Our new students often ask – what kind of progress can they expect to make when they start a Russian course? The first thing we need to know:
What kind of a language learner are you?
To answer this question, you need to know the person who is doing the lessons, at least a little bit. Here are the factors to consider:
Are they good linguists naturally, that is – do they have a good memory, can they retain words in their memory, can they imitate sounds and hear the difference between similar sounds? Have they ever learned a foreign language before, ideally, with a system of cases, like Latin? Do they understand the grammar of their mother tongue? No less important is the question of commitment and dedication. Is the new student going to do homework? And how many hours each week? Dedication and motivation are also very important. Is there a particular reason for doing this course? Is this reason good enough to keep you going and not give up when it seems difficult and time-consuming?
Facts and figures about learning Russian with us
- Most of our students are beginners.
- Most people do an extensive course that consists of one 1.5 hour lesson per week, plus homework.
- It takes 2 or 3 lessons to become totally familiar with the alphabet, and be able to read and write (slowly but accurately). Learning the Cyrillics is not difficult!
- It takes a further 4 or 5 lessons to be able to read and write at a good speed and gain confidence in it.
- Most people do not learn the handwritten version of letters at the beginner stage, because it not very relevant these days – most things are typed on a computer or another device. That saves a bit of time.
- It takes most people 40 – 50 hours of tuition to reach a lower intermediate level: being able to read and write, sustain a conversation at a basic everyday level with a native speaker, being able to understand and respond to basic information and questions, dealing with a “sympathetic” native speaker.
- It takes about 100 hours of tuition to reach a solid intermediate level – everyday conversation, good understanding, overall knowledge of all the grammar structures of the language, being able to communicate in all sorts of everyday situations; good writing skills and and very good reading skills.
What happens next is up to you… Some people stop at this point, and try to maintain the good level they have achieved, by regular practice. Others go further. There is no limit in language learning!
Homework: to do or not to do
As far as homework is concerned, you would be expected to dedicate at least 2 hours a week to it, but of course, the more, the better. The ideal scenario is: the student learns everything at home, and the role of the teacher is to check what has been learned, answer questions about unclear points, and set the next assignment for learning. However, in real life, this is done by probably 1% of the students. Much more common is the scenario where students do not do much homework. Sometimes none at all. That is fine with us. We work with grown up people and recognise the fact that they have much more important commitments than learning Russian. So no one will be telling you off, but your progress will be twice as slow… So if you are not worried about the extent of your budget for the lessons, and not restricted by any time frames for achieving your goal in learning Russian, then not doing any homework at all is a possible option.
Regular study and practice
Regular practice is very important. Unfortunately, if you do not practice a language, it goes into the “passive” state. It can be brought back with a bit of work, but a refresher course may be necessary.
Initiative and motivation
Initiative is important too! When I was learning English at Moscow University many years ago, we were told that “the languages are not taught, they are learned”. It seems like an easy pretext for a lazy teacher, but it’s true. If you do not take the initiative in learning new things yourself, looking up new words in a dictionary – or, at this day and age, on your Google translate app – look through grammar explanations in your textbook and ask the teacher questions about it, you will make slower progress. You will only digest what is fed to you, depriving yourself of all the supplements you could have. From my personal experience, if I had only taken what my teachers gave me at the time, I would have never learned English to a high standard.
The journey goes on
Where does the learning process end? Well, it doesn’t… even native speakers do not know their mother tongue perfectly, so there is always room for improvement – especially in a creative and vibrant language like Russian. Even if you know the grammar perfectly, there is always so much vocabulary and idiom to be learned! Slang, neologisms, popular sayings, cultural references, swear words (which are an important part of any colloquial language!) – you name it. It depends on how curious and how ambitious you are. Some people communicate successfully with a vocabulary of 500 words, others have 5000. It also depends on your objectives and your target situation: whether you aim to order a dinner in a restaurant, or discuss politics and literature with Russians. But a high level of language proficiency comes as a result of hard work and takes a lot of time. It’s a journey. If you soak a foreign language up properly, it gives you a new dimension in life, and enriches your personality. They say, you have as many personalities in you, as many languages you speak.
And last but not least – please do not believe advertisements that promise to teach you Russian (or any other language) in 3 months. It’s impossible. If it were possible, I would be out of work, and would not be writing this blog!