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Hello and apologies to all Russian speakers.

I´ve been given a short-term opportunity to follow a 5-week "beginners" (no precisions), intensive (30hours/week) Russian language course in a Russian-speaking city. I am a real beginner, who doesn't know a lot of words past привет, спасибо, до свида́нья, and a few words picked up at parties with Russian friends or during my stays in Eastern Europe.

Most importantly, I´m not completely familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet and the Russian pronunciation (I never learned any other Slavic language).

In my situation, is it a good idea to begin learning Russian this way ?

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  • Which country will it be? – Yellow Sky Jul 28 '14 at 2:22
  • The question is hardly language-specific but very individual. Would a five-week intensive course in a English-speaking country be a good way to begin learning English for you if you were a real beginner? The same answer applies to Russian. – Dmitry Alexandrov Jul 28 '14 at 2:59
  • @YellowSky I wonder what difference it makes. – Dmitry Alexandrov Jul 28 '14 at 3:11
  • Well the question is rather about the Slavic languages because of the proximity and differences of the cyrillic and Latin alphabet, as well as the pronunciation. As a matter of fact I did that kind of course to learn English, but I could already read and write the Latin alphabet without any difficulty. – Yves Jul 28 '14 at 4:40
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    @Yellow Sky they thrain spyes in Ukraine now, so I am sure the country is Ukraine. Also notice that Yves is a sailor, and Belarus has seashores only in the imagination of Jane Psaki. Possibly this is some kind of collaboration between the fleets of France and Ukraine, connected with the ongoing war. – Anixx Jul 28 '14 at 12:45
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It depends on the way you learn, but speaking generally, such a course would be a good way to begin learning.

Please not the bolding! It's about beginning to learn a language, not learning a language. Unless you're a language genius, or you're a fluent speaker of some other Slavic language (at best Ukrainian or Belarussian), it's unlikely you'll learn the language good enough to being able to read books or watch TV.

But, when learning a language completely different that yours, it's a very good idea to start from the contact with the 'real' language, it's accent and prozody, because it can prevent you from acquiring some bad habits, which happen when you learn from the book or from the non-native speaker.

But if you want to really profit from such course, you must carry on learning the language afterwards.

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If you chose between

  • Spending 5 weeks in a Russian speaking country
  • Not spending 5 weeks in a Russian speaking country

it would be a very good way to begin your studies!

OTOH, if you chose between

  • Spending 5 weeks in a Russian speaking country NOW
  • Spending 5 weeks in a Russian speaking country LATER

I would say that you should wait a bit, and get the basics under your belt first. That way you'd be able to profit a lot more from your time abroad.

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Being a Russian language teacher, I personally think that it is a good way to start learning Russian because it is an intensive language immersion, that can be very useful sometimes (it is something really individual though). After this intensive course, you will be able to continue learning Russian at your own pace.

However, I would recommend you to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, the phonetics and the basic reading rules first.

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From the comments I understand the country you are talking about is Latvia. First of all, it is NOT Russian speaking country although some 27% of residents there are indeed Russians.

So, I would say, that's not good idea to go to Latvia to study Russian, since you won't get enough exposure there - everything there is Latvian, not Russian. Latvian uses Latin alphabet and is not related to Russian so learning Russian alphabet there would be problematic too. Most people there indeed can speak Russian but I doubt they will be happy to help with a foreign language since it is foreign to them as well.

On the other hand, going to a truly Russian-speaking country for 5 weeks will improve your Russian skills definitely. There are only two such countries in the world: Russia and Belarus.

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    Thank you, I know Riga a little bit, and many places where Russian is spoken rather than Latvian (not even speaking of Jurmala). Even in the Cetri Balti Krekli (awesome) nobody expects you to speak Latvian. I know it is a sensitive point (they have a "Latvian Museum of the Occupation - 1938-1990") but I don't remember having come across someone in Riga who didn't speak Russian (I was always there with Russian speaking friends), even in local surburban groceries. I don't really expect to speak like a true Moscovite after 5 weeks. – Yves Jul 30 '14 at 3:12
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    In fact I can also go to Minsk or St Petersburg or Moscow (still not decided yet but Riga is the less expensive) (they also have courses in another town I don't remember), but as I said, it's a sudden opportunity, so I don't think I'll get a Visa to Minsk in time, even if Russia wont be a problem. As a matter of fact, we even have some days in Sankt Petersburg (two hours away, there are buses every day). Also, accomodation in Riga would be in a Russian family. Anyway this has little to do with my question. – Yves Jul 30 '14 at 3:19
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    Latvians tend to be nice and speak the language you both share. Which means - if you start speaking Russian they probably will answer in Russian. However, as correctly stated, this is really a sensitive matter and is pretty much like going to Israel to learn Arabic. It will definitely work to some extent but not the best idea at all. :) Also, it is very important to note that most Russian speakers in Latvia do not use correct Russian and their language is heavily influenced by Latvian, Yiddish and German. They do not notice it, but when compared to the "real" Russian in Russia it is noticeable – Rilakkuma Jul 30 '14 at 3:21
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    Pretty true. I remember describing what I understood of Latvia's modern history to German friends "Where do I sign up to fight against Russians" (even if it involves siding with other Russians). – Yves Jul 30 '14 at 3:32
  • @Yves Even if you don’t have friends in Latvia, Riga should be a best choice since, as far as I know, that is one of the most English-speaking city amongst Russian-speaking cities. I believe, this is quite important in your situation. It’s pretty useless to try to make yourself understood in English with a shop assister or minibus driver in Moscow (they’d rather understand Uzbek :-), while in Riga you’d have more chances. – Dmitry Alexandrov Jul 30 '14 at 13:01

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