How and why write in russian?

Hello everyone! I’m glad that with the help of Denis from Learning To Know Russian I can keep you busy while preparing a new episode. Here is another article of Denis where he is sharing with us his valuable experience and considerations about a very important aspect of learning any foreign language (not only Russian) – writing. I hope this will help you with your studies. Enjoy! 🙂

For some, writing in Russian feels like a waste of time. But what if writing is final missing piece that will help you learn real, authentic Russian.

There are only 3 simple steps you need to take to make writing in Russian a very valuable tool!

Surprisingly, writing can improve your conversational Russian.


Hi, I’m Denis. Welcome to Learning To Know Russian.

A lot of new, progressive methods for learning languages don’t teach students how to write. It’s “trendy” now to get rid of writing exercises.
The explanation you usually hear is that writing doesn’t do anything to help you learn how to speak.

The real reason, of course, that writing is unpopular. It’s hard to force an adult student to write something these days. After bad experiences in language schools, most students think that writing is the most boring, annoying exercise ever. It takes so much effort. Worst of all, after you’ve worked hard and done your best, the teacher usually takes a red pen and points out all of the mistakes you made, making you feel even worse.

I’ve talked with some adult students at language schools. Their main criteria for whether a teacher was good or bad and whether the classes were interesting or boring was the number of writing exercises.

“She would have us sit down and pass out papers with exercises…“
“All we did today was write…. It’s so exhausting…”.
“They don’t teach us how to talk there. All we do is write in our notebooks.”

Does writing really help us learn a language?
Yes, it does. Everything is connected in a language. Just like learning to read properly, we need to learn how to write.

From the author:

When it comes to communication, we are usually talking about the phone and, of course, the Internet.
We described how to make sure you have a phone and access to the Internet in Vital Communications.

But communications and language are not just about “speaking.” We also use writing in lots of important situations: writing complaints, reporting something to the police and so on. If you can’t easily develop and express your thoughts in writing, you will never be completely literate!

Let’s say you already have good pronunciation and you know a lot of words and phrases. But something’s still not quite right when you talk. You just don’t sound like a native speaker. That’s where writing can help you!

Improving your writing skills comes after listening and reading.

First, we learn pronunciation and how to listen, and then we build our vocabulary by reading. After that, we learn to write.

Remember this order:

  1. Listening
  2. Reading
  3. Writing

Wait a second. What about speaking? Isn’t that the most important part? Don’t worry, speaking doesn’t come at the end, in the middle or at the start. It’s always with us. We develop our speaking skills every step of the way.

Back to writing. Writing helps us to organize what we know and all of the skills we’ve developed.

When you write, it’s like analysing and carefully thinking about all of the language constructions you already know. You don’t need to be quick when you’re writing. You don’t need to worry about pronunciation.
Why is that so many people hate writing and don’t learn anything from it, if it’s supposed to be so helpful?

Russian Pod 101

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad, useless writing exercises.
Exercises that ask you to “insert the missing word” or “write an answer to each question.” I think we all know what that looks like… A perfectly quiet classroom, while everyone sits at his or her desk and works.
That type of lesson is more like a math test than anything else.
Does this help you develop a skill? Yes, of course, you learn the skill to insert missing words. Does it give you any real language skills? No!

On the other hand, that type of lesson is every teacher’s dream lesson. They get to sit at their desk, relax and answer questions, proving just how smart they are to their student!

Writing essays is another common writing exercise.
Here’s what it usually looks like:
“A boring and challenging first step”
You’re told to write a certain number of words on a certain topic, for instance, “a complaint about customer service at a restaurant.”
You try your best, even if you think the topic is boring and don’t have anything to say.

“An embarrassing second step”
The teacher grades your essay and gives it back to you with all of your corrected mistakes. After looking at all of those mistakes, you only feel worse about how bad you are at Russian grammar. “Maybe there’s no hope. I’m never going to learn this language.”

There is no third step. What you wrote stays in your notebook or on your computer and you quickly forget about it.

What do you get from the exercise? After working hard, you’re convinced that your Russian is still far from perfect. That’s it.

Don’t be depressed! There’s a better way to write!

There are only a few things that we need to do differently.
First, we aren’t going to give you a specific topic to write about. I don’t want to write, for example “complaint about bad restaurant service”. I haven’t had a bad experience at a restaurant in a long time! When it happens, I’ll write about it.
And you shouldn’t be given a certain amount of words to write. In the real world, nobody’s going to tell an adult how many words to write or say about something.

Why do we need this chunk of text?
We’re going to use it to remember the phrases and language constructions a Russian native speaker would use. We want to learn how to express our thoughts in authentic Russian.

How do we do this?
First, take this chunk of text and read it.
Then try to read it out loud. This will help you remember it better.
Next, put it somewhere visible in your room so that you read it again several times.
Check it out, those are your words in normal, clean Russian! It’s not some boring essay with lots of mistakes, but a great example of written Russian for you to be proud of.

I’m going to post my little essay somewhere, too. I plan to look at it several times over the next few weeks.
Here’s a schedule I might use: I’d check it out 2-3 hours after writing it for the first time, then once the next day, then in 2-3 days, a week later, several weeks later.

Guess what? The actual process of writing isn’t even the most important part of the exercise! The most important thing is that you absorb your thoughts in natural, authentic Russian. If you don’t take that step, then the exercise will be almost a complete waste of time.

So what have we learned today?

Avoid artificial writing assignments, like “insert the missing words”. Writing is a natural skill.

If you think that it’s too early for you to write in Russian, that’s totally fine. Writing naturally comes after listening and reading. It never comes first.

Remember that you need a rewrite of your thoughts in natural Russian. It doesn’t really help to just correct your grammatical mistakes.
Rewrite of your text in natural Russian is better than any textbook for learning Russian. You need to read it over and over again. Read it to yourself, read it out loud. It will help you become a better writer and a better speaker.

Here’s your assignment:

If your level of Russian allows it, try to write something today about a topic that you find interesting. It doesn’t matter how basic you writing is. And don’t worry about grammar mistakes.
Get someone to rewrite what you wrote in natural Russian. It’s not hard at all. You don’t need a teacher. You just need a literate native Russian speaker.
Try to get the rewritten version to stick in your head. Review it many, many times.

I hope that this assignment will convince you that writing in Russian is enjoyable and useful exercise at the same time!

Until next time! Thanks for joining us!

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