Over the years I have studied Russian at both language schools and universities. I’ve also hired private teachers all over the former Soviet Union and beyond. Immersion is vital in order to reach real fluency. Sure you can stay home and study from a book or with a teacher. At some point though, to really nail it, you are going to have to bite the bullet and move somewhere where they actually speak Russian.
This can be quite an expensive undertaking. Courses in Russia or Kiev can run to hundreds of Dollars a week. Then there’s your budget for things like accommodation, food, visas and flights. Through trial and error my wallet have figured out where to go to find real value for money. This list are without doubt the most economical, and in my opinion, best places to learn Russian outside of Russia.
Country of cognac and women with moustaches. Armenia is another great place to learn Russian. Armenians, unlike Georgians to the north, have great respect for Russia and practically everyone speaks the language to a high level of fluency. Yerevan is a very pretty and orderly city full of friendly people who will be more than happy to practice with you.
The great thing about learning in Yerevan is when you meet an Armenian in Russia and you tell him you’ve been to his country, he will insist on buying you dinner and make endless toasts to the beauty of Armenian women (after a bottle of cognac their beauty will grow on you).
I spent a few weeks there studying at a language school. On the weekends I hired a car and explored the spectacular nature the country has to offer. You can really get away from it all in Armenia and hit mountain monasteries as well as towns where you are guaranteed to be the only foreigner. The locals are hospitable and will invite you to join them on family picnics and share in a bottle of the excellent Ararat Cognac which was Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple.
There are numerous language schools located all over Yerevan offering private one on one Russian lessons. One hour’s worth of tuition should cost no more than $8. Walk in and begin studying immediately.
India, and Goa in particular, is a great place to perfect your Russian. Villages in Goa like Arambol are full of young Muscovites hanging out on palm fringed beaches. Those travellers offer Russian lessons for much cheaper prices than you will ever find in their motherland. Rent a room in a guest-house for a few dollars and settle down for a few months in the sun whilst other learners are fighting the snow and wind of the Russian winter.I first travelled to Goa in 1994 and met one solitary Russian, a girl from Moscow who was the first of what would become a winter migration from the north. I hired her to teach me her language and we spent a few months sitting under a palm tree studying each day. It was my introduction to the language and women. Lessons can be had for $7 or $8 making Goa another fantastic bargain.
Land of mountain nomads and horse intestine soup, Kyrgyzstan and its dusty capitol Bishkek will not be be everyone’s cup of tea but it is a great and incredibly cheap place to learn Russian. You won’t learn to speak Russian like a Lomonosov University graduate, but rather like one of Moscow’s illegal Central Asian taxi drivers full of expletives and haphazard grammar.
I spent two months studying in Bishkek and made a lot of progress in that time. The city has a small tight knit expat crowd made up of English teachers and workers in the mining industry. Most of whom spend their weekends getting drunk together at the Metro Pub which is the expat hang out. It is however not for the inexperienced traveller. Bishkek can be dangerous after dark and pretty much every foreigner you meet has a tale of being involved in a bar room brawl or an attempted mugging. With common sense however this should not be a problem.
The best place to study is The London School which offers private one to one lessons for $6 an hour. Accommodation can be rented at the school for about $350 a month. With everything else in Bishkek being cheap this city is a great place to improve your Russian.
Abkhazia is a small breakaway republic situated on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. It was once the Soviet Riviera where rich apparatchiks came to spend their summer holidays on palm lined beaches. Now it is a country with a crumbling economy and high unemployment, which is great for the Russian learner looking for cheap lessons in a paradise setting.
I spent a few weeks in Abkhazia studying during the day and partying at night with the Ruskie holiday makers looking to get down in a cheap sunny location. I recommend going before it gets discovered by the western backpacking crowd.
Everywhere you go in Abkhazia you will find babushkas offering rooms to rent in their homes for $6 or $7 a night. These same babushkas will be delighted to help you practice Russian for a few dollars. Visas are easy to get (despite the rumours to the contrary) and you have no problem crossing the border from either Russia or Georgia.
Belarus is one of the least visited countries in Europe. It’s a dichotomy; on the one hand it is an authoritarian state with a heavy police presence looking to crack down hard on even the smallest of misdemeanors. Yet it has some of the best clubs in Europe with a night-life atmosphere of barely contained debauchery. It is also a fantastic bargain when it comes to studying Russian.
Add to that the fact that the people speak an incredibly clean form of the language free of accents or foreign words and it makes Belarus a fantastic place for immersion.
I spent three months studying Russian in Minsk and it improved my level like nowhere else I have been. I dated a young woman from the town of Brest and on the weekends would ride the train down to her city to put into practice everything I had learnt in the week’s classes.
The best place to study is without a doubt at Minsk State Linguistic University (MGLU). They run group classes 52 weeks a year and you are welcome to join at any time no matter your level of Russian. Group courses of 20 hours a week cost $350 a month and their newly built hostel costs a ridiculously low $50 a month.
So there you have it, the cheapest places to learn Russian. Now there really is no excuse not to take your language skills to the next level. Udachi!
Christopher Tracy is a veteran traveller of the former Soviet Union who first visited Moscow and Kiev back in 1993. Questions can be addressed in the comment section.