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Russian Fluency Challenge: the Results
Practice makes perfect
In June, I decided to learn Russian. My goal: fluent in 6 months! Where do I stand today?
I used the following methods:
Pimsleur: 5 levels with 30 lessons of 30 minutes each ⇒ 75 hours
Assimil: 100 (out of 150) lessons, about 30 minutes each ⇒ ~50 hours
Duolingo: ~10 minutes per day during 90 days (level 4 out of 5) ⇒ ~15 hours
AnkiDroid Russian Deck: ~5 minutes per day during 60 days ⇒ ~5 hours
Total study time over 6 months: ~145 hours
Average daily study time: ~50 minutes per day (~30min after I wake up and ~30min before going to bed)
I defined fluency as CEFR B2 (“Vantage or upper intermediate”), the level required to attend university in a foreign language. Am I fluent after 6 months? Not at all!
However, I can:
understand the main points of news articles and simple texts like tweets,
speak and convey my ideas in simple day-to-day situations with a good accent.
It means “B1” (“Threshold or intermediate”) in reading and speaking.
What would I need to become fluent?
First of all, vocabulary. According to Duolingo, I learned ~1,500 Russian words. Being fluent requires about 3,000 words. As I started Pimsleur, Duolingo, and Anki three months later, I didn’t have time to finish these methods. I would probably have a passive knowledge of 3,000 words today if I had started these methods earlier.
Then grammar. Although kids speak fluently without knowing grammar, you often need to know the grammar to write well, especially for “opaque” languages with no direct spelling-sound correspondence, such as English, French, Arabic, or Russian. Assimil teaches basic grammar, but it’s not enough.
And, of course, practice! For instance, Russian declensions are complex. Even if you learned them by heart, you would still speak slowly as you would check the correct declension of each word before pronouncing it. Conversely, declensions become natural with practice; they just sound “right,” and you don’t even have to think about them. Practice makes perfect…
[Oct 2023 update: As mentioned in the comments, platforms like italki and Preply are ideal to find tutors and practice your target language. I strongly recommend 2h of conversation per week; you’ll be impressed by the results!]
Anyway, I’m happy with the result: 150 hours to reach a conversational level is fantastic. 150 hours is nothing because, according to the Foreign Service Institute, learning Russian typically requires 1,100 hours!
But learning a language means much more than being able to speak it. It’s the best way to discover a country and its culture. Because I knew some Russian, I got the opportunity to meet with Russian people. I also now read the news about Russia with more interest. Some methods also include cultural notes and poems or excerpts of novels, such as Родиня / “Motherland” from Mikhail Lermontov in Assimil. Thanks to these things, I better understand Russia, the Russian people, and the Russian soul. And, of course, I can’t wait to visit Moscow! However, as Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote:
Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone,
No ordinary yardstick can span her greatness:
She stands alone, unique –
In Russia, one can only believe.
Умом — Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить.
I’ll continue to improve my Russian, but which language should I learn next? I have strong incentives to learn Turkish, so… 🤷🏻♂️
And as we say in Russian: С Новым Годом! — Happy New Year!
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