Learning to write and read in Russian (1)

The act of writing stuff down helps you retain what you learn. And by writing, I mean handwriting as opposed to taking notes on a laptop. A Princeton university study, “The Pen is Mightier than the keyboard” found that students who handwrote their notes had consistently better short and long term retention. Great – so I must make notes in longhand*. One problem: I don’t know how to write in Russian…

The Duolingo app, as I’ve said before, allows you to make use of a Russian keyboard on your phone and thus makes it easy to type Russian and practise spelling. On my laptop, I haven’t yet found a satisfactory way to type both Russian and English, switching seamlessly between the two. At the moment I use typeit.org (which I also use for French and German) and copy/paste the words into whatever I’m  trying to write. My son uses stickers on his laptop, purchased from La Caverne , but I confess I got totally confused when I tried them on mine. (Perhaps it was too soon in my learning.)

Handwriting is another issue altogether. First – do I write the letters as they are on a laptop/phone, ie do I learn the print form? Easier as I am replicating what I see in books and online, but not actual proper Russian handwriting? Or do I learn the handwritten letters – which in some cases are confusingly different and add an extra level of memory to what is already hard?

RussianPod101.com has some good videos on learning the letters which include how to print and handwrite the cursive versions. I like these: they are very clearly set out. Here’s an example:

I also bought a book, Reading Russian Step by Step from the  Russian Step By Step site. This is very simply set out, and I’m obediently going through the exercises like a child learning to read and write all over again. But I’m not so confident with the book as I haven’t paid enough attention to how to form the letters (I need to rewatch those Youtube videos) so sometimes what I write is basically a squiggle and a guess. Not sure a Russian would understand it! (Don’t laugh; we all have to start somewhere)


The feeling of being a child again and having to piece together the letters to make words was one I experienced a lot during a recent trip to St Petersburg: I had to attempt to read every sign we went past, but it was a deciphering exercise which took a minute or so – if we were on the long metro escalators, then I couldn’t always guarantee to have cracked the code by the time we’d reached the final step 🙂

I’ll give some more thoughts about reading in Part 2 of this post.

*What’s ‘longhand’? asked my 25 year old son…

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