I started learning Russian about a month ago. I'm a native Brazilian Portuguese speaker, but i'm using English as a 'base' language.

I think i'm doing well. I've used this one month period just to break that initial barrier: phonetics, pronouns, verbs and a basic vocabulary.

Now that i'm 'ready' to start learning the language, i'm trying to organize things and avoid losing time. What i'm doing now is basically listening and reading along, then checking the English translation. It's working, but i'm feeling that the vocabulary gain is not that great, so i ask:

What if i do my own translations, then adjust it with the reference one? Has anyone here tried this at beginner level?

I'm afraid this will not work so well with Russian: i still find it hard to read, and the case system is a problem too.

When i was learning English, i would listen to the old Metallica albums while following the lyrics and trying to match what the guy was screaming. Then later i would translate the entire song to Portuguese. This translation part was very effective to learn new words and general structures.

This paper also seems to point that translation is very effective to increase vocabulary. I'm happy to hear comments, suggestions. Thanks!

  • Do you mean something like this one (pdf)?
    – Matt
    Nov 1, 2015 at 6:11
  • I you are interested in the value of translating as a learning technique, please re-ask this question on Language Learning Stack Exchange. The question is too old for migration to another site.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 21, 2017 at 19:47

3 Answers 3


i'm using English as a bridge

Using bridges brings too many problems. You could improve your English, but break up your Russian. Better not.

I've used this one month period just to break that initial barrier

I believe it's too early. You should be able at least to read and interpret "textbook-level" excerpts about one page long. Anyway, no one believes that learning grammar could be avoided.

Listening-reading-speaking using short transcripts (for which i have the correct English translation)

Well, that's a matter of taste. For me, personally, the most interesting thing is "to catch and feel" rather than "to translate". That is,

  • Take what you're really interested in. Do not worry if it's too complicated and/or long. You may even start from the poetry, if you want. Though the latter is the right way of getting a brain trauma.
  • Do not use ready translations. Do not read the text you've read in the translation earlier. Only finding something new on your own may keep your interest.
  • Never skip unknown words: looking up into the dictionary every time is tedious, yet it's the only way to fill in your vocabulary. Also, try to find all the common idioms - that's really helpful.
  • Do skip the sentences you absolutely can't understand. Don't stay in one place too long, but move on. It's enough, if you see the overall sentence's structure and are able to follow the plot. Do not damage your brain by too much thinking.

What does one get of this?

  • Self-confidence. Just finishing a textbook is nothing. But if you could apply your knowledge and to do something on your own, be it talking to foreign people, or reading the foreign texts, you would have that sweet feeling that "now everything's possible".
  • Good (or at least moderate) vocabulary. No textbook helps you with this.
  • Listening to the language "on the edge". No one can truly love a foreign language, yet one may have a high respect for it. Still, that's only possible if one has seen for what it's worth. Otherwise it would be no more than a toy.
  • Thanks! So it's better to work on my native language? I didn't suspected that.
    – Fernando
    Nov 1, 2015 at 19:42
  • I've written my own (short) answer below, but much of it is really agreeing with your answer... Nov 2, 2015 at 10:27
  • Sorry, i edited the question and tried to make it shorter and clearer. Thanks!
    – Fernando
    Nov 3, 2015 at 5:35

I don't really understand the question, but I think the key to learning (any) language is realising that you have to learn to understand and think, and then speak (or read-write, of course) in the language you are learning. Translation is a much harder job to do, and is not the key to understanding at all.

What do you mean by "bridge"? If for example there is much more material available with explanations in English, then by all means use it, but I can't see that there is any intrinsic value in this. When I started on Russian (a little while ago) I found it frustrating that English language materials were so slow, because they were frightened of explaining grammar, so for a while I was using a course in Italian -- they can just say работать: работаю работаешь работает работаем работаете работают... "just like lavorare: lavoro lavori lavora lavoriamo lavorate lavorono" (and wow, it's close! particularly if you know the Latin endings that degenerated into the Italian ones)

Sorry, this is not much of an answer, but there are so many questions here (and on the Japanese language forum just the same) which say "I am working on translation", rather than "I am trying to understand this". It's very depressing.

  • Thanks. The point is that the "true" translation is an advanced task. A beginner should do this only with a good teacher. For self-education one needs a "relaxed version": learning words, catching syntax, and such.
    – Matt
    Nov 2, 2015 at 12:01
  • @Brian The main point of the question is to access how much one can gain by translating into native or what i called 'bridge' language. I'll edited it to explain why i've thinking about translation.on such a basic level.
    – Fernando
    Nov 3, 2015 at 4:45
 I highly recommend using the Russian browser "Yandex.ru" for anyone learning or attempting to learn the Russian language.  I have found that the '**Translator**' link (**Переводчик**)on the browser's main menu bar is of inestimable value.
 For cross-translation purposes in the user's question, the Yandex translator will give the student cross-translations to and from Russian, Portuguese, and English texts.  In addition, Yandex *can pronounce* the words of the text of all the three languages that the questioner is using in his studies.  
 Yandex has more than 50 languages that can be called up for translation and interpretation, but not all the languages have pronunciation capabilities.  For the Russian language Yankex is structured like a dictionary; words can be highlighted and alternative meanings and synonyms will be displayed.
 As just one pertinent example of the Yandex browser's capabilities, when entering text in a Yandex input box the browser executes "word completion", i.e., when entering the Portuguese word '**coleccao** into the Portuguese data entry box the browser will flag "**colecção**" as the correct Portuguese spelling of the word, and it is that spelling that will be entered if the ENTER key is pressed.
 Yandex has many other capabilities, such as "block select copy and paste" for translations of large blocks of text from Internet news websites (e.g., Spanish-language "mundo.Sputniknews.com" and other foreign-language Sputnik news websites).

 I hope this answer will be of help to many other students of the Russian language.


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