Should I Make Any Effort to Improve My Russian?

December 3, 2016

My friend Petre grew up in Georgia and speaks Russian at a C2 level thanks to regular exposure from childhood on and ongoing contact with friends and clients from Russian speaking countries. However, he has no far-reaching goals for the language and doesn't "love it" like he does English. "My main goal is simply to avoid discomfort for the Russian speakers I talk to," he says. "Seeing that I don't intend to become a translator or speak perfect Russian, should make any effort at all to improve my Russian?"

Here's what I told him.

If you decide not to make an effort, then you're effectively deciding not to learn anything from your Russian speaking practice. This is a real waste of an opportunity, isn't it? In other areas of life you are continually perfecting your skills, so why not here? For instance, you have no intention of becoming a professional race car driver, yet you have honed your ability to drive your car in such a way that you consume the least amount of fuel possible per kilometer traveled.

If you walked to work half an hour each day, wouldn't it make sense to you to focus a bit on your walking technique and posture so that you gained even greater pleasure from your walk?

Same thing with Russian. You could invest just a tiny bit of time in your Russian and reap significant benefits. Here are my specific recommendations:

One-time actions:

1) download a good Russian dictionary or dictionaries, whether an explanatory dictionary or a Russian-English dictionary, onto your smartphone
2) set up and learn either of two Russian keyboard layouts and decide from now on to type your messages in Cyrillic instead of in Roman letters as you currently do


After each conversation in Russian, take a minute to recall 5-10 unexpected or new bits of information that you picked up relating to the language (for example, how to say "self-esteem" or "limited," which came up in today's conversation). Look up these words and phrases in a dictionary, write them down correctly in Cyrillic in a vocabulary notebook and make a voice recording. Listen to at least 5 minutes of your voice recordings per week.



The practices above will take extremely  little time out of your schedule. Perhaps as little as 5 additional minutes per hour of conversation practice. And it's plainly obvious to both of us that this would be enough to put you on a path of continual improvement, allowing you both to speak and write better and to get more enjoyment from the process.

No, you don't need to set lofty goals or pretend to be more interested in the language than you actually are. No, you don't need to get a tutor, attend classes, or spend hours per week in personal study. The simple and frictionless solution is to introduce this tiny little routine into your existing language practice, making no other significant changes.

UPDATE: December 10, 2016

The next day, Petre sent me a message in Russian on Facebook. He took my advice to heart and immediately learned how to type in Russian. He also has a spellchecker now that makes it even easier. It's always great when people act on your advice immediately and get immediate results!

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