After I put together a similar post with resources I used for Spanish, I reckoned one about Russian would be equally helpful. I go over:
- Books I’ve used (a lot)
- Youtube channels and authentic content I recommend
- Authentic content produced specifically for learners (the last two)
The little difference between this and the list for Spanish is that I included two extra resources I have not used myself but personally. Since I learned the better part of my Russian in Russia, I didn’t have use that much authentic content because I was surrounded by it. Also, my list skews towards books and quite advanced ones as well. That’s probably not too relevant to most people because not many will make the effort of learning Russian past the B1 level. Hence the extra additions. As always though, all of this is excellent material and feel free to skip most of the books, which are for intermediate and better to get to the beginner stuff at the end.
This was the first book that I properly learned Russian with. I like this book because it provides plenty of texts with language in context. As I keep mentioning, the method we were using in uni (and that I have mostly adopted since) was listening to them, repeating them and doing that process over and over. It sounds a bit boring now and it was more interactive than that in reality. However, this is how I would go about it if I had to learn it myself. Not all the texts are very relevant for the learner, which is a shortcoming of the book. If you work with this though, you’re very much in it for the long run, so looking to learn Russian to a decent A2-B1 standard that allows you to have conversations.
V Mire Lyudei
When I arrived in Russia, this was the book we were to buy to continue our studies. This is for intermediate learners and you need to be already at least at A2 level to work with this.
The crux with learning Russian is that many books aren’t available outside of Russia (or hard to get) and a lot of material is still from Soviet times. If you want to become really good at Russian, I don’t think you can get around trying to get some books from Russia because I don’t think most of them are available on Amazon and the likes.
This publisher (Zlatoust) has a ton of fantastic books (actually all of mine were from them) but they’re only available in Russia. Regarding the latter point, this book is a refreshing exception. It presents interesting materials in a modern way and with modern methodology that helps you to learn. I know this publisher has more modern books for every level. However, especially the better you become, the less modern books (or any) are around for learning and you end up with Soviet-era books which are boring as hell.
Here’s how my pages would look like:
Lots of corrections and lots of wear and tear because it was difficult to learn. The book is great because it covered all skills and you get to practice reading, relevant grammar, build up your vocabulary and speaking as well. Highly recommended but you will need a teacher to help you with explanations.
Emocii i Mneniya
This was another book we had to get for uni. It specifically focuses on emotions and expressing happiness, sadness, anger and so on. I didn’t use this book that much but there are useful expressions in there and it’s good for conversation practice to practice expressing your feelings. Also B1 level and higher.
Kogda est o chom pogovorit
This book deals with common expressions in Russian. It’s advertised as B1 but in my opinion it’s a lot more difficult than that. I picked this up much later and still learned a lot from it. It focuses on little verbal expressions and gives explanations on why “Russians say it this way”, followed by loads and loads of exercises. I’m almost certain that even many Russians would learn something from this book because their language is so damn convoluted and has so many little features. Really only recommended if you want to master proficiency and spend a considerable amount of time talking to Russians.
Izuchaem glagolniye pristavki
This was a very useful little grammar book that deals with the notoriously difficult topic of verb prefixes. One of the most difficult features of Russian grammar is the fact that many verbs have a stem and can have a ton of different prefixes that change the meaning of the verb a little or a lot. Think of to take in English and then words like undertake or retake only that it’s a million times more complicated and varied. Also for intermediate to advanced learners but you’d probably benefit more from this if you pick it up early enough, so around B1 level. It explains the general idea of the prefixes well and helps you derive general rules to make less mistakes.
This was one in a series of exam prep books that I bought. This one was for listening and speaking, but you had others for grammar, writing, reading and some with sample tests as well. It’s useful practice for an exam or just in general. The level is quite high though and very few people bother with or need to learn this much Russian. I actually used this as prep for the C2 exam since there are very few resources for that level (cause who the hell would need C2 Russian besides actual spies maybe?).
Leksicheski Minimum po Russkomu Yaziku
This is even more obscure and will probably never be bought by anyone finding this post. It’s a book with a list of words you’re expected to know to pass the C1 exam. There was no book for C2 so I bought this one. I used it for something different though:
These are common Russian expressions. As you can see, I made a lot of notes or translations besides the ones that I didn’t know, which was already well into living a while in Russia. There are 7 pages like this, plus a page of common Russian sayings. True nerd stuff at this point. Suffice to say that I am not able to actively use most of these but understand the vast majority of them nowadays. You can imagine the amount of hours I put into this thing alone.
This guy is a famous Russian sports journalist-turned-Youtuber that interviews A-list entertainment industry stars, activists and even politicians. He interviewed Alexei Navalny twice, Khodorkovsky (exiled Russian oil tycoon and opponent of Putin), various Russian rappers and entertainers and even the infamous Kremlin mouthpiece Kiselyov, a guy that runs Russia’s most influential weekly TV show. Moreover, he records feature-length documentaries about important societal or historical issues like Russia’s relationship with its gulags, the terror attacks in Beslan and many others.
I consider this channel mandatory viewing for anyone that wants to learn not only the language but actually what makes Russia and Russians tick. The production quality of the documentaries is fantastic, to the point that they are sometimes reported in Western newspapers. The interviews are interesting and engaging and teach you a lot about Russian culture. I don’t watch every one of them, in fact I only watch a selected few with people that I know or consider interesting.
Needless to say that you need a very good command of the language to watch this. For some of the documentaries, English subtitles are provided. It’s a very good insight into how young Russians think about their own country without taking any political positions per se.
This is a TV travel show that is actually from Ukraine and translates to “heads or tails”. It features two hosts that travel to different destinations in every episode. One of them gets a budget of 100$ for three days there, whereas the other can spend an unlimited amount of money.
It’s a nice little TV show that is easy enough to understand and good practice if your level isn’t that high. You can find all of the episodes on Youtube and watch them with automatic captions. Some of the hosts went on to become popular on their own like the next recommendation on my list.
He was a host on the aforementioned show but left it after featuring in a few seasons. Later, he went on to start his own Youtube travel channel that is very popular on its own now. His content is entirely produced by himself, which is all the more impressive considering the fantastic production quality and beautiful imagery. There aren’t that many long films on there but all of them are worth watching.
Without getting into politics, I can recommend this channel simply from a learner’s perspective and for people that are interested in Russia. In case you’re living under a rock, Alexei Navalny is a political activist that’s been a staunch opponent of President Putin, which has landed him in jail. He’s famous for his investigative videos that uncover problems with corruption, which is pervasive among the Russian elite.
Even if you happen to be an opponent of Navalny, this is useful viewing because a) you learn something about Russian politics b) you listen to authentic Russian, sometimes even with English subs and c) the production quality is high and the videos often have a sarcastic undertone to them.
This Youtube channel is run by Artyom, who’s a Russian polyglot that focuses on producing authentic content for Russian learners. I met him personally at a conference for polyglots and can vouch for his skills. I’ve never used his materials myself since I already knew Russian at that point, but I’ve seen some of his videos and can attest to their usefulness. You can watch either travel-related stuff or general tips and tricks on learning Russian and languages in general. I’m sure the paid material is just as good and I keep telling Artyom that underpricing his materials, but I guess that’s good for you.
Useful for any level starting from advanced beginner.
This is a channel that absolute beginners can work with as well. I haven’t used it myself but I’ve checked some of the videos Anastasia has produced and can tell that it’s good stuff that will help you to learn. It very much follows the “producing authentic content” approach, but you can also find grammar explanations and vlogs in there.
Useful for any level.