Russian Language Blog

Learn Russian in 5 Minutes a Day Posted by on Jun 14, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners


How much time do you spend learning Russian? Пол-часа, час, два часа? (Half an hour, an hour, two hours?) Do you spend this much time каждый день, пару раз в неделю, раз в неделю (every day, a couple of times a week, once a week)? In other words, do you spend enough time studying Russian to become fluent in the language?


Here’s a very simple way to check. You must’ve heard of правило десяти тысяч часов (the rule of ten thousand hours). This rule was mentioned в книге Малкольма Гладуэлла “Гении и аутсайдеры” (in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”). If you are curious, read a short excerpt from the book on the Russian Forbes.

Now, do simple math. Divide 10,000 by the number of hours you spend learning Russian every day and you’ll see how many days it will take you to reach native-level fluency. Which might be a bit depressing if you only spend an hour or two a week practicing говорить по-русски (speaking Russian).

For занятые взрослые люди (busy adults) it is very hard to find an extra hour each day to devote to language practice. So let’s опустить планку ниже (lower the bar) and aim for extra пять минут в день (five minutes a day). It sounds like it’s nothing, but over a year these пятиминутки (five-minute intervals) add up to about 30 hours of active learning. And that’s almost as much as a whole semester of Russian language classes.

As the well-known old song goes

Пять минут, пять минут.
Разобраться если строго,
Даже в эти пять минут
Можно сделать очень много.
(Five minutes, five minutes.
Looking into it keenly,
Much can be accomplished
Even in five minutes.)

How about trying any (or all) of these ideas:

Bedtime Russian

Before going to bed read a short news article in Russian. Personally, I try to stay away from any серьёзные новости (serious news) preferring instead курьёзные заметки (short articles about oddities and curiosities) and items from Наука и технология (Science and technology) sections.

How can you not get curious about an article titled В Кирове прошли соревнования по сказочному семиборью (A fairy-tale heptathlone race took place in Kirov).  And the article itself is even better than the title, a perfect bedtime read for grownups.

See It Out Loud

When you have a few minutes to spare during the day (and seriously, even the busiest of us take short breaks), try this activity that I call что вижу, о том и пою (I sing about what I see). No singing skills are necessary. You can just talk, громко (loudly), тихо (quietly) or even про себя (silently, to oneself). Try saying Russian phrases or even just words describing things you are seeing or doing. Time spent в очереди в кассу (in a checkout line) or на беговой дорожке в спортзале (on a treadmill at a gym) will go by faster.

Phrase of the Day

We post Words of the Day in our Facebook and Twitter feeds and if you are learning those, that’s great. From my experience learning a foreign language (English), I find that words of the day aren’t all that helpful when you are just starting out. Instead, commit to learning one simple phrase each day, preferably something that describes your daily routine. Now, every time you perform this routine task or encounter a routine event, say the phrase and its permutations:

Я пью кофе – I am drinking coffee
Я  выпью кофе or Я попью кофе – I will drink coffee (say it to yourself while standing in line at a Starbucks)
Я выпил/выпила кофе – I finished drinking coffee
Я пью кофе каждое утро. Я пью слишком много кофе – I drink coffee every morning. I drink too much coffee.
Это отличный кофе – This is excellent coffee
Это отвратительный кофе – This coffee is disgusting (say it if you had to skip Starbucks and instead had a cup of joe at a gas station)

Next day, repeat your coffee phrase(s), but add something new, like я заправляю машину бензином (I am putting gas into the car).

Listen to Pop Music

Ok, you might argue about this one, but hear me out. Here’s why I think российская попса (Russian pop music) is one of the most powerful 5-minutes a day Russian language learning techniques. First, it is easy to find and free to listen to. I subscribed to ELLO YouTube channel for my daily dose. Second – simple, repetitive melodies do not distract from the lyrics. Third, most importantly, the tunes are catchy and have an amazing ability to stay with you throughout the day.

So you listen to a single song (less than 5 minutes) and it gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The only way to get rid of this навязчивая мелодия (earworm) is to sing the lyrics of the song and maybe even memorize them. Don’t get worried though, the lyrics is usually as untaxing as the music. Consider this song Танцуй, Россия! (Dance, Russia!) by Глюкоза:

Танцуй Россия и плачь Европа
А у меня самая, самая, самая красивая попа
(Dance, Russia and cry Europe
But I have the most, the most, the most beautiful butt)

And there you go! Do just one of these 5-minute exercises daily and your Russian will improve by the end of this summer.

What other exercises to practice Russian can we do in 5 minutes? 

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  1. Paul S:

    Very good advice Yelena 🙂 I speak (well write) to a friend most days on Skype. She’s much better at English than I am at Russian and she translates most things she writes which helps a lot.

    I am also intent on writing a short diary in English every few days and translating it into Russian. After all, the more you use language the better you get.

    I also find myself trying to figure out what I just said would be in Russian 🙂

    Finally, it all started with a Russian friend and Russian music and it can be helpful but sometimes you can’t understand what is being said. I find this in English too 😉

  2. Rob McGee:

    I find that words of the day aren’t all that helpful when you are just starting out…
    Я пью кофе – I am drinking coffee

    A related suggestion I would make (especially when you’ve gotten a little past the beginning level) is that when you do learn “words of the day,” try as best you can to define them with a Russian sentence (even a very short, simple one), rather than with an English word.

    For instance, if the word of the day were осёл (“donkey”), you could simply memorize the English translation and leave it at that. But, in my experience, learning words this way tends to reinforce the mindset that Russian is somehow English written in code — thus,
    о-с-ё-л = d-o-n-k-e-y”!

    Instead, you could start out with:

    Осёл — это животное. (“The donkey is an animal.” — Which isn’t very detailed, but if nothing else, you’re reinforcing your knowledge of the word животное.)

    Then progress to:

    Осёл — это животное, которое похоже на лощадь. (“The donkey is an animal that resembles a horse.” — Thus mentally linking two conceptually-related nouns — “donkey” and “horse” — while also reinforcing the construction “похож на + [acc.]”)

    And from there you might expand the definition to:
    У осла хвост, длинные уши и четыре ноги. (“A donkey has a tail, long ears, and four legs.” — helping you remember that ухо, “ear,” has an irregular plural, and that the number 4 is followed by the genitive singular.)

    As you progress and learn more words, you could of course add that a donkey кормится травой (“it feeds on grass”), that it has копыта (“hooves”), that people often use donkeys чтобы перевозить грузы (“to transport loads”), but less often ездить верхом (“to ride on [the animal’s] back”), and so forth.

    But whether your definition is very simple or very detailed, defining new Russian words in Russian can help you get a lot more out of those “words of the day.” It can also be an aid to memory because, again, you’re linking related concepts in your mind.

  3. Paddy:

    I’m following your advice Rob and trying to write a sentence every day, using the Word of the Day and sending it to our Zhuravli group for correction!

  4. Nicolas Martin:

    Hey, I enjoyed your advice – thanks for providing it 🙂

    I’ve been working on an iPhone app for learning Russian – I call it Visual Learn Russian. It tries to approach vocab memorization by showing an image and then having the user respond by typing it in.

    If you or any of your readers would be interested, you can find it for free at:

    I would love to hear suggestions!

    Thanks again!

  5. Γλαυκος:

    I ask permission to translate this post in Modern Greeek and republish it on my lang blog.

    Cheers, Glavkos

    • yelena:

      @Γλαυκος Sure, go ahead! I’m glad you found this post so helpful that it merits a translation.