Native name: русский (russkiy)
ISO Code: rus
Family: Indo-European
Est. L1 speakers: 150,000,000
Est. L2 speakers: 110,000,000
Est. total speakers: 260,000,000
(Co-)official in:
  1. United Nations


Interest in the Russian language seems to closely track the overall influence of the Russian state (or, during much of the 20th century, its supranational ersatz substitute). Having reached the high point during the Cold War era, it then declined quite precipitously – at least as measured by the number of US college students enrolled in Russian classes. Nowadays, the state is once again reasserting its influence and the interest seems be picking up again.

But you are not one to study a language purely for geopolitical reasons, are you? Well, even if you are, you’ll do well to pick Russian as it offers a nice, balanced mix of the familiar and the exotic. The language belongs to the Indo-European family, and while it’s not that similar to, say, English, German, or Spanish, it does have a common ancestor with them… as well as with most other languages spoken in Europe today. In other words, it’s not that different, either. Sure, the alphabet is different, but even there, this “difficulty” affects only the first weeks/months of study. There are more serious obstacles lurking along a learner’s path, though, and probably the biggest one is Russian's case system, which obliges the speaker to modify nouns depending on the role they play in a sentence. In English, a chair is a chair (is a chair), regardless whether you observe it, sit on it, or hit somebody with it. Not so in Russian. However, nothing is impossible, comrade!

Adding Russian to your repertoire of languages will give you access to the treasures of Russian literature and open up the country of over 144 million, whose rebounding economy appears to be poised to break into the Top 5 globally (at least as measured by PPP) any day now. The language itself is used well beyond the borders of the motherland with millions of speakers residing in the countries of the region (Ukraine, the Baltic states, etc), as well as in most urban centers of the English-speaking countries. You will never run out of conversation partners… or depressing literary masterpieces.

News, Essays & Blog Posts (2 / 2)

Sounding Smart in Russian — Sometimes
Published: 03/Nov/2017
Languages: Russian

I am a big fan of what Russians call вводные слова (parenthetical words), often used at the beginning of a sentence. These are words and phrases like кстати (by the way); так (so); ну (well); and между прочим (incidentally). I like them because they buy time for us foreigners — time to remember that noun and what gender it is, or come up with the right declension of an irregular verb, or basically just look thoughtful and smart. Like everything else in Russian, there are some pitfalls — but also some nice nuances to master, too. »

Russian Street Talk
By: Propekt Mag   Published: 18/Jan/2016
Languages: Russian Cities: St. Petersburg Moscow

Growing up in a small town in Idaho, Russia seemed more like a blip in a history lesson than a far away country. I knew little to nothing about Russian culture, the language, the mentality, and I had no Russian friends until last summer. Nonetheless, when I saw the opportunity to study in St. Petersburg, I was intrigued. But man! The language! »

Where Russian Is Spoken

Russian-language Writers

  • (20th century:) Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Mikhail Bulgakov
  • (19th century:) Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol

Well-Known L2 (Non-Native) Speakers

  • Politics: Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany), Condoleezza Rice (fmr. US Secretary of State)
  • Academia: Prof. Stephen F. Cohen (author, professor emeritus), Marshall Poe (historian, author)