Maintaining Your Russian

Updated: May 3, 2021

Whether you are a native/heritage speaker of Russian or a student returning from abroad, you might understand the difficulties that come with maintaining your speaking, writing, and reading skills. Regardless of your level, your proficiency starts to decrease as soon as you are no longer constantly around Russian speakers and actively using your skills. You might notice this when you find yourself searching for the right words, making spelling errors, or having a hard time reading at the same pace you once could. This is natural and happens to all language learners at all levels, and there are ways to combat it. Some ideas include:


1. Making time to watch Russian films and tv shows, or listening to Russian music

Surrounding yourself with Russian culture in the form of films, tv shows, or music is incredibly helpful when it comes to language learning and retention. Even if you yourself are not actively interacting with another Russian speaker, hearing it and having to digest the information will be great for your comprehension skills and will get you used to the flow, pronunciation, and new vocabulary.


Along with YouTube videos for Russian music, there are also pre-made playlists on Spotify and Apple Music that have various genres ranging from today’s top-hits to Russian folk music. There are Russian shows on streaming services such as Netflix, and most Russian movies are available on YouTube, although not all have subtitles. You can also try services such as Panopto or Kanopy that have access to films through your academic institution.


(Extra (fun) challenge: Try turning the subtitles off when watching movies or shows!)


2. Download a language learning app

Apps like Duolingo and Memrise are a convenient way of checking in on your grammatical and spelling skills. Many are free and are available for both iOS and Android. While some of the lessons on these apps may seem basic, even advanced language learners can benefit from reviewing the basics.


3. Find a tutor, TA, or conversation partner

While you may not need a tutor to go over basic skills, finding someone you can practice your Russian with on a regular basis can be one of the most helpful methods for keeping up your Russian. Many schools offer language tutoring with other Russian students or teaching assistants, although some may require you to be currently enrolled in a language class. Some schools may also offer conversation partner opportunities in which students can speak as a group or individually with a Russian speaker leading the conversation. If those options are not available to you, you may also consider speaking with a Russian professor if their schedule allows, or other students you may meet who are either studying Russian or native speakers - they may need some practice too!


4. Pick up some Russian books

No matter what your Russian reading level may be (or if you think you can’t read more than an instagram caption), reading is one of the most effective strategies for improving grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Picking up a Russian novel might sound intimidating, but starting with a text that is slightly above your current level is the key to making progress. The goal is not to understand every single word you read, but to get a general sense for the text and let your brain and your previous Russian knowledge fill in the rest. You might be surprised at how much you do understand. If you don’t necessarily have time to leaf through Anna Karenina in between homework and extracurriculars, audiobooks are another time-effective way to read your favorite Russian texts. Fortunately, many Russian books, especially the classics, are available for free in audiobook or e-book format through sites like Akniga.org and Project Gutenberg. If you want to read shorter texts, challenge yourself to keep up with Russian news or pop-culture outlets - most offer subscriptions. (Pro-tip: To help you get started, try listening to an audiobook and following along with the text - it’s faster and practices both listening and reading skills.)


Language is like a muscle. In order for it to work at its highest level, it has to be exercised often. While you can’t always be surrounded by the language, whether you’re studying abroad or visiting friends and family in Russia, you can simulate a similar environment that promotes learning and memory. Your Russian will thank you!