Common questions about Russian


Maybe you’re thinking about learning Russian? Or you’re just curious to learn more about the language? Whatever your reasons are, we’ve compiled some common questions about the Russian language below. We hope you find them interesting and if you have any further questions, be sure to add them to the comments below.

To make this page easier for you to navigate we’ve broken our questions into two sections: ‘about the language’ and ‘about learning the language.’ So whether you’re more interested in a linguistics point of view of you really want to learn Russian you should be able to find what you’re looking for.

About the language

What type of language is Russian?

Russian is an east slavic language. Slavic is a language family from the Indo-European languages and is thought to have come from an earlier form called proto-slavic.

How many people speak Russian?

There are approximately 166 million native speakers of Russian in the world, and of course that number is going up.

Where is Russian an official language?

Only four countries have Russian as an official language:

  • Russia
  • Belarus
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan

However, many more countries also speak Russia even if it does not have official status. These include: Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

So if you learnt Russian, it would be useful to you in all of the above countries even if it is not an official language there.

What alphabet does Russian use?

Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. But don’t worry if you’re thinking of learning Russian; this shouldn’t put you off. The Cyrillic alphabet is one of the easiest scripts that differ from our own to learn.

  • For a start there are only 33 letters; 10 of which are vowels, 21 consonants and 2 which don’t denote sound.
  • The shapes of the letter aren’t that different to the shapes of the roman alphabet.
  • You could probably learn the Cyrillic alphabet in a day, then just practise to make sure it sticks.

Which languages are similar to Russian?

All slavic languages share some similarities with Russian and there will be many words that overlap but the two closest languages are:

Bulgarian and Ukrainian 

These languages are so close to Russian that a Ukrainian person could be speaking Ukrainian and a Russian person could be speaking Russian and they would be able to have a conversation and understand each other.

Which means if you learnt Russian, not only would it be incredibly easy to then learn Ukrainian but even if you didn’t want to, you would still be able to communicate with the majority of people from Ukraine and Bulgaria.

About learning the language

Why should I learn Russian?

You should learn Russian for the following reasons:

  • It’s a gateway language to other slavic languages
  • It’s a really demanded language, especially in government jobs in the UK and the USA
  • It’s one of the official UN languages along with Arabic, English, Chinese, Spanish and French
  • It’s challenging but not as tricky as Chinese or Arabic
  • Not many people in Russia can speak English so it’s useful if you want to visit

What is the official Russian language test?

TORFL or TRKI – Test of Russian as a foreign language

Just like other language exams, this tests you on the four key language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

It also uses the European framework to test your proficiency:

A1 – Beginner
A2 – Upper beginner
B1 – intermediate
B2 – Upper intermediate
C1 – Advanced
C2 – Near native

Which free online resources can I use for my Russian?

Duolingo is a free app which you can use to improve your Russian skills. You can use it online or on your phone and tablet. It takes you through various modules, increasing in difficulty until you have worked your way up the Duolingo tree. The only drawback with Duolingo is that it’s often thought to be stronger with languages that use the romantic alphabet, and falls back a bit with languages that use other writing systems. But don’t listen to us, download it for free and make up your own mind about it!

FluentU is a website that allows you to access to thousands of videos and audio in Russian. You can also download the transcript so you can read along with the video. The only drawback with FluentU is that you have to pay to use it.

Italki is a website where you can find language partners to practise with you. So if you’re learning Russian, you simply type into your search bar that you’re looking for a native Russian speaker who is learning English then you organise to do a language exchange with them.

Which films and series can I watch to help with my Russian?

Some of our favourite Russian films include:

Burnt by the Sun (1994)

Russian Ark (2002)

The Return (2009)

How I Ended This Summer (2010)

Leviathan (2004)

But if you have any other recommendations then please let us know. We’re always looking for new Russian films to watch.

How can I improve my Russian reading?

You can improve your Russian reading by finding graded readers. These are books that have been written specifically for the level you’re at. So if you know your Russian is B1 and you search for ‘Russian B1 graded readers’, you should find some interesting material that applies to your level.

You will also find that many famous books have been rewritten in Russian at an easier level so you can learn whilst reading a familiar story.

For example, we found this Russian beginner’s version of Tom Sawyer on Amazon.

What textbook can I use to improve my Russian?

Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all. Which Russian textbook would be most appropriate for you depends entirely on your learning needs.

If you’re a beginner you’re going to need a different textbook to an advanced student who wants to brush up on their grammar.

So to give you a more deeper insight into which textbook could be right for you why not try out our article on the best Russian textbooks currently available.

Final thoughts


We hope you liked our common questions about Russian and that it’s cleared up any questions you might have had. If you do have any other questions or even if you have different answers to the ones we’ve given here then let us know in the comments below. We always love to hear from you and we always look for the opportunity to make our resources better.

Do you have any experience learning Russian? Tell us all about it.

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