There are a lot of good reasons to spend time teaching your children how to speak Russian. It is a language that is spoken by roughly 300 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken Slavic language in the world. Russia is also one of the ten strongest economies in the world. It is continuing to grow at a rapid rate, so if your children can learn the language, they will have increased job and business opportunities when they enter the job market. If you happen to have a child who is dreaming of becoming an astronaut, you might be interested to learn that to graduate from NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Program you need to be fluent in Russian as well as English.
Russia also has an incredible history, rich in culture and traditions, so it is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about a new country or discover their family history and culture.
Russian is considered a moderately hard language to learn, so luckily, it’s not the most challenging language around, although it isn’t one of the simplest either. It won’t be easy, but with a lot of perseverance and practice, your children will be opening themselves up to a world of opportunity.
Where to Start
An excellent place to start is with the alphabet, the Russian alphabet is known as the Cyrillic alphabet or Cyrillic script. It is easier to learn than the English alphabet because the letters only have one letter to one sound, while the English alphabet can have more than one sound.
Digital Dialects has an excellent section on their site that goes over the alphabet with sound files to help children with their pronunciation. It is a free site with language learning games in Russian (as well as 60 other languages). The Cyrillic script might be a little intimidating for a small child, so you will need to be patient with your child as they begin to learn.
Once your child is familiar with the alphabet, you can begin to introduce essential words like colors, animals, family, things you find around the house. A couple of books that are very helpful with introducing basic terms are Usborne’s First Thousand Words In Russian: With Internet-Linked Pronunciation Guide and a series from Milet Publishing called My First Bilingual Book that has terrific picture books with images for common Russian words that will help get kids started.
As with all language learning, repetition is essential. Depending on their age and ability, your child will probably not remember words that you teach them on the first try. Hence, it is crucial to use repetition until they can recognize an item or words. This will take time and patience. Different types of word games (either online or a game that you play with your child at home) can be useful at this stage. Here are a few free online games that you can try out to help reinforce repletion of simple words:
- Raskraska24 is a fun site with activities for kids.
- Enchanted Learning is an educational website that has games to help learn.
- Russian Flashcards offer a free account or a premium subscription where you can learn from home with their Flashcard System.
Phrases and Conversation
As your child begins to build up their vocabulary, you can start to teach them phrases. It is also a good idea to introduce reading the language at this point. Start with simple phrases, and once mastered, you can move onto more complex phrasing.
If you know anyone who speaks Russian, try to have your child interact with them, this will help absorb the language much more quickly.
Your kids must be hearing the language regularly. One of the best ways for a child to learn a new language is for him to listen to people speaking it fluently. Through conversation, children can begin to get used to the sounds and accents of a language. If you don’t speak the language yourself or have someone in your community or family who they can converse with, you can always expose them to the language through music and DVD or online videos.
Here are a few very popular DVDs that can help parents expose their children to the language.
- The always reliable Little Pim DVD’s are an excellent place to start for children ages 0-5 or check out their digital downloads.
- For slightly older kids, you can try Russian for Kids. This is a 5 DVD set that also includes flashcards and a poster.
- Another DVD you can have a look at is Bilingual Baby, although we hesitate to recommend this DVD because the reviews for it are a bit mixed.
Games and Fun
The best results when teaching a child often come when you can make the subject matter fun, and your kids are motivated and excited to learn. Obviously, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but if you can manage to make it an enjoyable experience for your child, they will want to learn and will stick with it. If you need a bit of help trying to make the learning process fun for your child, you can always try out a few different apps. Here are a few popular apps for kids:
- Learn Russian. Basics is an app that teaches kids the basics and fundamentals of the language. This app contains interactive lessons for the alphabet, numbers, seasons, weekdays, months, animals, and colors.
- Russian Baby FlashCards is a flashcard app with categories for food, animals, transportation, numbers, colors & shapes, clothing, household items, body parts, outdoor items, music instruments/arts & learning.
- My First Bilingual App, this iPad app features 26 mini-games all with a feature word. You can try the first ten words for free and then use the in-app purchase to unlock the complete version. This app can best be described as a fully interactive, bilingual board book.
- Smart Speller Russian HD Full Version helps kids learn to spell by hearing the sound each letter makes, and the proper pronunciation of the words.
- 123 Count With Me in Russian! was developed for kids (ages 2+) and aimed at teaching them to count by having the child move graphics of toys and shape puzzles.
Remember that teaching a new language to a child is a process and will take a long time, so don’t expect immediate results. The more you can expose your child to the language, the easier it will be for them to learn.