I think few people would argue with me if I said that Russian is a pretty difficult language to learn It’s only natural therefore, that all students of Russian encounter difficulties in their studies at some point. I find that, when facing problems, it’s always good to know that you’re not alone. As such here’s a list of five problem areas which it seems all students (including myself) have already or will have to face at some point whilst trying to get to grips with Russian.
1. It sounds strange –
Save for those lucky souls who have already mastered a different slavic language, either as their native language or a second language, almost all students of Russian language will eventually run up against the problem that Russian words just simply don’t bear much resemblance to those of other languages. For an English speaker learning French the meaning of persévérance, touriste and célébration are immediately obvious.
Russian on the other hand has comparatively few recognisable words. Not that their are none, but even familiar words when printed in cyrillic script appear a lot less familiar. That’s to say nothing of false friends like магазин, Фабрика, гениальный and лунатик.
2. Grammatical Cases –
Russian’s Grammatical cases will of course be easier for some than for others. For me personally as a native speaker of English, Russian cases (and the greater variety in sentence structure that they enable) started off feeling pretty unfamiliar. Even once you understand most of their various meanings however, trying to remember to add on all the right endings when speaking quickly can be a nightmare.
3. “Variable” sentence structure –
Talking of fluidity of sentence structure, here we find other thing about Russian that’s hard to wrap your head around. Formally the use of cases makes many different sentence structures possible (for example Кот сьел рыбу, кот рыбу съел, рыбу съел кот, рыбу кот съел, съел кот рыбу and съел рыбу кот, are all possible translation of the cat ate the fish). In reality however there are natural and unnatural word orders. In my experience it’s best to stick to standard SVO order except in cases where you regularly hear native speakers using a different structure.
4. Perfect and imperfect forms of verbs –
There is one thing that many find even harder to get used to than grammatical cases, verbal aspect. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about verbal aspect is how it’s formed; as if it weren’t tricky enough to get used to the differences between how the perfect and imperfect aspects are used in in your native language and Russian, you also essentially have to learn every verb (and how to conjugate it) twice.
5. Verbs of motion –
In Russia one does not simply ‘go’ somewhere, one goes along, arrives, goes past, goes across, goes up to, goes into, goes out of, goes away from and many other variants. And all the time whilst doing this, you have to think about how many directions you’re going in and whether you’ll be using your legs or some kind of vehicle to get where you want to be. If you’re struggling with these verbs at the moment make sure to keep calm and try not to сойти с ума.
Of course not everything about Russian is doom, gloom and complexity. There are , in fact, several (yes, really, several) things about Russian that can make it easier to learn as a language. For a start Russian spelling is relatively logical; most things read as they’re spoken except for a few relatively consistent rules (think about the pronunciation of unstressed o, and the way you need to say –ого and -его). Furthermore it has to be said that the Russian alphabet isn’t as hard to learn as it might initially seem.
In addition to this there are some very rewarding things about learning Russian that make all the difficult moments worth it. It of course opens up the possibility to experience a multiplicity of different forms of Russian art and culture (From films to literature, music and theatre) in the original. Russian is also a fantastic language for international communication, being the eighth most spoken language in the world by native speakers (155 million) and the sixth most spoken by total number of speakers (260 million). There is also not a small amount of satisfaction to be found the sense of accomplishment you feel as you start to overcome all the complications mentioned above.