Russian Resources: Grammar, Dictionaries and Vocabulary Learning Tools


Guest blogger Anthony Davies' final post in his series on resources that you can use while you're learning Russian looks at different grammar books, vocabulary learning tools and course books that you can use to enhance your learning.

Grammar and Grammar aids

Essential Russian Grammar (Dover Language Guides Essential Grammar)

A very clear, straightforward, step-by-step guide to help learners master the essentials of Russian grammar as quickly as possible.

555 Russian verbs - A thorough record of every possible grammatical form of the 555 most useful verbs, including a shorter list of 50 essential verbs, with online recordings. Also includes idiomatic uses of verbs as you will encounter them, and a handy guide to deciphering irregular verb forms.

Print Dictionaries

Russian Learners' Dictionary: 10,000 Russian Words in Frequency Order

Efficiently learn the most useful Russian vocabulary with this frequency dictionary, which gives irregular forms of nouns and verbs, as well as set phrases which words are most commonly found in. Stress also indicated. Indispensable, particularly for anyone wanting to read/listen to the news or literature in Russian.

Oxford Russian Mini Dictionary - Super compact and ideal for on the go or in the classroom, with 40,000 words and phrases, and 60,000 translations. Published in 2014 with very up-to-date vocabulary. A great first dictionary for Beginners, and very useful for other levels of ability.

C o n c i s e O x f o r d R u s s i a n D i c t i o n a r y

Containing 120,000 words and phrases, and over 190,000 translations, this easy-to-use dictionary will aptly satisfy the needs of all advanced and upper intermediate learners.

Online Dictionaries

Cornell University's Russian Dictionary Tree

Besides English translations provides straightforward, essential declensions of nouns, adjectives and verbs in singular & plural. Also comparatives of adverbs. Great for Beginners and Intermediate learners.

В и к и с л о в а р ь (Wiktionary)

Extensive details of all possible declensions of any Russian word, as well as detailed dictionary definition (in Russian) and etymology, for those of us who get a kick from that sort of thing. Great for Advanced learners, also very useful for Intermediate learners where Cornell University's Dictionary Tree (see above) does not present and past participle forms of verbs.

Course Books

The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners

Great value and highly rated, this book will prove a very good starting point for complete Beginners, and grammar lessons and the large amount of vocabulary covered - 1,500 will keep Intermediate learners engaged.

Michel Thomas method

A very effective, fun way of learning, which the late Michel Thomas used to teach film stars and celebrities foreign languages. The course is entirely audio, there is no written element, so particularly good for those who are auditory learners - but I also highly recommend it for anyone who thinks auditory learning is not for them - you'll be surprised! Gives building blocks of language which the learner uses to form basic phrases and sentences, and then new language is gradually added, moving from simple to more complex methods. The course is based on the principles of instructional psychology, and works with your brain. Very good fun, very effective - very highly recommended!

Introduction (1 hour course)

Total Russian (10 hour course, including the 1 hour Introduction) (for Beginners)

Perfect Russian (10 hour) (for Intermediate level)

Vocabulary builder (5 hour course, teaching 1,000 items of vocabulary)

Rasskaz sensatsiya - (The Story Sensation) Russian language textbook by Ignaty Dyakov

Learn 800 words through an entertaining story of intrigue and love, set in Guadeloupe. Audio read at a reasonably slow pace, good for Beginners, with something to offer for Lower Intermediate learners too. Will be a breath of fresh air to anyone fed up with traditional means of learning or textbooks. Other stories also available. Try an audio sample here:

Pronunciation aids Gives you the pronunciation of any Russian word, read by both male and female voices. (Also for other languages.)

Vocabulary Learning Tools

Memrise - a well-known tool for learning vocabulary using online flashcards. Create your own set of flashcards or use existing sets. Available as an app on iOS and Android. Allows you to compete with friends, and also adapts to your preferred learning style and your performance. Talk to anyone who's learning languages, and the chances are they have found Memrise helpful, whether they've used it a lot or little. Caters for all ability levels.

The following is a good place to start for beginners:

The Usborne First Thousand Words in Russian - good for visual learners, and younger learners. Provides pronunciation help, but you should be wary of the English pronunciation equivalents given for Russian letters, as some are approximations at best. See for help pronouncing words correctly.

Learning the alphabet

Most if not all Russian courses teach the alphabet. You may find courses that group letters into same, similar and completely different helpful. Be wary of courses that give pronunciation equivalents as being just like parts of English words, if this is done for all letters - many letters do sound the same or nearly identical, but there are a number of sounds where English pronunciation is a bad reference point. That's if you want to learn good pronunciation. Which is quite key - Russian pronunciation is hard, and too foreign an accent will make you hard to understand.

The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners

A very good starting point, which methodically breaks the alphabet down and gives good, relevant examples. The best way of learning the alphabet in book form to my knowledge. Also contains extensive grammar and a lot of good vocabulary - 1,500 words altogether. A great starting point, and great value, highly recommended. This is good, breaks down the alphabet into manageable chunks, but pronunciation advice is a little misleading for a few of the letters. Try learning them by listening to words that include the sound (see above). (And don't be discouraged if you can't seem to get the “ы”, even prolific polygots struggle with that one! See the 'Rock' section in 'Music' above for a tip on learning the “ы”.)

This is useful but presents letters without any particular order to help you categorise and remember them more effectively. But still useful :) Good for those who work well with online flashcards.


New addition:


Alexandr's new blog is great if you're looking for listening practice - he posts dialogues 3 times a week with audio and text, and the site is free for anyone who wants to practise listening in Russian. All dialogues are recorded by native Russian speakers and an English translation is included for the easiest dialogues.

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