How To Improve Listening Comprehension and Understand Russian Speech

How often do you listen to the Russian speech of native speakers? And how much of it do you get and understand?

Experienced educators recommend to start discovering any language by listening to native speakers. In other words, this is called listening comprehension. Most students, especially adults, do not find this process enjoyable. This happens because in the beginning all you can hear is just indistinct noise, and it’s hard to take two separate words out of it. 

At this very moment most students feel confused and silly, and the only idea that roams in their heads is “I can’t do this». But I have good news for you – this is the skill that can be developed! 

Ask yourself the question: “What’s the purpose of learning the Russian language?” To communicate with people, certainly. But communication is the dialogue, and it can’t be held without understanding what another person tells you.  In next four minutes (approximate time you need to read the article) you’ll read some advice and get exercises that I recommend to my students while discovering Russian as a foreign language.

Regularity and habit

Scholars recommend to practice your language skills from 45 to 60 minutes. The lessons should be systematic and regular. While planning the lesson put a reminder on your smartphone, add it to your check-list. Think of some reward for yourself as motivation and if, for example, you practice language for 100 days 30 minutes daily, you can get it.

I don’t have time for this 

How much time do you spend on social media? This time can be spent in a more useful way. You can subscribe to some blogs that make content about Russia and the Russian language – now you have 10 minutes of practice a day. The average active vocabulary is about 800 to 1500 words. So, every day you’ll hear the same frequently used words. And one moment you’ll realize that you understand what they’re saying. 

Advice for the busiest ones

Use every minute. It’s better to have some podcast, video or audio on your phone for that purpose. I personally have a list of links in my phone’s notes called «When I have time». Spare time can take you by surprise: in a traffic jam, gym or waiting in a queue for your appointment to the doctor. 

How not to lose motivation?

  • You should choose the topics that you find interesting.
  • You must be responsible not only to yourself but to someone else as well, someone who’ll control you.
  • Find a «language» friend to meet and make calls during which you can discuss articles or blogs.
  • Every city has a speaking club to visit. The meetings are usually held in morning and afternoon.
  • You can find a language buddy in the Internet, and there’s a great chance that he/she could be a native speaker.


You can understand many things not only with the help of words, but gestures and mimics, emotions as well. Listen to the language as often as possible. Even if you are a beginner, it still works. Pay attention to where natives put pauses, their tempo of speech, whether they pronounce the endings distinctly or not, when intonation goes up and down.

For example, English sounds in a positive key, while Russian is more of a minor key. You should get used to the melody and mood of the new language.

Common fear

Don’t be afraid to ask to repeat. Among the first spoken phrases in a new language you learn should be: “Could you repeat it?”, “What did you say?”, “Could you speak slower, please”. Very often people speak in their usual tempo just because they’re used to it.

Push the playback

Fall in love with a song. Everything that evokes emotions is easier and faster to remember. Listen to that song when you’re busy with the usual everyday activities. Listen to it until you’re ready to sing along. Find the words of the song and translate them into your native language, then sing together with the singer and alone, as you do at karaoke.

In all seriousness though

Do exercises for active listening. Put a sheet of paper before you, turn on the audio task and write down words and phrases, that you manage to single out. Rewind the audio as many times as you need, add words that you missed at first and correct yourself. When there’s nothing left to add, check yourself if you have the key text to the audio or ask for help from a native speaker. This method will help you to achieve brilliant results in developing listening skills, understanding speech, enriching your vocabulary, it will also be helpful for spelling and even grammar.

Mozart to the rescue

There’re numerous publications and academic research about how music influences human brain. Scientists found out that listening to Mozart improves memory, increases the level of concentration in many times, helps to switch from the melody of one’s native language and even lowers the stress. Don Campbell devoted over 30 years to studying the sound and its influence on different spheres of life. Campbell’s books “The Mozart Effect” and “The Mozart Effect for Children” are world bestsellers.

Where To Start?

I believe that one of the most effective ways to develop listening skills is watching movies. Beside audio, you can see emotions, mimics and gestures of actors – that all helps to boost your skills and makes the process enjoyable. For beginners it’s better to choose movies with dynamic story line and subtitles in their native language. My personal recommendation for students – Russian Soviet films, because actors speak distinctly and use correct grammar constructions, and another very important aspect is that these films formed our culture. We quote characters from the Soviet films every day! That’s why I created a Russian language course based on the Soviet film “Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears”. And what stops you from learning a language is laziness and putting everything off until tomorrow.

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