Learning a language takes practice, but it should not be expensive.
Building a broad active vocabulary is to a large degree based on developing your passive vocabulary; this means lots of reading and listening practice. Of course, it’s easy to spend more time on practice when you’re using engaging material that’s relevant to you, rather than just dry textbook material. Unfortunately, seeing as it isn’t the most popular second language in the world, it can sometimes be harder for those who want to learn Russian to get their hands on free Russian language material to lift their understanding of the language to the next level.
To try and help fix that problem for you, here’s a short list of five free sites with interesting and entertaining articles, videos, and audio recordings that are all sure to be useful to Russian language learners.
1. The Russian Word’s Worth
Some of the sites featured in this list will be entirely in Russian so they won’t necessarily be suitable for absolute beginners, but let’s start with one that certainly is. The Russian Word’s Worth is a series of English language articles/podcasts written and presented by American linguist and Moscow Times columnist Michelle Berdy. These focus on explaining different aspects of Russian, including topically/seasonally relevant vocabulary and common grammar issues, in a humorous and engaging way. Even though it’s written in English, Berdy uses plenty of Russian examples so you’re sure to pick up some new vocabulary.
If you’ve ever wondered how English loan words in Russian differ in meaning, how Russians used to measure things before the metric system, or how to talk about money, then this series is for you. Beyond being a source of useful practical information for the aspiring student of Russian, it also contains plenty of information to inspire you to dig deeper into Russian as a language.
The series began as a collection of written articles but recent editions also include an audio recording that you can listen to as a podcast. This joint podcast/text format is perfect for fitting Russian practice into your daily travel plans. Heading to your place of work or study on public transport? Then load up the written article on your phone or tablet. Driving, riding a bike, or just got your hands busy with something else? Then plug in your headphones and listen away.
2. BBC Russian Service
The BBC Russian Service is a news site which posts articles on both global affairs and Russian domestic news. As it’s a news site most of its content is comprised of written articles but you’ll also find a large number of videos and even some radio shows. The service also has its own video blog called London Blog, which aims to explain the many oddities of life in London to those who speak Russian.
Of course the BBC Russian service is not the only Russian language news site out there – Izvestiya and Meduza, for example, are both popular, well regarded sources of news in Russia – however there are a couple of benefits that Russian learners can get from using the BBC. For a start, the BBC’s high editorial standards mean that you can be certain that articles will be well-written and grammatically correct, so you won’t be led into any bad habits. This is also true of many other mainstream sites but the same can’t be said for a lot of smaller news sites that may not have such a thorough editorial process. The main benefit of using the BBC however, is for lower level learners. Many of the world news articles featured on the Russian Service’s site are actually translations of English language articles from the BBC's main site. This means that lower level students can put the articles side by side and use them as a dual language text.
If you are the kind of person who loves social media, it’s well worth subscribing to the BBC Russian service on Facebook. That way, as you’re scrolling through your feed you’ll have plenty of opportunities to quickly practice Russian by trying to read the headlines you’ll see (don’t forget to click on them occasionally so the Facebook algorithm knows you want to see more of them). When you have more time on your hands you can try watching an episode of London blog (each video is about five minutes long) or even read through a full article.
3. Mosfilm Youtube Channel
The Youtube channel Киноконцерн “Мосфильм” is the official Youtube channel of the Mosfilm film studio. Originally a Soviet film studio, Mosfilm is now the oldest and largest movie studio in the Russian Federation. In the Soviet period the studio was responsible for the creation of many of the USSR’s most beloved films. This Youtube channel hosts a collection of many of the studios most famous projects, including popular Russian favourites like С лёким паром and Иван Василеевич меняет профессию.
Watching movies can be a great way of supplementing your language learning whilst being able to relax at the same time, and it never hurts to have access to more films. The vast majority of films on the Mosfilm channel have English and Russian subtitles, so, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned student of Russian or a complete beginner, you’ll be able to follow along with the story. No matter what your level, if you really want to get the most out of Russian films, it’s worth pausing the movie as you watch to write down any phrases you find useful, preferably in a notebook by hand.
Arzamas is a free online university. Its website offers free courses comprised of a number of audio lectures, along with articles, podcasts, and even a daily riddle. In addition, the university also has its own Youtube channel where you can find a wealth of interesting videos. The lectures, videos, and texts that Arzamas produces are written by academics and professionals from all over Russia and they cover a multitude of different topics, with a specific, but not exclusive, focus on Russian history, culture, and linguistics. If you want to know more about the Decembrist revolt, how to read Russian literature, or if you’re just really interested in the Byzantine Empire, Arzamas is the site for you.
All the materials on Arzamas’ site are in Russian and the language used in them is not the simplest. What’s more, the vast majority of videos on their Youtube channel don’t feature English subtitles. As such, this site isn’t really recommended for beginners or even lower level intermediate students. It can however, be a fantastic tool for upper-intermediate and advanced students looking to expand their vocabulary. Videos and audio lectures are often relatively short and are perfect for when you’re travelling. If you really want to test your Russian skills you could even sign up for Arzamas’ “Supercourse of Russian Culture”, in which you’ll have the opportunity to study Russian culture through the ages and even write essays which you can have marked by academics in Russia for free.
5. The Village
If you’re more interested in modern Russia then here’s another suggestion for you. The Village is a website devoted to modern Russian culture and life. There you’ll find articles about city living, fashion, and food, as well as entertainment, news, and much more. If you have an interest in a particular Russian city - perhaps you’re thinking of taking a holiday or moving for work - then the Village has different pages with focused stories for all major Russian cities.
As with Arzamas, the Village isn’t super beginner friendly but the topics it covers generally means that the vocabulary you’ll find there will be simpler than on Arzamas’ site. This means it’s definitely worth a look for advanced and intermediate students. Most of what you’ll find on the site is made up of written articles but you’ll also find a few videos floating around as well. The village, of course, has its own Facebook pages (one for each of the major cities) so, just like with the BBC Russian Service, social media junkies can subscribe to add a dose of Russian practice to their daily scroll. If you want to focus on improving your understanding of informal Russian and Russian colloquialisms and slang, then it might be worth checking out the Village Talks. Here you’ll find user-led discussions on a huge variety of topics, from "what does your dream home look like?" to "how do I get rid of a spider infestation in my dacha?". Just remember that, seeing as these are user-led discussions, not all the words and phrases you find there will be suitable for use in polite company.
So there you have it, five sites with free Russian resources guaranteed to help you improve your language skills. Don’t forget to make a note of all the new Russian phrases you learn and remember you can use Speechling’s freestyle mode to check your pronunciation.