subtitles with the original audio in English. To watch a series on the computer, Russian subtitles are often available for free to download on online subtitle catalogs.
A good idea for beginners is to watch children's shows (like Smechariki or Fixiki) to get acquainted with basic Russian vocabulary!
Study the lyrics of popular Russian songs
"Life without music is simply a mistake, a tiresome exile.” Friedrich Nietzsche
In the words of the German philosopher, learning Russian is much more fun via music!
Whether it’s to study the Russian alphabet or to learn to speak Russian and improve your pronunciation, studying Russian lyrics is a great way to learn Russian easily.
The best place to start is with some classic Slavic songs:
- My Heart,
- Do you want?
- Black Raven,
- Cheburashka ...
In addition to being recognized around the world, Russian music often has emotional lyrics which reflect the context of the era in which the song was written.
Topics such as the history of Russia and Russian politics are often addressed by lyricists and English speaking students can draw inspiration from them to discover Slavic culture.
What's more, beyond the new vocabulary, students can also learn to recognize new musical instruments, such as:
- Jew's harp,
- The nabat,
- The dohol,
- The balalaika,
- The domra,
- Gousli, etc.
The goal here is to listen to the music daily and to make sure you also read all of the lyrics. After a while, the student will know the music, and also all of the lyrics by heart and will be able to easily recognize the Russian words they hear frequently in song in normal texts.
So, let yourself be carried away by the sweet melodies of the land of the tsars! Feel free to write the lyrics too, to improve your Russian writing.
Discover Russian literature in its original texts
It would be unthinkable to talk about Russian culture without mentioning the country’s famous literature!
As a country that has been home to some of the greatest writers in the world, Russia had its golden age in the nineteenth century thanks to the rise of the romantic style led by Leskov or Dostoevsky. Today, authors like Mikhail Shishkin or Dmitry Glukhovsky continue to put Russia on the international literary scene.
Whether you choose novels or poems, Russian writing is a great study tool for advanced students who wish to improve in the Slavic language.
To become bilingual Russian-English, here are some classics of Russian literature you should add to your reading list:
- Boris Godounov, by Alexandre Pouchkine,
- Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy,
- War and peace, by Leo Tolstoy,
- Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky,
- The Karamazov brothers, by Fyodor Dostoevsky,
- Fathers and sons, by Ivan Turgenev,
- Tarass Boulba, by Nicolas Gogol,
- The mother, by Maxime Gorki …
Studying Russian literature is particularly advisable for students planning to pursue Russian language studies to an advanced level, such as taking AP Russian or studying the language in college.
Russian literature has served as a source of inspiration for many authors like Ernest Hemingway who was inspired by Dostoevsky to write the Old Man and the Sea.
For Russian learners, literature is ideal because it allows you to study many concepts at the same time:
- The Russian alphabet,
- Russian grammar,
- Russian personal pronouns,
- Russian prepositions,
- Russian expressions,
- Russian conjugation,
- Russian spelling, etc.
Literature is, therefore, a great way to learn the Russian language in its entirety and to work on the language while gaining a better understanding of Russian history and culture!
Find a Russian language partner
How can you learn to speak Russian like a native?
In order to read Russian just as well as a native Russian speaker, the best thing you can do is find a pen pal!
Regularly speaking with a Russian speaker can improve your Russian language skills, but also introduce you to colloquial usage while encouraging American-Russian friendship. Memorizing Russian words will happen naturally as you and your pen pal write back and forth: the native Russian-speaking pupil will be able to correct the mistakes in Russian of his pen pal and vice versa for the American.
The correspondence will also help you improve a wide variety of skills in Russian:
- A digital correspondence will help you work on your reading of typed Russian
- An exchange via old-fashioned letters will help you work on your Russian Cyrillic cursive script, both written and reading.
- And finally, video calls will help you work on your tonal accent and improve your Russian pronunciation.
The advantage of having a pen pal?
You may also be able to organize a study abroad trip or visit with your pen pal, in order to really immerse yourself in the Slavic country.
Whatever method you choose from this article, you can now teach yourself how to read Russian! If want to find a tutor, searching for Russian lessons London produces the most results on Superprof but there is a lot more choice if you learn Russian online.