I've gotten a lot of emails recently asking about specific tips and strategies related to learning Russian. So, allow me to take the time here and answer a few. (Apologies to those who I've yet to address.)
Q: Should I learn to read Russian (Cyrillic) before learning to speak it?
A: Not necessarily. Think of it this way: Did you learn to read your native language (Let's assume, English) before you learned to speak it? Of course not. You learned to read years later, after you could speak the language very well. And that made reading a whole lot easier. Now, that being said, you could make the argument that nevertheless it's helpful to learn to read as you learn to speak. It's certainly not nearly as daunting as it first appears. Maybe take a week to try saying a few words and phrases, make sure the course you're using is effective, and then try your hand at learning to read. (That's what I did.) Coming in with that bit of confidence behind you really makes a difference.
Q: What is a soft consonant? I read about them everywhere in my searches about Russian.
A: I can give you the technical definition, but it won't help much. To be honest with you, I hate the term. It's so pretentious...as if everyone (or rather anyone) knows what a soft consonant is. I think one textbook long ago used that phrase, and then a second waves of books were published that then referenced that first book. All future courses quoted these earlier ones...but no one ever bothered to explain it. There was simply the assumption that people know what in heck a soft consonant is. It's not even something that can be explained in text. It's something you need to listen to. And I wouldn't even worry about it until you've studied Russian for a while and have the sounds in your ear. Then you'll start to see which words have the soft versions of certain consonants in them.
Q: How much Russian can I reasonable expect to learn in, say, three or four months?
A: A lot! If you can find about one hour of study time a day, five days a week, you can make amazing progress. You should concentrate on learning no more than 700 to 800 words, and get as fluent as possible with them. (This, as opposed to trying to learn 2000 words, only to struggle to recall or pronounce them.) Go for a small vocabulary, and really try to master it. Make up new phrases all the time. Play with new vocab words. Work them into older phrases you're comfortable with. And practice your own back and forth conversations with the main constructions you're learning. Do that, and you can make amazing progress in Russian in just a few months!
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