Have you finally decided that gaining fluency in Russian is the next big thing you want to achieve? If yes, welcome to the club of learners.

As an English L2 speaker, it's reasonable to feel like quitting Russian due to its complex sentence structures, Cyrillic alphabet, verb conjugation, and pronunciation. But keep in mind that learning the English language wasn't easy either you only learned it at a younger age. The determination, time to practise, an effective learning strategy, and the best language school or lesson are all you need to succeed.

For every beginner, it's advisable to begin your language learning journey with the Cyrillic alphabet. Take your time to master it. Then proceed to learn simple Russian verbs before proceeding to master verb conjugation. Once you are conversant with conjugation, consider learning phrases and the multiple Russian sentence structures. All these would be discussed shortly. Let's get started!

“We have strong evidence today that studying a foreign language has a ripple effect, helping to improve student performance in other subjects.” ― Richard Riley

basic russian
Learning Russian requires a working strategy. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Verbs in Russian Grammar

Verbs are mandatory in all Russian sentence structures as they indicate habitual actions, states of being, and ongoing activities.

Russian Infinitives

The Russian phonemes “-ть” come after a vowel while the phonemes “-ти” end consonants. These infinitive endings are usually removed and replaced with some other endings if the verb in the sentence is conjugated.

Russian Tenses

Present Tense

Unlike the English language, whose present tense has multiple variants like the progressive, perfect progressive, and the simple perfect tense, Russian only has the simple present tense form. This tense form is only concerned with who is speaking. Thus, the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person singular or plural subject determines the tense.

Past tense

While the speaker determines the simple present tense form, the subject's gender determines the past tense form. Human subjects take either the feminine or masculine gender, and they are paired with the following verb endings:

-ла is paired with female subjects

-л is paired with male subjects

-ло is paired with neuter subjects

-ли is paired with the plural form

Future Tense

The Russian future tense has two forms; the future and the compound. Future simple tenses are constructed using perfective verbs. The future compound tenses, however, are formed using imperfective verbs. Perfective and imperfective verbs would be discussed shortly.

First & Second Conjugation

There are two verb groups under Russian verb conjugation and they comprise the first conjugation and the second conjugation. The stem of a verb often changes in irregular verbs when conjugating. The following endings or suffixes replace the “ть” infinitive phonemes: -ете, -ют, ю, ешь, ет, and ем.

Verbs ending in “-ить” are replaced with the following suffixes: -y, им, ят, ит, and ишь.

“I’m always impressed by people who can speak another language, two people talking what sounds like utter gibberish, yet making complete sense to each other never fails to entertain.” ― Tom Reynolds

russian for beginners
Every beginner is advised to start with the Cyrillic alphabet. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Basic Russian Verbs

There are simple and complex Russian verbs. Students are advised to study the most common and most used verb types. You can start with the following irrespective of your competence level:

Aspect: Perfective vs. Imperfective

This area is often confusing for L2 English speakers because the English language doesn't have the imperfective aspect.  What's more confusing is that the imperfective and perfective aspects usually have a similar etymological stem. This means that they originated from the same root word. Not all foreign languages have this feature.

Past + Imperfective

  • This functions for past recurring actions.
  • It nullifies the outcome of an action.
  • It is used for activities that began and also ended before now. The result is unimportant.

Past + Perfective

  • This functions for two past activities with their outcomes achieved.
  • It is used when the outcome of actions remain.
  • It is used for activities that began and also ended before now. The result is emphasized.

Present + Imperfective

  • It indicates habitual actions.
  • Used for ongoing activities.
  • Used for facts and shows the present state.

Motion verbs: Unidirectional vs. Pluridirectional

The idea behind motion verbs is to indicate the direction in which motion occurs. In Russian, motion or movement occurs in one direction (unidirectional) or multiple directions (pluridirectional).

Constructing Russian Sentences

Unlike the English language, whose syntactic structure follows the subject + verb + object pattern, Russian has a flexible structure. As a entry level student, you can begin with the easy structures. Here are the possible patterns:

Subject +Object + Verb, Object, +Subject + Verb, Object + Subject + Verb, Subject + Verb + Object, and Verb + Subject + Object.

Direct Object vs. Indirect Object

This is another area of confusion for non-native speakers of the language. To distinguish between both objects, note that the subject makes the first contact with the direct object. The second contact, however, is made with the indirect object. Placement isn't an indicator of direct and indirect objects in sentences. This is because the indirect object can take either the direct-object-initial or direct-object-final position. These positions are made possible because the direct object is in the accusative case.

Emphasis: Theme vs. Rheme

Every Russian sentence has a theme and rheme. The theme refers to a word or group of words that share known (general) information. On the contrary, rheme is new information that is unknown to the audience. For instance:

Yesterday Johnpurchased a laptop.


There are six Russian cases, and they all function effectively in expressions. Each case exhibits how changes in contexts and word positions affect word forms. Below are the six cases:

DativeShows possession by the Object of the sentence. e.g. "to whom"
NominativeIndicates the Subject e.g. "who" or "what?"
InstrumentalShows the instrument used e.g. "with what?"
AccusativeIt indicates the link between a verb and the direct object.
PrepositionalIndicates the time, person, or place that's being discussed e.g. "about whom, where, or about what?"
GenitiveShows absence or attribution e.g. "whose, whom, or what?"

Questions: Wh-Questions vs. Polar Questions

Russian, like the English language, has two question types. They are "polar questions" and "wh-questions". A polar question demands a yes or no answer; a question mark is required for the written form, while a raised pitch is required for its oral variant. Uttering a polar question in a lowered pitch would change the question to a declarative statement. On the other hand, wh-questions demand full  and specific answers to the following questions: who, where, what, how, when, and why. Wh-questions are replied with complete sentences that give specific answers to questions.

“Maybe then you comprehend, speaking one language only is a prison!” ― David Mitchell

russian grammar
Declension is one of the hardest topics in Russian. Photo Credit: Unsplash.

Learning Russian with Games

Honestly, learning Russian from textbooks can be boring and ineffective sometimes. Thanks to online and board games, students can study the language in a fun, free, and more effective way. With these games, you’ll learn the following:

Count To TenNumbers
Digital DialectsVocabulary, verb conjugation, pronunciation, spelling, phrases, and the Cyrillic alphabet
InfluentWord classes, verb conjugation, phrases, spelling, and phonetics
Russian for Free (for beginners)Vocabulary
LinGo PlayVocabulary
Pictionary (for kids)Spelling, vocabulary, and phonetics
DinoLingo (for kids)Basic Russian verbs, animals, and foods

Here are the reasons you should try out these free language games:

  • They increase the desire to learn
  • They improve your writing, reading, listening, and speaking.
  • They enhance retention
  • They enhance mutual intelligibility
  • They create realistic settings for language use

Find Russian Classes Close-by

It is advisable to start your learning journey with tutorial classes and online course programmes. Once you’ve mastered the basics and have a strong level of fluency, you can then start learning independently. Topics such as declension, conjugation, pronunciation, and syntax are often difficult to learn from foreign course materials and textbooks. That’s why textbooks and online videos are often used as supplementary teaching materials. Choosing between private language lessons and group lessons is up to you; note that each education programme has its merits and demerits. Here are the pros and cons of private and group lessons:

AspectPrivate TuitionGroup Lesson
ComfortStudents can learn in their homes via Skype or face-to-face lessons. Furthermore, students can take more or less classes based on preference.Students have to commute to the lesson venue. Furthermore, there is a specific number of courses and classes students can take.
FeeFace-to-face lessons are more expensive than online classes. But both are often more expensive than group lessons.They are cheaper.
FeedbackYour teacher would take time out to improve your weak areas with you.You’ll learn from questions asked by other students. Most times, the focus is on students just taking courses.
TimeThe tutor can adjust the time based on the schedule of the student.You’re compelled to attend classes or forfeit them if you’re unavailable.


Finding Russian Tutors

Living in Russia or any other Russian-speaking country would greatly improve your pronunciation. Learning international languages often requires external teaching help from a lesson tutor with years of experience. You can also opt for an undergraduate degree programme at a Nigerian university that offers Russian as a course. Note that you must have the necessary requirements before gaining entry into a Nigerian university that offers Russian. These Russian-offering universities offer four years of professional study for UTME students and three years of study for direct entry students.

For Russian students living outside of Russia and need private language lessons, check out these study tips:

  • For Russian students who have access to universities, you can search for tutors who offer Russian lessons at the university’s Russian department. Learning from a 400 level school student or recent undergraduate degree holder would reduce the fee and level of formality.
  • You can apply for an undergraduate programme at a university that offers foreign language education. These university  university in the country
  • Or you can search online, at Superprof. We’ve got amazing professional Russian tutors who are ready to simplify your Russian learning process. You can take courses online via Skype or at home. Our foreign education experts have the experience and best teaching methods.

Learning Russian language has never been this easy.

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