Day 19 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

Well, I’m over half way of my month in Russian. In my last post, Day 9, I outlined my intentions:

5mins Memrise (alphabet)

20mins Russianpod vids on the alphabet (includes my own cursive writing)

20mins Duolingo – I’m gradually noticing the sounds in words so I’m keeping at this. I’m not doing any ‘Review’ as this is too hard at this stage – I can’t remember the spellings of some words whether there is audio or not.

10mins ‘Read and Write Russian Script’

10mins LingQ – making links and listening to the texts. I’m saving phrases but not doing a great deal of over studying yet until I’m secure with the writing system.

I have completed the alphabet podcasts, which were extremely useful, and tend now to dip into various parts of the website just for the exposure to the language. Still woWIN_20170819_14_20_22_Prorking with Duolingo. I wasn’t sure for awhile but the short phrases and sentences is supporting my character and sound recognition. I’ve also been staggering the ‘Read and Write Russian Script’ book – I haven’t done it everyday but like to leave it a day or so almost liked a spaced-recognition practice.

The biggest shift has been on LingQ. I’m working more here on the lessons both to hear the words, look at the phrases, notice things both in terms of structure and word endings, review vocabulary and finally to consider the text as a whole. I’m doing this a number of times with each text, coming at it from different perspectives. I certainly feel my prediction of how the word should sound often matches the record. Where my prediction isn’t spot on just alerts me to the things like ‘o’ when it is stressed and unstressed or reminding myself of pronouncing ‘e’ correctly. I’m certainly sticking with text-based resources and not getting involved in spoken-language courses (Pimsleur etc.). I want to be able to ‘see’ what I’m saying. I think this focused approach is really helping and slowly but surely my word recognition is getting there. In fact, I’m not worried that learning the language will take a great deal of time as I do think securing the very basics and not taking on too much is vital.

So, where do I want to be by the end of the month?

Be comfortable with the script – print and cursive. Ideally have all characters remembered in the cursive script.

Read at a 70% accuracy in terms of sounding the characters correctly when saying words (using Duo and LingQ for this).

Have some foundation in Russian grammar.


Day 9 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

So, I’m at the stage now where I’m into a good solid routine with my studies. I do have other languages on the go (either new or maintaining) so it’s important that I can give a decent amount of time to Russian whilst not sacrificing my other languages. Now that I’ve found the materials I need I’m managing to organise my time better – it’s been so easy to be spending hours on the language but this isn’t something I can maintain in the long-term. It has to be do-able. So, this is the schedule I’ll be keeping for the rest of this week:

5mins Memrise (alphabet)

20mins Russianpod vids on the alphabet (includes my own cursive writing)

20mins Duolingo – I’m gradually noticing the sounds in words so I’m keeping at this. I’m not doing any ‘Review’ as this is too hard at this stage – I can’t remember the spellings of some words whether there is audio or not.

10mins ‘Read and Write Russian Script’ – again securing pronunciation and writing

10mins LingQ – making links and listening to the texts. I’m saving phrases but not doing a great deal of over studying yet until I’m secure with the writing system.

Keeping to time is going to be my goal – I want to study and focus but I find it mentally exSnoopy-wallpaper-snoopy-33124746-1024-768hausting at times figuring out the characters and the sounds  especially when this can be timed in Memrise and taxing in Duolingo. But I also want time away from it so it can sink in. Whilst I won’t be writing about Russian for a few days, not unless I discover something interesting or useful, my objective is to  maintain focus and aim high.

Day 7 Russian Snap Shot Challenge


The problem with ‘Hello’

I’m now at the end of my first week and my enthusiasm to learn Russian hasn’t wavered. In fact I’m even more interested in the language.

Today I had a look around a couple of large bookshops in the city in the hope of finding a book that would nurture my interest in Russian. By and large I discovered a number of books which promised either to get me ‘talking’ straight away or offered grammar explanations which only made my eyes glaze over. So, I ignored the less-inspiring resources and looked again at those which claimed I could be talking immediately. Well, that bothered me a bit. Looking further into these books I would often find the first task on the first page would get me to say everyday words and phrases (‘hello’ , ‘goodbye’, ‘how are you?’ etc.) but with very little explanation as to how the alphabet was working – it just simply offered an English phonetic transcript. I suppose in itself this is nice and helpful but there is a problem with this, though. I’m not really connecting these phonetics with the Cyrillic letters – one letter can have two English letters to make the sound. So, nice, practical vocabulary but a nightmare to breakdown the Russian characters. With too many different characters you end up reading the English phonetics and relying on this as the first step. I worry this can actual hinder progress.

With this in mind, for me a better approach is to make the Cyrillic alphabet the foundation to speaking. This is my goal.  So, rather than saying ‘hello’ a textbook should instead be asking me to say ‘cocoa’ (какао) or ‘theme’ (тема) as this narrows the alphabet to a few characters. Once these kinds of words are secure, knowing the pronunciation and easily recognising the characters, then my vocabulary can expand by gradually increasing new characters into the mix.

So, should I continue with Duolingo? Looking at the vocabulary in the next lessons  I’ll be learning things like привет, пока, спасибо, пожалуйста, извините. Now I might very well figure out what these words are, the context may readily hint at their meaning, but that feels a bit like luck rather than skill. Yet, maybe it’s too soon to give it up – maybe the russian scriptimmersion will work. We’ll see.  

In the mean time, for the next week all activities will be geared to securing a foundation in the alphabet (recognising them by sight and sound with the addition of regular cursive handwriting). One book I did managed to get hold of today seems exactly the sort of thing that will help me in this. It’s   ‘How to Read and Write Russian Script’ by Teach Yourself. Briefly looking through the pages seemed work gradually through the alphabet by focusing on the characters and then using vocab that included these characters. I’ll look at in more detail tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Day 6 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

Had another productive day with Russian. I’ve started to have a more regular approach to my studies. I begin with ten minutes on Memrise, then 10-15mins on Duolingo, go to Russianpod101 for pronunciation and also to extend my knowledge of cursive writing (again I’m writing new characters and words but also spend time reviewing past letters) and finally go to LingQ to listen, read and notice things with the language. I’ve been really enjoying the cursive writing and am looking to using this more with LingQ – to try to write out by hand some of the phrases that I have saved and then annotate them with the things I notice. I need to complete more videos first before I can do this but I think it will be a nice way to consolidate some of the things I’m learning.

In addition to this, I watched Steve Kaufman’s YouTube video on ‘Tips on Learning Russian’. This was both helpful but also gave me a real awareness of how tspeakhis difficult this language actually is. Steve mentioned that cases, verbs of motion and aspects of verbs are really difficult as the ending of words can change a great deal for a variety of reasons. In particular, this can prove quite demanding when learning to speak the language. Reading is easier naturally because you can get a sense of what is happening, that you know the meaning of the word. But actually speaking it is something else. I’m interested, then, how I will overcome this obstacle. Wonder if Apps or the likes of Pimsleur are the way to go for this. I’m going to do some research. It is early days yet, I have loads of input to do before I do any output but it’s still worth a look.

Day 5 Russian Snap Shot Challenge

So today I began with Duolingo and Memrise. As I’m completing the tasks I also have my Cyrillic alphabet at hand so that I can begin to notice the sounds to the words more. This is especially useful when just doing single words. I didn’t do it all the time but am trying to make sure that word recognition is sound as well as sight.


I also spent last night and today working on LingQ. Like I’ve said, I’ve used this successfully for other languages but was hesitant to start with Russian too soon. That said, after posting a few comments on the forum Steve Kaufman (founder of LingQ) responded both to my concerns and also gave helpful advice. So, now I’m using the ‘Stories’ on LingQ (Beginner2 level but Steve assured me this was doable). These stories are great as words are naturally repeated in different contexts and I’m only working on the present tense for the first twenty stories. I’m not only saving words for review, which is proving excellent in noticing things with the language, but also actual phrases as well. Again I’m not doing this to everything as I want to soak up as much of the language as I can but still I’m beginning to notice the structures.


In addition to this, I visited again today this time there were some videos on how to write the letters. So notebook and pen in hand, I worked through tnotebook-and-pen1wo videos attempting to perfect a cursive script both for single characters and for words. I’ll review them tomorrow and then take on the next two videos. So far so good. I keep on browsing for books as well but so far nothing is really appealing to me – all seem a bit dry and demotivating. I’ll keep looking as I would like a small grammar book at some point (there’s a ‘Teach Yourself’ one but some reviews say it has errors) but at the moment I’m sticking to keeping my costs at a minimum and making the most of the ample online resources at hand.

Update Day 3 Russian ‘Snapshot Challenge’

Brew finished. Russian alphabet finished…

So, this is how I spent my time:

  1. 20mins with LinkWord – pretty satisfied with that. The ways to remember the letters were generally helpful. It was great that this PDF was free. I’m not sure I’m interesting in learning vocabulary this way but for the alphabet it was really useful.
  2. 10mins using the seminar notes I discovered that TOM KAT are the same letters and sounds in English. It was also helpful in grouping letters together.
  3. 15mins A useful first podcast going through pronunciation and recognising the alphabet as largely phonetic and the ‘hard sign’ and ‘soft sign’ which altered any pronunciation.
  4. 10mins Memrise. I decided to leave the YouTube vids and set about consolidating what I had learned. Another reason why I didn’t want another podcast just yet – want to feel comfortable in what I know before I work on the pronunciation. Got to make sure I’m not confusing things like  в (=v) and Б (=b). Link Word can help with this, though.


Where next?

Well, I have to strengthen my knowledge. Aside from the podcasts and Memrise, I would like to look into actually handwriting the characters maybe do some kind of guided translation with characters. I’ll look into that over the next few days. Nonetheless, for less than an hour of study I feel great that I can now recognise so many characters. The resources I used were great too – focused and really helpful. I didn’t waste time with laborious explanations but used resources that were clear and consolidated what I learnt.

Time for Duolingo. Time to put the kettle on.

Day 3 Russian ‘Snapshot Challenge’

So, I gave in today. Before I could even use Duolingo I had to do something about the alphabet (Cyrillic script). I felt rather than waiting for that Eureka moment and recognising the sounds that corresponded to the letters, I would actively find out the names and sounds of those letters (are they the same things?).

How long does it take to learn the Cyrillic script?

With a quick Google search of ‘how to learn the Russian alphabet’ I came across a range of helpful advice and also resources for support. At, Dani from gave the following comment:

I would say it takes you a few hours to get started with the script. The rest is continuous practise that will happen naturally when you study the language. If you have a free afternoon or a weekend, grab a big cup of tea or maybe even some Russian sweets and just do it. Once you get started with the exercises you will see the progress really soon, I promise!

Before I got the cup of tea ready (don’t really need much persuasion ever to do that) I went back to Google and scanned through the resources available. I tried to select only a few resources to make sure that I keep focused.
This is what I have at hand and also the order I’ll do it in


1) Link Word has useful ways of remembering the letters and what they represent.
2) Another website organises the alphabet and proclaims it can also be learned in two hours by grouping the letters


I’ve always enjoyed the Innovative Language podcasts – I’ve used them for Japanese, Italian and Chinese. So here I’ve found five lessons on pronunciation. I’ve printed out the PDFs for ease. I’m hoping this will secure any knowledge.


4) YouTube
A general search for ‘russian alphabet’ has revealed a lot. I’m leaving this until last as it will be difficult to see how long it will take to find the videos I find most helpful.

So, pot of tea at the ready!

Day 2 Russian ‘Snapshot Challenge’

Still only working with Duolingo though begging for phonetic practice!

Focused on the ‘Alphabet’ lesson, I’m working on some negatives, some personal pronouns, common nouns etc. Interesting grammar structures ‘Are you an actor?’ is ‘You actor?’ in Russian. But the writing is proving difficult. I can translate and also select the correct words from the options to form sentences but writing using the keyboard is near (not always) impossible. So, I am making progress and I am noticing things in the language which means I can complete the lessons. Yet, I’m now wondering if I need to go away and do extra work on understanding the phonetics of the alphabet – simply hearing the sentences doesn’t mean I know the characters to choose. Instead I’m relying on my remembering the words. So, I went to the Duolongo website and found there some useful clarification about the sounds of the character but no audio. Early days I know but would like to work on the phonetics more so I can concentrate more easily on vocabulary and grammar.

Ёё⁰ (your) Вв (vase) Бб (bed)
Ээ (red) Нн¹ (nap) Дд¹ (dab)
Уу (soon) Хх² (Bach) Гг (gap)
Ии (meet) Йй (yes) Лл¹ (nil)
Юю (you) Рр (trilled R) Пп (poor)
Ыы³ (hit) Сс (Sam) Зз (zebra)
Яя (yard) Фф (photon) Цц (cats)
Жж⁴ (seizure) Шш⁴ (shun) Щщ⁴
Чч (cheer) Ъ and Ь⁵

A Snapshot Language Challenge

I’ve set myself  have a number of challenges over the next few months and I’ll post a little bit more on each of them in other blog posts. Today, though, I want to share a monthly challenge which might seem a bit crazy. I’m calling it my ‘snapshot language challenge’ and aim to spend just a month working on it just to see what happens and even if I want to take it further.

Resource: Duolingo

Language: Russian

Time: 15mins

I’ve been using Duolingo for some time for Italian. I often find it a nice app on my android to brush up on my skills or to finish the evening off doing something short and snappy which involves, reading, writing, speaking and listening. Recently I’ve been thinking a new language so looked at the other ones available for English speakers. As I did this I wondered just how far can it teach me a language? If I ignored books, websites etc and just used Duo, where would I be at the end of a month? Indeed, can I really ignore other resources? Will I be able to figure out the grammar? Tackle the pronunciation? So, rather than using languages I have some awareness of I decided to choose the only one that I have no knowledge or experience of whatsoever. Russian. Here goes.

Day 1 – ‘Alphabet’

Installed the Russian keyboard (!) and have started ‘Basics’ lessons. So sentences today have included simple sentences – ‘This is Tom’, ‘where is the house?’ etc. Here I noticed that there seem to be two words for ‘and’ not sure if there are rules for which you use but I have used both correctly. I’ve also used words for ‘aunt’, ‘cat’, ‘where’, ‘house’. I noticed that there is no word for ‘is’ or ‘are’  it looks like it’s not there in Russian. I’ll keep a look out on that. In terms of ‘Duo’ itself, there have been no speaking exercises yet – maybe that will come later? The listening has been good – all words and sentences have audio.

Back to it

It’s been far, far too long since I’ve been seriously focused on my languages. Through one thing or another, it must be close to a year now. This happens to a lot of people be it for personal reasons or just moving the interest to another language. It’s not something to worry about. In fact some linguists say, that by forgetting the language you actually make it stronger when you revisit it. Well, we’ll see. So, last week I decided to set myself a couple of challenges with my languages. A three month challenge for Italian and Japanese which I will hopefully post on each week.

So, I’ve thought carefully about what I would to achieve. Like all learning endeavors, there needs to be some kind of goal to reach otherwise you just end up coasting (if you’re lucky). These long-term goals need to be broken down into chunks – mid-term goals (month) and short-term goals (weekly/daily) So, for me this means the following.
3 months of immersion 
Japanese – 3 months: secure my past knowledge and be ready to tackle the difficulties of N3
Month 1 – can I secure N4?
500 Kanji
N4 grammar and vocabulary reviewed, noticed and used for a wealth of reading and listening
Italian – 3 months: take part in an Italian book club
Month 1 – how far can listening and reading get me?
Reading & listening (vocabulary revisited simply as part of the process)- ‘La Fabbrica di Cioccolato’ (finish) ‘Io Sono Leggenda’ (complete about 50%)
For my weekly goals, I’ve simply worked out how many chapters I need to cover a week. For alongside these goals, I’ll be doing other things with the languages. immersing myself into books that take my fancy, watching films/dramas, listening to podcasts and generally following articles on websites in my target languages. It’s good to have goals but it’s also good to do whatever I like. I find this nurtures my enthusiasm and motivation. So, time to get comfortable with the language.