Being in a relationship with someone and wanting to learn their language can be one of the greatest motivating factors, because not only do you have the objective to achieve an increased level of intimacy with your partner or his family and friends, you can also benefit from hearing the language spoken by a native speaker on a regular basis and gaining access to the culture which shapes the use of the language.
However, it can be difficult to switch to Russian if English has been the common language between you since you met. It may be uncomfortable for you having to listen and engage with someone speaking to you exclusively in Russian when you barely understand a thing. It may also be hard for both parties to maintain conversations of substance, since the range of conversations you can have in Russian will be limited, or non-existent. Additionally, it is quite common for people to have different personalities with the languages they speak and this may lead to some unexpected changes in your relationship dynamic.
Learning with your partner can be a beautiful experience and there are certain things you can do to make the process much smoother and more enjoyable for both parties.
1. Introduce Russian bit-by-bit (beginners)
Commit to speaking the language for certain everyday scenarios, for example morning greetings, morning farewells, making breakfast, clearing the dinner table, polite words such as thank you and please. Switch to your native language only when more complex or difficult discussions are taking place.
2. Carve out set days of the week or moments in the day to speak Russian (intermediate to advanced learners)
It can be mentally draining speaking a foreign language, especially outside the confines of official language classes, or language exchanges. In order to motivate you to keep going, have your partner remain speaking Russian on a specific day of the week, or at a particular moment in the day (for example, in the evening). Ask your partner not to switch, even if you slip into your primary lingua franca.
3. Watch TV series or films together
There are plenty of great Russian TV series available on Netflix here , and Russian films/movies on Netflix here and here . A great Google Chrome extension to install is Language Learning with Netflix, available in the Google Chrome Store here . The extension will allow you to improve your skills by allowing two subtitles to be displayed at once for ease of translation, give you control over the speed of playback (particularly useful for those at the beginning stages of learning Russian) and a particularly cool feature to activate is ‘Pause on mouse hover’, which will pause the show or film until you move your cursor away, thereby giving you a chance to digest new vocabulary without developing repetitive strain injury(!) If you learn any interesting words, write them down in your notebook.
4. Have your Russian-speaking partner read to you or vice versa
If you’re at an intermediate, or upper-intermediate level in Russian, Good Reads has a list of over 100 of the best Russian novels, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. Simply curl up together and at the end of a sentence, try to think about the meaning. If there are any words you didn’t understand, you can request, or search for, a translation and enter it into a spaced repetition app such as Anki, or Monument.
5. Write out your shopping list together in Russian
This is a simple way to have the names of common fruits, vegetables, meats and general household items down early on.
6. Cook recipes from a Russian cookbook
Work your way through some great Russian recipes on websites such as Gastronom , 1000.menu,I Am Cook,Food Orboz,Kulinarn,Gotovim Doma,Vkuso and Eda. Whilst exploring Russian cuisine, you’ll learn the names of various food items and plenty of new verbs relating to giving instructions.
7. Explore your partner’s musical taste
Music is a very personal thing and your partner will love being able to share the meaning of words in his favourite songs with you. Sharing an emotional connection will make the vocabulary more memorable.
Before you enlist the help of your partner to learn Russian, you’re well advised to set up some ground rules so that no feelings are hurt. For example, if you know that you are a sensitive soul, ask your partner not to correct every little mistake as they occur and to instead save their constructive feedback for the following day or a set moment during the week when you’re ready to hear it (but be sure to set aside time for listening to feedback!).
Also, don’t expect too much from your partner if teaching their language is not their profession. It is a skill which takes time (and many hours!) poring over textbooks and webpages in order to master. There may be many questions to which your partner simply won’t have the answers. Save them for Unlocking Russian, online language forums and your personal tutor. If having your partner as a language partner works out for you, that is amazing. If not, don’t worry about; it isn’t meant for everyone.