Studying Russian, as with any language work, requires a set of resources that are vital to your success. Some of these important resources include (but definitely are not limited to) encyclopedias, audio recordings, textbooks, quizzes, websites, and newspapers. Probably the most critical resource can be found online or in paper form—that resource is the Russian dictionary. Let’s take a look at these different resources to see why they are important, how you can acquire them, and how they are useful to your acquisition of the Russian language.
Encyclopedias are reference books that give information on a variety of subjects. The information is usually listed in alphabetical order and comes in the form of short articles. These books can give information on history, culture, language, and many other topics. Encyclopedias are very convenient because its format allows for many types of information to be found all in one place. Some encyclopedias can be found that deal specifically with one broad subject; for example, a Russian encyclopedia that only includes articles about America. Many types of encyclopedias can be found online, and most large publishers of these books still put out a traditional paper edition. It is very easy to find encyclopedias online that are in Russian, so if your local bookstore does not carry Russian language books, you can always find one online or order one. Encyclopedias are useful for learning Russian because you can use them as practice materials. You can try to translate pieces of articles, and as you get more advanced you can try to translate entire articles. See which words you know, and look up the ones you do not know so you will build a larger, more diverse vocabulary. These types of books are also helpful because they can give you insights into culture and history, both of which are helpful for learning any language. You also get to see how a country views itself within its own historical contexts.
Audio recordings are definitely a huge help when learning a foreign language. Hearing a native speaker is a necessity if you wish to truly become fluent in any language. Some audio recordings teach entire lessons while others just teach pronunciations, grammar, vocabulary words, and other bits and pieces of the language. Sometimes you can even find podcasts that have exercises along with the answers on the same track. These are great for practicing, especially while on the go. You can buy audio recordings with computer programs and books that teach Russian. You can also find some online, and if you are lucky, you can find free ones! Make sure the speaker is either a native speaker or someone who has reached the level of near native fluency. This way, you will learn correct pronunciations and words. It is also a good idea to listen to more than one native speaker in order to study how people naturally pitch their voices. This will help you avoid sounding monotone in the language you are learning. An alternative to audio recordings by a native speaker is to be taught by a native teacher. Some high schools and colleges offer courses in Russian, so these are your best bet. You can still include audio recordings in your own private study even if you have a native speaker as a teacher–they are great supplements to your study.
Textbooks are an obvious resource for language study. The problem with textbooks is that there are so many available on the market, so it can be really hard to choose good textbooks. A good textbook should teach you how to write Cyrillic script, vocabulary words, grammar, and context. Some textbooks will come paired with an audio CD and a workbook, but this is not always the case. Good textbooks should have exercises for each chapter, though. Unless you buy teacher edition textbooks, you most likely will not have an answer key. This is not a problem if you know a native speaker who can look over your work or if you are taking a structured class. For those who are not in contact with a native speaker, working out of a textbook can be difficult. If you make a mistake, you may never realize it and then continue learning something incorrectly. This is something you have to be very careful of when relying on textbooks outside of a classroom. Other books that deal specifically with vocabulary, grammar, and other function of Russian may come in handy as well. You can probably find good books at your local bookstore, but there is an even bigger selection online.
Quizzes, websites, and newspapers are also very great supplementary sources for studying Russian. Many website are accessible online, some with free services and others with paid services. You should take advantage of the free lessons—many of them have audio files embedded into the webpage and quizzes that you can take at the end of a unit. Websites and quizzes often work together, and many quizzes will grade automatically and provide explanations so you can better understand what you missed. Newspapers are great for more advanced learners who want to try out their language skills.
Finally, we come to one of the most important resources for learning Russian: the Russian dictionary. It is extremely important to find a good Russian dictionary, whether that is online or in paper formant. A good Russian dictionary should give you the word written in the Cyrillic alphabet, show the accents, give definitions of the word in its different forms, and give examples of usage. It is also worth getting a Russian dictionary that gives you synonyms along with each entry. Be aware that most dictionaries will not give you the phonetic spelling of the word—this is because the alphabet is almost entirely phonetic. You will not have a problem with any Russian dictionary if you already know the Cyrillic alphabet.
Without a good Russian dictionary, you will have a much harder time trying to learn the language. Don’t rely on the mediocre dictionaries located at the back of textbooks! Your experience with Russian will be most beneficial when you combine many of the resources discussed above; however, your go-to book should always be a good Russian dictionary.