New to Russian?
7 Pitfalls That Will Take You Out If You’re Not Aware of Them

Congratulations! You’ve decided you‘re going to learn Russian – you’ve found the course you like, or perhaps you’ve got a private tutor ready and waiting! Either way, you’re full of enthusiasm and “yeah-boy-let’s-do-it!” kind of feeling! You’re preparing to embark on a very important journey – learning a foreign language. If you‘re serious about it and you’re prepared to succeed, then take your time to read through this article very carefully! It contains 7 pitfalls that will ABSOLUTELY take you out if you’re not aware of them!

Pitfall 1 – Being Paralysed By Fear

Everyone has a fear! Language learners have fear! It could be the fear of sounding stupid, fear of making a mistake, the fear of not being able to understand something or not knowing what to say. It could be the fear of not ever being able to master cases or perfective/imperfect verbs. Novice learners erroneously think that to become good at SPEAKING a foreign language, one needs to be confident in the first place and be good at communication and socialising. They say, “I’m not the kind of person who likes talking even in English, never mind Russian.’ Or, these people may think that to understand Russian grammar one needs to be naturally talented if not genius. That to learn vocabulary one needs to have good memory and so on. This is completely NOT the case! Ask anyone who’s learnt Russian to a high standard whether or not they were afraid at least once on their learning journey. Their answer will most positively be “YES”. Successful language learners have fear BUT they still take action. They may have fear of making million mistakes but they still go out there and practise.

Please, notice I’m not saying the fear itself is a pitfall! Like I said before it’s NORMAL! Everybody has it. It’s the lack of action despite the fear that’s the pitfall.

You’re NOT going to be perfect straight away – you WILL get things wrong, understand people wrong, say wrong words, get endings and stresses wrong. You will do everything wrong ALL THE TIME at first! But keep this in mind – before you get good at something, you need to suck first. Remember how YOU learnt to ride a bike? Did you get on the bike the first time and went? NO! You probably fell off. Were you afraid of falling again? Probably YES. Did your parents encouraged you to try again? Probably YES. Did you get back on your bike and pushed on? YES. Same principle applies here. Allow yourself to be afraid/uncomfortable! Be that parent to yourself who encourages you not to let fear bother you! Just keep pushing on!

Pitfall 2 – Learning Without Action

This is one of the biggest pitfalls of all that awaits new students! What I hear so much is “I’ll learn grammar first and then I’ll go out and start practising with the natives” or “when my Russian is better, I’ll go to meetups and start speaking.” or “my Russian is not good enough for me to start texting people’ NO, NO, NO!! It doesn’t WORK this way! This is a road into nowhere! You‘ll end up forever studying grammar books, learning vocabulary lists and then you‘ll just give up because your Russian will be getting nowhere. You will then blame the bad teachers, say that Russian is too difficult or ‘I’m just not good at languages’.

Think of golf! No matter how many books about golf you study, you wan’t learn until you start hitting the ball! So don’t wait until you’re ‘ready’, start implementing straight away.

Pitfall 3 – Little Devil In The Head

I’m talking about that red little Devil in the head that whispers to you – you’re bad at languages, Russian is notoriously difficult to learn, go and learn knitting instead, you’re too old for this, you‘re too busy, too much work, too many kids… my memory is bad, I’ll never learn it anyway. All these are excuses not to do the work. The truth is if you’re looking for a reason not to work, you will find it.

This Devil in your head will keep whispering until you give up. All you need to do is be prepared and be aware. Learn to ignore him!

Pitfall 4 – Being Too Comfortable With What You Know

If you are thrown deep end into the language – ie you travel to Russia without any agenda and you have no choice but learn Russian to survive, then it is almost the ideal case scenario – you’re backed against the wall, you have the drive and the motivation, you must learn and you DO! However, the language learning might end there. Just LIVING in the country and using Russian in a limited number of situation is not enough. If you have a desire to become fluent in Russian you’re going to have to do more work, you will have to step up your game a little. You need to come outside your comfort zone. Otherwise you’ll fall into the pitfall and your learning will end there.

Pitfall 5 – Treating It Like a Hobby

What constitutes a hobby? – I do it when I want; I don’t have to be good at it; there’s no real structure or commitment, I‘m just kinda doing it for fun, I enjoy doing it when I have time. I don’t get too serious.

This attitude will most definitely prevent you from learning the language properly. So if you decide that learning Russian is only a hobby for you, then DON’T expect great results. You will learn some things but you won’t achieve real results.

Let’s just look at this – some people go to the gym once in a blue moon. Yeah, they may like it, they may meet their friends there and have a chat while doing some gentle exercise. All is good but what would you expect in terms of physical fitness? In real terms – not much, right? However, if you see a person in great shape with well-formed muscles etc. you just KNOW they must workout few days a week. In other words, miracles don’t happen.

You need to decide right from the beginning if what you’re about to embark on is a hobby or a serious commitment. If it’s a serious commitment then you have to have a schedule (e.g. lessons planned, times set aside, trips to social meet ups booked) and a routine set up in place. You must decide what you do on what days and stick to it. You need to say to yourself that you’re going to dedicate yourself to Mastery even if it requires some hard work and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Pitfall 6 – Being too Concerned With The Opinions Of Others

Not all people fall into this. If you’re lucky your friends and family will support and help you. In some cases, people meet negative reactions like ‘Why would you want to learn Russian?” or “Who speaks Russian anyway?” or “Why would you want to travel to Russia if Majorca is just around the corner?”

Pitfall 7 – Being too Obsessed with the Results

You CAN’T control the results, but you CAN control your activity. This means that you won’t see the results straight away when you learn a foreign language. It requires a lot of fails, awkward situations, repetition and trials and errors. Just keep doing what needs to be done regardless – put your head down and push on!

Some of my students ask me “When will I be able to read Dostoevsky in the original?” or “When will I be able to negotiate in Russian without an interpreter?” or ‘How long does it take to learn Russian?’ All these questions don’t make sense because your answer will depend on whether or not you fall into the pitfall above. Some people give up soon after realising that buying a course or paying a teacher or living in the country is NOT enough. You actually need to do some work and do activities as well. So quit being obsessed with the results, instead take one step at a time in the right direction.

Finally, I’d like to add that you need to believe that you CAN succeed and you can learn the language, all you need to do is be persistent, consistent and shed your inhibition. Remind yourself that learning a foreign language broadens the horizons and lets you into new exciting worlds! It’s definitely worth the trouble!!!

Have you fallen into any of the pitfalls yet?