The continuing adventures of Steve

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Learning Russian: Part 2

More updates on my efforts to learn Russian between September and December. Check out part 1 here.


My focus for September was growing my vocabulary. I started picking out more relevant words from frequency lists and actively searching for words I’m likely to need.

For a number of reasons, I’ve had less free time to devote to proper ‘study’ of the language (ie. reading the Penguin book), so most of my learning has been through audio that I’ve been listening to in my free time. Michel Thomas has become a big focus as it covers a good amount of content as well as providing plenty of snippets for my Anki deck. I finished the 8 CD Foundation course in late September and moved straight onto the 4 CD Advanced course immediately.

It’s also worth noting that I’ve completely stopped using Memrise at this point. Its limitations are pretty glaring after having used Anki so extensively, so after dipping in to make sure all the words from my Memrise courses are in my Anki deck, I pretty much left it for good.


October was also quite busy for me and again left me with little time to devote to actively studying Russian. Despite this, I’ve been making good progress with the Michel Thomas Advanced course, which is currently the centrepiece of my Russian learning. I’ve also put more time into listening to RusPod modules, aiming for at least 1 a day, generally in the background while I work.

About midway through the month I started actively practising (via Skype calls) with native Russian speakers I had gotten in touch with through PolyglotClub. This was something I had been putting off for a while, perpetually promising myself that I’ll just wait until I get just a ‘little better’, but I’m really glad I finally did this and actually practised what I’ve been learning for so long. It was a rewarding experience but also highlighted some of my weaknesses, importantly, my speed - a 2 second pause might be trivial when reviewing an Anki card, but it can be noticeable when in a real conversation. I’m hoping this will improve naturally with time.

Finally, during the latter half of the month I went on a card making binge and started to increase the number of new Anki cards I introduced every day, balancing this with the overhead of needing to make more cards in the limited time I have.


Around the start of the month, I finally started to get to get to grips with the accusative case as it was introduced to me as part of the Michel Thomas Advanced course. Since its introduction, I’ve added lots of examples to my Anki deck and am now confident enough to generate and use the accusative forms of nouns and adjectives.

Around the same time I was also re-introduced to the verbs of motion through Michel Thomas Advanced and finally started to understand them. I had previously been introduced to the infinitive form of these verbs through RusPod, but had failed to really grok them until Michel Thomas provided me with plenty of examples of their use.

Around mid-November I started periodically skimming, using it as a source of natural Russian to learn from. I was also lucky to meet a native Russian speaker with whom I was able to practice briefly - she spoke quickly but I was able to understand a decent amount as well as communicate a few things back to her.

I was away for a few weekends this month, and didn’t get through quite as much content as normal, but despite this, I’m really happy with my progress, having finally gotten a handle on some two elements of Russian (accusative case, verbs of motion) that had previously eluded me. By the end of the month I had upped the number of new cards introduced per day to 25 - predictably, this has increased Anki review counts, now regularly falling into the 120-130 card range.


A good chunk of December was focused on wrapping up the Michel Thomas Vocabulary course and getting useful words/sentences into my Anki deck. This took a little longer than with the previous as this course moves noticeably faster than the previous levels, so I find myself preferring/needing to go over the content a second time (while extracting audio for my Anki cards) before pressing forward, lest I be left out of my depth. A virtue of moving faster is that the vocabulary course gets through much more content, covering the remaining cases and prepositions which I see as the last ‘building blocks’ of the language I need to master.

My hope is that once I’ve gotten confident with the the content so far, plus the cases and prepositions, I should be in a good position to focus on ‘simply’ growing my vocabulary without spending as much time learning new grammatical rules. This isn’t to say I’ll just be adding words to my Anki deck from now on, but that I can also move onto more ‘advanced’ and domain specific material that doesn’t need to introduce the basics.

Current Progress

Speaking: I’m continuing to gain confidence speaking, finding myself able to construct increasingly complicated sentences (such as summarising the last few years of my life, explaining dietary requirements etc.) as well as rapidly formulate Russian versions of short, everyday phrases. I really feel like I’ve made big steps in understanding the language enough to use it confidently and my focus now needs to be on expanding my vocabulary.

Listening: My listening is getting better, but still worse than my speaking thanks to the simple facts that there are still a lot of words I don’t know and I haven’t listened to too much natural spoken Russian. I think I need to focus on listening to natural Russian (outside of language courses) simply to get used to the speed

Reading/Writing: At this point I’m able to read simple sentences/signs at a glance - with less accuracy than English of course, but I’m feeling good about reading level for now.