Russian Mission: One month as a new independent language learner

For the last month and a little bit more I have been studying Russian as my first independently studied foreign language. It is the first I want to achieve fluency in, before I start moving on to another language. I have given myself 3 months to reach conversational fluency, because that coincides with the Polyglot Berlin conference.

Of course this goal is a bit unrealistic, most would say. But to me it's better to have a slightly unrealistic time goal, work your heart out and then not get completely where you want to be in the time period. If I told you I would achieve fluency in Russian in 3 months, you might not believe me. If I told you I would achieve a moderately sized working vocabulary along with knowledge of a vast amount of sentences in 3 months, suddenly that sounds more realistic – and useful too!

The lesson is: Don't worry about missing your targets, the journey is the important factor.

Russian is a hard language to learn for a Dane

Part of the reason why people said it would be impossible to learn Russian in 3 months is because it is a very hard language for people like myself to get into. For one the alphabet is completely different (which I wrote a long blog post about here) along with completely new sounds. Secondly the grammar has a few more levels of intermediate to advanced rules that take time to get used to.

With that being said though, I believe that I can get very far in 3 months and I can definitely achieve fluency in 6 which is my running overall goal with the blog; To obtain fluency in at least 2 new languages a year.

My focus is not on the grammar either, maybe I should spend some more time on it, but my experience from German is that if I spend too much time thinking about the grammatical rules it inhibits my learning process and my ability to speak on the fly. Yes, the speak that does come out might have the wrong gender or a wrongly used article – who cares! The importance for language learners, and their first priority should be to be understood and speak naturally without pauses. Once you can keep a conversation going in your chosen language, you can then choose to expand on the grammar. Or you can choose not to, like I do.

Mistakes I've made in my first month of learning Russian

Setting out to learn a completely new language is a wonderful experience, and I can fully recommend it. During my first month I definitely did not study as much as I should have. The blog, podcast and everything else took up some of my focus, but were hardly excuses. I could easily have put more effort into Russian learning if I wanted to.

I do believe in general though, that you shouldn't spend too many hours learning the same language every day. The amount you learn does go up linearly until a point between 2-3 hours (for me at least) where the amount of knowledge acquired – particularly in vocabulary building, goes way down. I'm not sure if you can train yourself to spend longer and still get the same benefits, but for someone like me with a bad concentration it seems like the magic number is something like 2-3 hours a day at the most.

However, I did not spend 2-3 hours a day. In fact I probably averaged way less than 1 hour which I have no excuse for. If you really want to learn Russian in 3 months you can't just casually read a few words a day and expect fluency.

Lessons learned during my first month of Russian learning

Everything is not as bad as the above paragraph might suggest, thankfully! I have made quite some progress on my Russian and I think it would be a great help for other potential Russian students to share my lessons learned.

The first I've learned is that interacting (speaking or typing) in Russian with a native or advanced speaker is by far the best way to learn Russian. I could do vocabulary building for 8 hours straight and still not get close to what I get out of 30 minutes with my Russian tutor. I was lucky enough to find an amazing person who speaks both English and German very well who has an amazing amount of patience for when I try and stumble through the sentences. She is also very funny, so it's a joy learning. I found her on InterPals by searching for people who had knowledge of the Language I was learning.

The second lesson I have is that Memrise is superior to Anki in terms of vocabulary learning for me. When I was first introduced to language learning, everyone praised Anki like it was god's own gift to language learners. I'm currently about 75 words into http://www.memrise.com/course/359/beginners-russian/ which is a bit low, but hopefully I can step it up and finish all 5o0 words soon. I'm a bit of a vocabulary geek, so your mileage might vary on this particular tip!

The million dollar question – Just how much Russian did I learn in one month

This is a really hard question to answer, but I know that if you are reading this, you are interested in just how far one can come in one month studying a language. My personal opinion is that your level along the way isn't super important, and particularly not a month into a completely foreign language, but for the sake of full disclosure I will try and summarize where I'm at.

  • I learnt the entire Cyrillic alphabet (я могу читать по русски!)
  • I learnt how to formulate basic sentences (как дела?)
  • I developed a good starting vocabulary (я хочу болше!)
  • I was introduced to the Cyrillic keyboard layout, so I can type in Russian too. (это хорошо но говорить это лучше)
  • I was introduced to Russian grammar (я не готов сказать ничего еще)

All the above points aren't particularly specific, but they are the best way I can describe my progress. I also spent a fair amount of time this last month to research and trial out teaching tools, so I expect my remaining 2 months will yield bigger results than this first month.

How do I plan to spend the remaining two months to achieve fluency in Russian

  1.  I will complete the Memrise course (Beginner's Russian) giving me 500 words of basic vocabulary. I'm currently on 75/500 so I've got some work to do!
  2. I will complete Michel Thomas advanced and vocabulary courses.
  3. I will talk to my tutor daily, in one way or another.
  4. I will listen to Russian music and watch at least 10 Russian films.

Now that I've talked in detail about my experience learning Russian, how is your experience with it? What did you do differently than me? Be sure to leave a comment below 🙂

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