If you’re thinking about learning Russian, then you might be wondering whether Duolingo’s Russian course is the way to go.
The language of Tolstoy currently boasts over 258 million speakers worldwide and over 4 million learners on Duolingo!
But is Duolingo actually any good for learning Russian?
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Russian on Duolingo.
We’ll go over:
- How Duolingo’s Russian course is structured
- Special features
- Other features you need to be aware of
- The pros of Duolingo’s Russian course
- The cons of Duolingo’s Russian course
Shall we get started?
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What you’ll find in Duolingo’s Russian course
If you’re new to Duolingo, then you’ll find that all of the courses are structured in much the same way.
All the courses (Russian included) are presented in what is commonly referred to as the lesson tree.
The tree is broken up into a set of units.
Each unit has a set of skills (or modules).
Each skill has up to 6 crown levels.
And each crown level has a set of lessons.
The goal, as you’ve probably guessed, is to work through the tree, completing every lesson, in every level, in every skill, in every unit.
As of March 2022, Duolingo’s Russian course has a total of 4 units, broken down into a total of 79 skills. That means there are 395 crown levels in Duolingo’s Russian course — or 474 if you include the legendary levels.
The exercises in the Russian course are basically the same as in all of Duolingo’s courses. Some of the common exercises you’ll come across include:
- Complete the translation
- Mark the correct meaning
- Picture flashcards
- Select the missing word
- Sentence shuffle
- Speak this sentence
- Tap the pairs
- Tap what you hear
Does Duolingo’s Russian course have any special features?
Although Duolingo offers nearly 40 language courses for English speakers, not all of the courses are created equally. Some courses have special features that others don’t.
Unfortunately, Duolingo’s Russian course doesn’t currently have stories, audio lessons or podcasts.
However, it does have a neat little feature that only a few other Duolingo courses have: the writing-system tool.
As you probably already know, Russian uses a different writing system to English. Some of the characters look and sound the same as their English counterparts, but a lot of them don’t.
Duolingo’s Russian writing-system tool helps you get to grips with the subtle complexities of Russian sounds, and makes it easy to associate them with the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.
This can take a bit of getting used to regardless of how you go about it, but the writing-system tool definitely makes a big difference. You’ll even learn how to write out the letters in the tracing exercises!
Other features in Duolingo’s Russian course
Duolingo’s Russian course is built on the same stuff as all of Duolingo’s other language courses.
We won’t go into too much detail here, but some of the features worth knowing about include:
- XP – As you work through the Duolingo Russian course, you’ll earn experience points, which are more commonly known as XP. You’ll earn XP for pretty much everything you do. Some lessons, tasks and exercises will earn you more XP than others.
- Leagues – Every week you’ll be entered into a league with other Duolingo learners. There are 10 leagues to work through, starting at Bronze and ending at Diamond. The leagues are basically leaderboards — simply earn more XP than others in your league to have a chance of winning.
- Gems – XP and crowns aren’t the only things you’ll earn as you learn Russian. You’ll also earn gems, which you can spend in the Duolingo Shop. There isn’t really much you can buy here, but you can use your gems to pick up things like Streak Freezes, Timer Boosts for timed challenges, and some costumes for the owl.
- Friends – Duolingo is a social experience, so you’re able to follow other users and compare your progress. The guys at Duolingo reckon you’re 5 times more likely to finish your course if you follow people! To get you started, feel free to give me a follow — my username is DCiiieee!
- Duolingo Plus – This is Duolingo’s premium membership. Pay for Plus and you’ll get access to some useful features, including unlimited hearts, no ads and Practice Hub.
Is Duolingo good for learning Russian?
Now to answer the all-important question: Is Duolingo good for learning Russian?
Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.
Russian can be a bit scary in the beginning, especially for anyone who doesn’t already speak a Slavic language
The different alphabet’s terrifying enough, but even after you get beyond that it’s not exactly the most straightforward of languages.
You’ve got to deal with things like cases, formalities, and some crazy rules that no matter how long you’ve been learning just never seem to make sense.
But the great thing about Duolingo is it makes Russian really accessible from the very beginning.
The placement test gets you settled right away.
The writing system tool (which we’ll talk a bit more about in a sec) it’s soooo useful for getting over the alphabet hurdle.
And it’ll get you reading and typing in Russian from the outset.
From the very first lesson, you’ll feel like you’re making progress, no matter how much of a beginner you are!
Have I mentioned the writing-system tool yet?! 😉
For me, this is probably one of Duolingo’s biggest selling points when it comes to the Russian course.
Not only does it get you used to how the Cyrillic looks and sounds, but it also gives you the opportunity to write it out with the tracing exercises.
Depending on what you want Russian for this might not matter much to you…
But in any case, it does a great job of making something that seems so unusual to non-Slavic speakers seem a lot less alien.
I only wish this was available when I first started learning Russian!
This doesn’t just go for Duolingo’s Russian course, it’s the same for ALL of them!
One of the best things about Duolingo is that it’s more than just a language learning tool.
It’s also a game. And although this isn’t to everyone’s liking, it’s a big part of why so many people show up every day to do their daily lessons.
For everything you do in Russian, you’ll earn XP (experience points) which contribute towards your position in the weekly leagues.
Now this isn’t something you should take too seriously (you can read more about why here) but if you take it lightly it’ll definitely make your Russian a lot more enjoyable.
Because ultimately, the more you enjoy something, the more likely you are to do it. And given learning Russian will require you to show up regularly for a very long time, Duolingo could be the perfect solution.
Another great thing about Duolingo is that the Russian course is 100% free.
There is a premium subscription — Duolingo Plus — but this isn’t something you need in order to complete the course. The whole thing is completely free; Plus just adds a few features that make things a bit smoother.
This is great if you’re just dabbling with Russian and aren’t ready to commit just yet. But also if you’re keen to get started with the language but don’t want to fork out on special software or tuition.
I take it you’ve seen the owl memes?
Yes, the owl can be *a bit* of a stalker at times, pestering you at all hours to do your daily Russian lessons!
But relax, contrary to popular belief, he’s not gonna kidnap your family anytime soon!
Jokes aside, Duolingo is brilliant for keeping you motivated.
Learning Russian is a long journey. It’s not something you’re going to pick up overnight.
According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes roughly 1100 “class hours” to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in Russian.
So yeah, if you’re going to learn Russian, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul!
That means creating an unbreakable habit. And Duolingo’s amazing for doing that.
Put it this way — my current streak (i.e. the number of days in a row I’ve used Duolingo) goes all the way back to May 2016.
And that’s not just because I’m a bit obsessive! It’s thanks to Duolingo being such a great way of keeping me motivated!
Really short course
Duolingo’s a great way of getting started with Russian. But eventually, you’ll need to look further afield if you want to progress.
That’s because Duolingo’s Russian course is really short. Although each skill has up to 6 levels, realistically you could complete the course to crown level 1 in a pretty short time.
Compared to some of Duolingo’s more popular courses, like French, Spanish and German, there’s nowhere near as much content.
And as I mentioned earlier, you don’t get some of Duolingo’s swankier new features like stories or audio lessons.
So if you think you’re going to become fluent with Duolingo’s Russian course by itself, I’d urge you to manage your expectations.
No tips or explanations
This is probably one of my biggest gripes with Duolingo’s Russian course.
We’ve already been over how scary Russian can be for beginners.
And while Duolingo does a great job of getting you to grips with the alphabet and some basic sentences, it does very little to help with grammar.
Things like conjugations and cases you’ll have to go off and figure out for yourself.
You should expect to be doing a lot of googling once you get to the second and third units, as so many of the lessons just don’t make sense without any grammar explanations.
This is really frustrating as many of Duolingo’s courses come with tip sections that make the lessons a whole lot clearer.
For a language as complex as Russian, I’m amazed they still haven’t addressed this.
Not great for speaking
If you’re hoping to get conversational in Russian, then Duolingo probably isn’t the tool that will get you there.
Well, not by itself anyway.
That’s because Duolingo focuses mainly on reading and listening. You do get the opportunity to practice your pronunciation with the speaking exercises, but these aren’t conversation exercises and a lot of the stuff you’ll practice aren’t sentences you’ll ever use anyway.
Speaking is a skill in its own right and to learn it you’ll need to practice it regularly, ideally with a native speaker, or at the very least using a program that has conversation scenarios (such as RussianPod101).
If you’ve read any of my other articles then you’ll know one of the things I dislike most about Duolingo at the moment is the heart system.
Hearts are basically lives or chances. You start off with 5 then lose one every time you make a mistake.
If you lose all your hearts then you’re not allowed to progress through your course until your hearts replenish.
You can either watch an ad to get one back, do a practice session, spend some gems or wait 5 hours.
It’s far from ideal as it does the unhelpful thing of punishing you for making mistakes.
Which, as far as I’m concerned, is ridiculous as mistakes are absolutely essential and unavoidable when learning a language — especially one as complex as Russian.
And when you factor in the lack of tips and explanations, you’re going to be making lots of mistakes — and therefore you’re going to be losing lots of hearts.
So keep this in mind as this can be so frustrating.
If you’re a total beginner and looking to get started with Russian, then Duolingo’s Russian course would be a great place to start.
You’ll get to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet, see the language in action, practice your pronunciation and learn some useful vocabulary.
By the end of the course, you’ll definitely be more advanced than when you started!
However, given that the course only has 4 units, you’ll need to look beyond Duolingo if you want to reach fluency. At best Duolingo could probably get you to an A2 level by itself (so long as you’re doing enough passive learning as well).
A good tool to use — either alongside Duolingo or after you’ve completed the course — is RussianPod101.
This is something I’ve been using alongside Duolingo and it’s made a massive difference to the quality of my Russian! They complement each other really well — Duolingo is great for reading and typing things out, whereas RussianPod is brilliant for improving your listening and speaking.
With RussianPod you’ll get essential resources like grammar packs, cultural insights, and learn the 2,000 most common Russian words — so by the end of the course, you should be able to understand as much as 80% of all Russian conversations.
When used together, Duolingo and RussianPod will give you everything you need to reach a comfortable level in Russian.
if you’re new to Russian…
I’d recommend using Duolingo to get familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet and start writing out basic sentences.
At the same time, it would be a good idea to take advantage of RussianPod’s free trial to get familiar with how the language sounds, pick up some useful phrases and cultural insights, and practice speaking as soon as possible.
Once you’ve worked your way through the Duolingo course, I’d recommend coming back to it daily to keep the streak alive (habit is SO important when learning a language) and start to move through the intermediate to advanced packs on RussianPod.
Also, make sure you’re getting enough passive exposure to Russian as well — so things like TV shows, music, books and real-life conversations — so everything you learn on Duolingo and RussianPod can begin to bed in.