What comes to mind when you think of Russia? Cold weather, large hats and an endlessly complex language? The weather might be cold, and the hats are certainly necessary, but the Russian language is easier to master than you thought – and immensely useful in today’s world, too. From being able to order the best blini at a Russian restaurant to benefiting from the country’s increasing socioeconomic impact, there are many ways you will profit from learning this beautiful language.
1. Fewer Russians speak English than other countries
You won’t be able to fall back on your English skills much here. (It’s best to start with the bad news). But you’ll reap countless rewards. Unraveling the authentic culture of any foreign destination can be challenging, but it’s much easier to find your place among the locals if you learn their lingo.
In Russia this isn’t just a polite gesture, but a complete must. Only 5% of Russians speak English and Russia’s overall English language proficiency is still ranked as ‘Low’ in the international English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). Even if your goal is only to explore the top tourist hotspots, you’ll still need a basic grasp of the language to navigate this country’s vast and winding cityscapes since Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet on its road signs.
2. You will never be short on people to meet, and places to explore
Feeling weary from wanderlust? You’ve picked the right place. Russia is the largest country in the world, spanning nine time zones and covering one-eighth of the entire earth’s surface. It’s home to the world’s longest railway, the Trans-Siberian Express, which will allow you to explore colossal cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow, as well as breath-taking natural wonders like Zapovednik volcanic pillars, the Ural Mountains and Lake Baikal. And with over 144 million people residing within these vast plains, there’s bound to be a language partner for everyone.
If you ever manage to tick off all the sights on your Russian traveler’s map (which is no easy feat), you’ll be pleased to know that there are many more places you can use your Russian skills. Russian is the eighth most widely-spoken languages worldwide, meaning it’s the lingua franca in many former Soviet countries and beyond. All in all, it’s estimated that Russian is spoken by over 200 million people across 16 countries. Travel lovers have no excuse to get exploring or to skip language practice.
3. Russia is overflowing with opportunity
Russia is a key player on the world stage. As an official language at the United Nations, Russia is the Queen of the global economic chess game. Holding around on a quarter of the world’s known natural gas reserves, a huge trade economy and influential relationships with other key world players, Russia is certainly a powerful force, and one of the easiest ways to understand its inner workings is to learn the language.
In school, many of us get the chance to learn popular European languages like French, German or Spanish. But how many of us learn Russian? We’re not saying you’ll get snapped up by the United Nations just because you know how to say ‘Sputnik’, but the economic opportunities in Russia are abundant, and your career could skyrocket if you learn the language to a professional degree.
4. Deepen your understanding of Russia’s diverse culture and history
With a history spanning 1156 years, Russia is a treasure trove for historicists and culture lovers. There are 29 UNESCO world heritage sites in Russia alone, including the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal, as well as cultural sites dating back to the 6th century, such as the ancient fortresses of Derbent. Walking tours around Moscow’s Red Square alone will discuss everything from the disputed architectural-style of Saint Basil’s Cathedral to the symbolic nature of the Kremlin, the original residence of Russian tsars.
In St. Petersburg (the second-largest city in Russia after Moscow), you will discover ‘The Venice of the North’ and wind through a vast canal system and over 400 bridges from the time of Peter the Great in the 1700s. Knowing the language will add another important layer to your understanding of Russian culture and history.
5. Russian literature, music and theater
One of the most valuable gifts learning Russian will give you is access to its copious cultural offerings. Literature, theater performances and music are just the beginning. Discover literary geniuses in their original language; understand the true philosophical and psychological depths of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ and read Tolstoy’s original version of the ground-breaking novel ‘War and Peace’.
Watch performances of iconic Russian playwrights; Russian will help you to pick apart the subtext in Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ and to laugh at Gogol’s theatrical comedy ‘Marriage’. Then delve into the country’s diverse music world, from 18th-century classical music legends to the pop and rock music of modern-day Russia.
That’s a lot to get you started, where will you begin?