Practical advice for foreign students studying Russian

As with learning any other language, it is important to choose an approach which suits you, or better still combine several approaches. There are several exercises, however, which are effective for everyone, whatever your level of Russian.
1. Passive listening. Listen to Russian-language radio and watch Russian television programmes. Have programmes on in the background, even if initially you only understand occasional words and phrases. This will help you to understand the intonation pattern of speech, discern widely used idioms and master a range of words in narrative sentences, questions and exclamations.
2. Repetition. Get used to repeating everything that you hear said in Russian in the street, the lecture hall or the cafe back to yourself. This must involve careful articulation - wiggle your tongue, lift it skywards and touch your teeth, and make your lips into an ‘o’ shape. To begin with it will be difficult, but with time your pronunciation will improve, your vocabulary will increase and you will be able to repeat even quick Russian speech to yourself.
3. Visual perception. Take any images or photographs from newspapers, books or social networks and add a Russian caption for all the characters and pictured objects. Then write the verbs which go with the depicted situation in a table. The next level is to describe coherently what is happening in the picture. After a week you should return to the same picture and describe it without any prompts.
4. Learning everyday life in practice. Put a sticker on all the objects in your hall of residence or flat with their Russian name on them, such as ‘чайник’ (teapot/kettle), ‘бутылка’ (bottle), ‘дверь’ (door), and ‘зеркало’ (mirror). You will be learning just by being at home. Once you have mastered the single Russian words you can make the task more difficult. On the stickers, next to the name, list the verbs which denote the actions connected with that object (дверь: открывать, закрывать, запирать (door: open, close, lock)), gradually adding more complicated variations (стол: завтракать, обедать, ужинать, готовить, сервировать, накрывать (table: to eat breakfast, to have lunch, to have dinner, to cook, to serve, to lay the table)). It is also useful to insert individual Russian words into phrases in your native language, as the words you have learnt stay in your memory for a long time.
5. Talk to Russians. Any learning process includes talking about current affairs - it helps to effectively reinforce whole blocks of speech in your memory. Learn to use these dialogues like templates, basing new discussions on them, and inserting new Russian words into prepared phrases. Practise to perfection the dialogues suggested by your teachers during lessons, and then create new discussions using the newly learnt words again.
6. Creative discussion. Translate any simple dialogue from your day to day life, or any simple activity or event into Russian and say it again, always speaking aloud. Listen to yourself! The more you do this, the better the result.
7. Watch cartoons or entertainment programmes in Russian. Listen, watch, and consider the meaning of Russian words you don’t know. Don’t be afraid of newspapers - begin with simple texts about the weather or pop stars.
8. Listen to Russian songs performed by singers with good Russian pronunciation. Songs also help you remember blocks of set expressions and understand Russian grammar. Furthermore, the choruses and refrains in Russian songs are very easy to remember, so Russian phrases learnt in this way will stay in your memory forever.
It is difficult to learn Russian by yourself. If you haven’t yet attended a Russian institute of higher education, enrol in a language course or hire a private tutor. This will help you with discipline and time management. Even if you only have official lessons four times a week, you should practise every day. Listen to Russian songs in the car, buy DVDs with Russian subtitles and write all new words down on separate cards. Don’t be lazy when doing your homework - if you don’t understand something, don’t hesitate to write a message to your teacher.
Don’t miss out on any opportunities to practise Russian - speak to Russian-speaking friends, stay behind to talk to your teachers, and strike up conversation with random people you meet on your travels.