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Learning Russian: a fitness course or an obstacle course?

If you were asked to rank the most difficult languages to learn, Russian would certainly be in your top ten, right? It’s true: you have to get used to the Cyrillic alphabet and understand grammar that is very different to ours. However, when you take a closer look, you realise that this Slavic language may not be that complicated… So, is Russian an easy or difficult language to learn?

The 3 main difficulties of the Russian language

1. The Cyrillic alphabet

The Russian alphabet is often seen as the very first barrier that learners of Russian face. It consists of 33 letters:

  • 10 vowels;
  • 21 consonants;
  • 2 signs.

Some characters are unique to the Cyrillic alphabet. Others are written and pronounced just like those of the Latin alphabet, such as “A”.

In between, there are false friends. These are letters that strongly resemble characters in the Latin alphabet, but are pronounced completely differently. This is the case, for example, with “Е” which is pronounced “Yé”, “Р” which corresponds to a rolled “R” or “В” which is pronounced like “V”.

2. Declensions

Russian grammar is very different from French grammar. Among the particularities that most confuse learners are the declensions. If you have some knowledge of Latin or German, then you already know the main principles of this grammatical system.

The same word can take different endings depending on its grammatical role in the sentence. Here are the 6 declensions and their main uses:

  1. The nominative: the basic form of the word, it is the subject.
  2. The accusative: used mainly for the direct object.
  3. The genitive: used for possession, absence and the complement of a noun.
  4. The dative: used for the attributive or the impersonal form.
  5. The instrumental: used as a complement of means or time, for example.
  6. The locative: used after certain prepositions, especially of place.

3. Verbal pairs (perfective and imperfective)

Russians are generous with verbs: you get two for the price of one!

Indeed, verbs work in “pairs”. One is imperfective, while the other is perfective.

Exemples :


The imperfective is used for an action that lasts, is repeated, unfinished or permanent. The perfective, on the other hand, expresses an action that is limited in time, one-off or brief.

💡 Good to know: Russian is one of the 10 most learned languages in the world. Check out our article on the most popular languages for learners in 2021 to see the full ranking!

The 3 easiest things about learning Russian

1. Conjugation

No surprises here. The Russian conjugation system is quite similar to French with a system of radicals and endings.

The personal pronouns are the following:

  • Я (I)
  • Ты (you)
  • Он – Она – Оно (he – she – it)
  • Мы (we)
  • Вы (you)
  • Они (they)

Russian conjugation is easier because there are fewer tenses and modes than in French.

2. The vocabulary

Under the impetus of Empress Elizabeth, a Francophone and Francophile, the French language has long been very popular among the Russian nobility. As a result, hundreds of words from the language of Molière are still used in Russian. Here are some common examples:

  • Адрес : address (home);
  • Аппетит : appetite;
  • Бульвар : boulevard;
  • Грипп : flu;
  • Диалог : dialogue;
  • Журналист :  journalist;
  • Кепи : kepi;
  • Меню : menu;
  • Мэр : mayor;
  • etc.

3. Syntax

As we have seen, Russian grammar is based on a system of declensions. While this can be difficult to learn, it also has its advantages! Since each word will have a specific form according to its function in the sentence, the order of the words does not matter. The syntax does not require much thought.

Russian, easy or difficult: the verdict

Like any other foreign language, Russian will require some mental gymnastics, especially at the beginning of your learning. However, once you have assimilated the alphabet and understood the main grammatical mechanisms, this language will no longer be daunting.

To learn Russian easily, we recommend that you take it step by step and have someone guide you. A native speaker will be a great help to get you through the process of learning Cyrillic and to get you used to Russian pronunciation