How to study Russian grammar

1. Learn the function of the various parts of speech

Understanding the function performed by each part of speech is important because they reveal how words relate to each other.If you don’t know the parts of speech, it will be very difficult to identify patterns, apply them correctly and notice errors in your speech and written work.

2. Search for patterns

Grammar is effectively a set of patterns or rules which apply in a given set of circumstances. If you identify patterns, you can cut down on the amount of time needed to study a concept. For example, the vast majority of Russian verbs conjugated in the present tense adopt one of two basic endings. If you memorise these endings, you simply need to know the infinitive (basic) form of a verb and you’ll be able to conjugate on the fly in the present tense. Even if you make a mistake because a specific verb falls outside of that schema, 9 times out of 10 you’ll be understood, corrected on the spot and whether it is upon the first correction, or subsequent corrections, you’ll learn the correct conjugation pattern for that verb.

3. Use colour to highlight patterns

Colour coding key pieces of information improves focus, facilitates rapid review and enhances memory retention, because bright colours stand out more easily (particularly when used alongside black, navy blue or grey as the primary colour of your writing tool). Whether you choose to use highlighters or coloured pens to bring attention to certain details, or summarise the main ideas of a rule, the trick is to be consistent throughout your notebook so that your brain associates the colour with specific topics, themes, or functions. Too much colour is distracting and overwhelms the brain, so ensure that every use of colour has a clear purpose by reserving the use of colours for only the most critical information. This will ensure that your brain processes what it does see in colour as worthy of remembering. For example, you could use the colour red to highlight a change to the last letter of a noun as a result of a declension for the accusative case. You would then use the same colour to highlight the orthographic changes only, for all other nouns in that case.

4. Fill your notes with examples

Always provide examples, because the more examples your brain encounters, the better its ability to remember a rule. In addition, if you memorise an example for one rule, it will be easy to remember how the rule should apply when you encounter other words of the same class.

5. Practice makes perfect

Once you have learnt a rule, practise applying it as often as possible by doing written and audio drills as well as online tests.

6. Translation is key to cracking the code

Translate in order to understand a piece of text at two levels: (1) the intended meaning; and (2) the literal (word-for-word) translation. The practice of deconstructing a sentence in addition to learning its meaning will help you to acquire new vocabulary, familiarise yourself with Russian sentence structure (i.e. the order in which the parts of speech appear) and will provide a solid basis for spontaneous production of sentences and questions in future.

7. Incorporate regular review into your study routine

As tempting as it might be to blast through your textbook and inundate your brain with exciting new information and materials all the time, it is a less efficient way to structure your language studies if you want to observe measurable progress. Focus on quality over quantity; it is very important to review previously learnt information on a regular basis and repeated exposure to material is a tried and tested language-learning technique.

The case system is perhaps the most confusing concept for native speakers of English as it doesn’t play a major role in the English language. However, I created a series of thoroughly-researched guides on the nominative genitive dative accusative instrumental and prepositional cases in the summer of 2020 and I genuinely don’t believe that there is a more comprehensive treatment of the cases on the internet. However, I am always open to feedback! If you believe that they can be improved in any way, please let me know.

Commit to learning the functions of each case individually. In the guides I created on this website, the functions of each case are neatly divided by bullet points and I would recommend that you gradually work your way through each of the functions associated with a certain case, refraining from progressing to the next bullet point until you are comfortable that you have a solid grasp of each concept to which you were introduced and you reach the point where you know what changes need to be made to a word in both your written and spoken speech.

For a list of some of the best resources you can use to practise case declension in Russian, click here.

Download the tips above as a printable poster below!

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