I've been studying Russian language on my own for more than 1.5 years. And I'm still bad at it because of lack of speaking practice. I didn't study everyday as I also paused for several months so I'm not sure if i studied it for 1.5 years.

Anyway, now I work at a company that has many Russian speakers. And I find it as a treasure for me because it can help me learn the language and actually use it.

The only issue I'm having is actually speaking it; I'm always afraid of trying it because when I try to speak it I just fail and I don't know how to replace the vocabulary that I don't know.

Any advice for learning a language faster and better?

  • I think this question would be better worded thus: "How can I overcome fear of failure..." or "How can I overcome fear and a sense of failure." Which is closest to your meaning?
    – Kevin Mark
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 14:51
  • @Alex Russian is an unusually gnarly language. Don't be troubled by your difficulty with it. My best advice for learning Russian is "don't quit" (and when you do, always come back)
    – SAH
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 16:43
  • Also, <1.5 years is nothing, especially for Russian. Even a baby can't speak Russian before 1.5 years, and they're really really good at languages.
    – SAH
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 16:58

6 Answers 6


I was a bit socially awkward when growing up. (Maybe I still am, but that's a topic for another day.) Anyway, when I was in junior high school, and I finally found a small group of mixed gender students in my grade that gravitated to each other, I often found myself feeling tongue-tied, unable to find anything to talk about on the spur of the moment. Then I figured out that a bit of advance planning allowed me to participate in a seemingly off-hand comfortable way. Throughout the day, at school and at home, a small part of my mind would be monitoring my thoughts and if a stray thought came up that would work as "conversation material," I would make a mental note. (If necessary, one could make an actual written note, too.) Then on my way to school in the morning I would review my mental notes. Usually I was able to prepare one or two comments per day to my friends in this way, and that was enough to break the ice.

During this early period with your Russian, and your new co-workers, you'll need to explicitly plan ahead in a similar way.

There is no reason not to repeat the topic with a different co-worker at a different time.

You might want to write down three to five key vocabulary words for the planned topic, on an index card to keep in your pocket. (You might or might not need to pull it out to remind yourself during the informal chat.)

That was my first suggestion. My second suggestion is to start by playing a card game or a board game with some of your new friends. This will have a limited set of words and phrases that can get used over and over again, and it will give you something to manipulate with your hands. Here, again, an index card cheat sheet will be very helpful for you.

Third suggestion: learn some get-to-know-you interview-type questions, such as, "Do you have children? How old are they? Do you have a photograph handy?" or "Did you grow up in name-of-city-or-region? [If no:] What brought you to name-of-city-or-region?" Draw the other person out as much as possible. Repeat in your own simple words what the person has said, from time to time. In this suggestion, the theme is empathetic listening. To overcome self-consciousness, focus on the person and getting to know what makes him or her tic. That will help distract you from feelings of incompetency or self-consciousness.


I considered myself "good" at language learning before I came to Japan as an adult, aged 34, in 1985. I felt extremely awkward trying to speak, and lacked the sense of adventure and discovery of a new "identity" that I felt when I learned French, in particular, and Spanish to some extent.

You have to be able to embrace the language you are learning as your own language, even if you are not as skilled or competent in it as others.

One aspect of embracing a new language as my own came home to me when I realized that I have, as a (limited) speaker of Japanese, the power to make the person I am speaking with feel more comfortable. Instead of getting tied up in my own embarrassment at making mistakes, sense of inadequacy at not having studied enough or what have you, I began to find it very liberating to tune in to how my interlocutors feel, and to help them to overcome their own obstacles (known only to them) to enjoying this moment of communication. Often this can be done with a simple smile or some other non-verbal way that communicates that I am enjoying being with them and able to accept them as they are. Tuning in to the person I am talking to and giving them my full attention, as non-judgmentally as possible, takes my mind off my own internal interferences.

This goes well beyond the realm of language learning. We are human beings first, language learners second. If you are letting yourself fall into the trap of feeling guilty and inadequate as a language learner, you probably need to remind yourself to seek to discover and learn, in other areas of your life, the meaning of what it is to enjoy each moment.


Memorize some interesting and idiomatic correct sentences (or short, pithy remarks) that can work for a variety of purposes. Use them as often as you can, with great emotion and engagement. The Russians will be tickled.

Also, you gotta work on your Russian at home, so that you keep encountering new vocabulary and stock phrases. When you run into something apparently worthwhile, try to use it the next day with your Russian colleagues.

Compulsively write down stuff you overhear them saying, preferably full sentences, and practice them (out loud) at home to train your ear.


--Speak to people who think you are a good Russian speaker, not a bad Russian speaker. You will speak better for them. You will also learn more, since motivation and confidence go a long way.

--Read texts out loud all the time (I mean, at home). It helps you practice your reading, and it helps you hear.

--Listen to Russian pop music, or whatever you like to listen to. It won't help you that much, but it will help a little, and it's very easy.

--Watch American TV and movies in Russian. You can steal it all for free on the Internet.

--Listen to Russian books on tape, preferably for long stretches at a time. You'll start thinking in Russian, and probably talking to yourself in Russian, which is great.

--Shake things up by trying to speak Russian with a particular style or affectation, such as: like a gangster, like a drunk person, like a Ukrainian, like Pushkin. Some have noted that being actually drunk makes you much more voluble in your target language, though I'm not sure about that for work.


I guess you are already talking to these Russian-speakers in English or another language. Find some friendly people and explain what you are trying to do. Nice people will be pleased to help you learn their language. It can be an ice-breaker to bring a book you are learning from and ask for help with pronunciation.

If you get stuck on vocabulary then ask. Don't be shy about trying and making mistakes, everybody does. The best way to make progress is to go ahead and talk and not worry about your mistakes, but listen carefully to what they say back to you, you might be getting a better version of what you tried to say.

Also, you can think in advance what you might talk about: weather, football, your boss, and look up some of the vocabulary you might need.


Since your question is asking specifically about overcoming fear when speaking to native speakers, I'll cover that topic in my answer. Nearly all language learners have run into the problem that you describe in your answer. However, only through actual conversation, no matter how bad or awkward it is, can your communications skills in your target language actually improve.

The best thing to do in this case is to simply find a coworker that you are particularly close to, and begin speaking to them, excusing your poor (as of now) Russian skills. They should be understanding, and even encouraging, given that you are trying to communicate with them in their native language.

If you'd like to reduce the stress that accompanies speaking the language in public, one of the best things to do is to familiarize yourself with greetings and other common phrases. This will reduce tension during the conversation. When you do make mistakes during speech, laugh about it and you will come off as friendly.

Hopefully, your fear of failure will motivate you to learn Russian even more. Good luck!

  • But what do you do when you just don't now the words and have no idea what to say. Like ye i have a close coworker who sits beside me and we speak, but when i try to talk i just doing know the words so i use English language. I don't want that, i want to be able to communicate with him in Russian..
    – David
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 20:30
  • @Alex Sorry to say it, but there's no one method that will automatically grant you fluency in Russian. The only skill you can use here is simply conversation practice. Like I mentioned in my answer, start with a simple greeting in Russian. Then, perhaps say the following sentence (in Russian): "I really like the Russian language, and I have been spending a lot of time recently learning it. Would you mind if I spoke in Russian to you to help improve my skills? Excuse my Russian, it's not the best, but I'm learning." That'll lighten up the conversation and your coworker should be happy to help.
    – fi12
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 20:34
  • @Alex Also, if you don't know a Russian word, simply substitute it with an English word in its place. Then, when you get home, learn the vocabulary that you did not know, and add it to your Russian lexicon. One last thing, make sure to actively listen as well. Listening to a native speaker can help your pronunciation of the language, and you may pick up some common idiomatic expressions in the language as well.
    – fi12
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 20:36
  • Also, minimize the effect of not knowing a word. For example, I teach my French students to say: "Je ne sais pas" (I don't know), "Je ne comprends pas" (I don't understand), "Que veut dire -- ?" (What does -- mean?), "Comment dit-on -- ?" (How do you say --?), "Répétez s'il vous plaît" (Please repeat), "Plus lentement s'il vous plaît" (Slower please), and so on. That way, even when they get stuck, they can get out of being stuck using French and not falling back on English to help them. Try learning those phrases in Russian and listening for the answers! Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 17:49
  • 1
    @Alex: There is a book titled "Russian for Business Studies" by Svetlana Le Fleming available on the American (Amazon.com), the British (Amazon.co.uk) and German (Amazon.de) websites, all under "Books". The explanation of who the book is intended for begins: "This text is intended to help students of Russian and graduates considering employment to familiarize themselves with the Russian business environment, its concepts and practices. It assumes an A-level knowledge of Russian ..." Might that book help you for speaking with your workplace colleagues? Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 23:12

Я не русский. Я — Американец.

If you have access to a computer with a Cyrillic font you will be able to access and use the Russian browser Yandex (Yandex.ru), which has a pronouncing translator (переводчик) function tab on the home page. Using the translator function, which is directly accessible at "translate.Yandex.ru" you can do the "repeat after me" trick to learn good Russian pronunciation of words, phrases, and sentences that you can input as the source language, with whatever target language you select from Yandex's language select box.

I think you will find by listening to the Yandex pronunciation of the Russian words and phrases that you want to know how to pronounce correctly, and if you repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat again and again aloud the Russian Yandex woman's pronunciation(s) until you are able match the pronunciations' tones and inflections, I think you will find yourself becoming more and more confident that when you speak, even if your vocabulary and sentence structure is embarrassingly incorrect, that you will gain confidence in knowing that you really are communicating and understood because of your good, well-spoken Russian.

  • 2
    Yandex uses computer-generated voice. It sounds very unnatural. Moreover, the length of sounds (especially vowels) is incorrect. I would advise against using it as a pronunciation aid. News, radio, podcasts, or audiobooks would be a much better source of authentic Russian pronunciation samples.
    – Olga
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 13:45
  • @Olga: I disagree. Yandex provides the most realistic pronunciation of source and target pronunciations that I've ever encountered when compared with any other browser-based translator that is based on Microsoft's Translator A.P.I. ("app"). Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 5:18
  • @Смиф, Yandex can be better than other web translators (although English to Russian translations sound awkward and contain numerous mistakes). However, it still does not sound natural to a native speaker. The most evident problem is the lack of long vowels in stressed positions (which is a norm for the Standard Russian). Moreover, they forget about declension of numbers. So, you actually risk memorising something that is not grammatically correct on top of sounding robotic.
    – Olga
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 10:50
  • Olga: You have made some excellent points. Note that Google asks users for their input on how to improve their use of Microsoft's translator "app", and I would guess that Yandex possibly does the same as Google, since they both use the same app. I'm sure that Microsoft would very much appreciate and benefit from your critique of the errors you have found in their translations and pronunciations of the Russian language. I would also like to suggest that you Google "Microsoft Translator A.P.l." to learn more about their translator app, and how you might be able to help improve it. Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 22:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.