My partner's family all speak Russian, which is not my native language. I used to be in classes which helped me have regular practice at listening, but now that they are done, I'm finding myself in embarrassing situations with the family where I mistake one word for another (confusing "как грибы?" for "как рыбы?", and saying they are good when I clearly have no mushrooms on my plate), or they will ask me questions and I didn't even understand one word. When everybody is speaking Russian I just stay silent now so I don't make a fool of myself, but this is getting to be a big problem.

Reading is a lot easier for me since I can go at my own pace, look back at parts that I don't understand, and skim for context. All of this is impossible in conversation, but I don't want to be mute around them forever. How can I improve my listening? Most movies and TV shows are difficult for me because they speak so quickly, but maybe there are some good ones for children that aren't boring?

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    If movies or something are too fast for you, there is nothing wrong to slow them down a bit – most of software players can do that. Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 14:31
  • That's a good idea, thanks. I hadn't thought of that.
    – tM --
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 14:32
  • "как грибы?" and "как рыбы?" differ in stressed syllable. How they can be confused?
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 15:21
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    @Anixx By the way, in that case the question should be как ры́ба? in singular (mass noun, more precisely). Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 16:03
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    Another problem is that most Russians pronounce unstressed бы in a way that sounds like unstressed ба. To me, it sounds like most Russians say чтоба. The same with проблема and проблемы. I'm sure they are distinct, we just have to train our ears (and tongues) :)
    – CocoPop
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 16:26

8 Answers 8


I can tell you as an American in your predicament not long ago, that I really benefitted from the tons of dialogs on the (free) site, learnrussian.rt.com for several reasons:

  1. they speak at a very normal and natural conversational speed. Slow, word-for-word, unnatural Russian never got me anywhere;
  2. the conversations aren't translated into English - so you won't be distracted by looking at English text while listening to good Russian;
  3. the conversations are only partly written out in Russian and you have to listen carefully and supply the missing words - GREAT TRAINING! This is the part that really helped me start to pick out individual words in actual speech;
  4. There are a bunch of other exercises that are both fun and reinforce grammar, vocabulary, etc. and you can get a free account and track your progress, which is a great boost as you work through it.

I recommend that you start from Lesson 1 (there are actually 100 audio-packed lessons!) to let your ear get accustomed to the three or four speakers. By the time you get to Lesson 5, you won't believe how much you understand, not only on the site, but in movies, etc.

As an added reinforcement to your study, once you're familiar with a conversation, go back and shadow the speakers with a slight delay. "shadowing" is best done with earphones, walking around, and really works. (Find out about shadowing here)

Another resource which has proved invaluable to me, especially for listening comprehension, is the podcast "Native Speaker - Russian Language" in which the host, Ilya, presents expressions that have a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. However, the best thing about the podcast is that he uses a very understandable language and speaks at a normal conversational speed, since he records the podcasts in his car on the way to work, unscripted :) His is also a great resource to shadow.

Good luck!

  • On that site, it looks like a task is marked as either right or wrong, even if it involves properly matching 20 items; so if it's marked wrong it is not indicated which items were incorrectly matched. Am I missing something, or is there indeed no indicator of what part of an incorrectly completed task is incorrect?
    – KCd
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 1:49
  • No, that's pretty much how it works. They don't tell you what's wrong - you have to go back and do it over. Some of them are nerve-wracking! But you can skip them :)
    – CocoPop
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 13:43
  • @tm --: I would be curious to hear from the OP on her progress and impression of this site...
    – CocoPop
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 14:01

I highly recommend to read CocoPop's answer, since he is learning Russian, while most others are native speakers here.

Also you may want to check out Resources for learing Russian for educational podcasts.

I think you can listen to audiobooks. Narrators won't speak as fast as actors in a movies. Or you can search for a book that is read slowly. Or you can find a software that slows down reading.

Also you'll be able to find a text version of the book and check if you understood correctly. And you'll also be able to check if the text is too hard for you to listen to.

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    The problem with audio books and movies isn't the speed of the speech (although that's a factor), it's the level of Russian used. Here there are two extremes: the audio book Russian is literary and won't help her much when she's listening to her partner's family; and the Russian in movies is usually very colloquial and full of slang and abbreviated language that is incomprehensible at any speed.
    – CocoPop
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 17:47
  • @CocoPop That’s exactly why I suggest Russian radio drama. Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 9:32
  • @DmitryAlexandrov: I'll have to check that out :)
    – CocoPop
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 12:48

As Artemix said, audiobooks (аудиокниги) may be very useful, but to my mind radio theatre (радиоспектакли), which is usually distinguished from audiobooks, would be more useful for training comprehension since in drama actors are talking with each other, while in audiobook a narrator just read exactly what was written in a book (often in language which is very far from colloquial). But it would be more difficult to find exact text version of play if it is adapted from a novel.

And, as I said in comment, there is nothing wrong to slow a play down a bit if it is still too fast for you.

Look, for example, at Borys Karlov’s collection [part I] [part II] [part III] for selected few or at “Старое радио” for more.

Shows for kids may help if you have small vocabulary not if you have difficulty in comprehension. If children take part in show it make things even worse – child accent is quite peculiar.

As for general tips – there is nothing language-specific in your question. So if you have not found in the Internet any advice on comprehension of Russian, why don’t you google around how to improve listening skills in any language (English maybe) – links will be useless but learning techniques will be the same.


I think you can use the method I practiced long ago when studying English. I took a bunch of songs of my favorite genre (rock) and found lyrics for all of them. Then read them carefully to understand the text and to remember it. Then I start to listen music and lyrics many times practicing my comprehension (knowing what words are to be heard) and, later, my pronunciation (singing, copying the vocalist). It's easy to take a practice while driving a car and it's a fun way to study the language. :)

  • This is really good advice. I did this with Spanish (which is also incredibly difficult to understand when spoken by natives) and it really helped a lot.
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 4:14

Use the free Media Player Classic to watch some movies/shows with subtitles and slightly slowed down audio - MPC will slow down speech without making audio sound bassy.


:) To improve your listening skills I would really recommend listening to the dialogues. They are shorter than movies, so you can easily understand them. And for example, Ruspeach dialogues have both translations to 9 different languages and funny comics with them which improves understanding and makes it interesting. Besides they have little tests-games after each dialogue, so you can check that you got everything that you possible could. They helped me a lot! Good luck and check them out here - http://www.ruspeach.com/en/dialogues/


I use RazgRuss (РазгРусс — разговорный русский) software (gratis). There are ‘Sound only’, and ‘Text only’, and ‘Text and sound’ modes for a funny guessing game of phraseological units.


You can subscribe to ETV.net or BestRussianTV.com. They have live TV, recorded programs and movies. When listening, don't get hung up on trying to understand every word. Just try to pick up the key words. That's what we do anyway, in our own language. We fill in the gaps from knowing the context of the situation. When watching news, on e.g., Russia 24 or Kanal 5 (Сейчас) start out by reading the headlines at the bottom of the screen, observing the location of a video story (usually they tell you in the upper left-hand corner where the story takes place.It's a little known fact that TV and newspapers only have eight basic stories--the plane/train/ship disaster, the terrible auto accidents, etc. The same vocabulary is used repeatedly since the stories are repeated with different details. You can't help but pick up the vocabulary of auto accidents after so many video stories. Finally, I find it helpful to watch Russian movies with accurate Russian subtitles (not automatic subtitles). On Youtube there are some Russian movies (usually tear-jerkers) with accurate Russian subtitles. e.g., 'Мой Грех', 'Пряники из Карточки','Водитель для Веры'.

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