The Russian language is one of the most interesting languages out there! Despite being a tough challenge due to its unique alphabet and grammar, it gets much easier if you invest in the right resources to learn the language.
Ideally, books are among the most effective ways to learn the language because it’s written by professionals and walks you through every step in your journey.
You can also step up your level as you advance in the language through books written in Russian.
For that reason, today, I’ll provide you with a brief guide of the best books to learn Russian that you can find on the market. So without further ado, let’s dive right in!
How Does the Russian Language Level Classification System Work?
Like many other languages, Russian has its own level classification system. This one describes the level of proficiency of the language, which is also important if you want to study at a Russian university.
The language classification system is known as the “Test of Russian as a Foreign Language” or simply “TORFL”.
For rating the level of competence, the levels are classified by three groups, which are:
- A: Elementary Level
- B: Intermediate Level
- C: Advanced Level
Each one of these levels is classified into subgroups 1 and 2. The higher the number, the more advanced you’re within the level. This makes the classification system ranked from A1 to C2. Here’s a quick look at each one of these stages:
A1 (ТЭУ or TEU)
This Elementary level is the lowest level of Russian language competency. At this stage, you know enough Russian phrases for daily life and have an active vocabulary of about 780 words.
A2 (ТБУ or TBU)
The Basic level is the lowest level that is enough to be able to communicate in Russian in limited professional or everyday situations with an active vocabulary of about 1,300 words.
B1 (ТРКИ I or TORFL I)
Also known as the “first level”, which is an average level that enables you to communicate sufficiently on professional or educational levels with an active vocabulary of about 2,300 words.
B2 (ТРКИ II or TORFL II)
The second level, which is a relatively high level of understanding of Russian, is enough to let you communicate with a wide range of activities and situations, in addition to working in various fields, such as science and engineering.
This level is also necessary for obtaining a higher education degree with an active vocabulary of about 6,000 words and passive 10,000 words.
C1 (ТРКИ III or TORFL III)
At this level, you’re a true Russian speaker who’s capable of working in various language intensive fields, such as translation, journalism, diplomacy, etc. The active vocabulary of this stage is 7,000 words with a passive vocabulary of about 12,000 words.
C2 (ТРКИ IV or TORFL IV)
The highest level of fluency of written and spoken Russian where your level of competency is comparable to native speakers. The active vocabulary of this stage is around 8,000 words with a passive vocabulary of about 20,000 words.
Best Books to Learn Russian for Beginners
Now that you know more about the language level system in Russian, it’s time to find out more about the best books to help you learn Russian as a Beginner!
Luckily, there are plenty of excellent options to consider, so here’s a brief overview of each one of them:
1. Teach Yourself Beginner’s Russian Script
If you’re a beginner who wants to learn Russian on your own, this book is easily one of the most essential ones to start with!
Russian uses the Cyrillic script and the language’s alphabet contains 33 letters, which are composed of 20 consonants and 10 vowels, in addition to a semi-vowel and two modifiers.
While you can skip the alphabet in order to jump immediately to learning in some languages, mastering these letters is critical to read Russian words properly.
The book is written by Daphne M. West, a tutor who has been teaching Russian since the early 90s, so all the methods used in the book are tested and highly effective.
The book is also designed to work very well for both adults and kids, and it also has various drill sections to help you start writing the letters and improve your familiarity with handwritten Russian.
2. Master the Russian Alphabet
This one is another workbook that is suitable for both adults and children who are learning Russian for the first time. This makes it ideal for parents who would like to bond with their children while learning Russian.
The book is well made and printed with vibrant colors to improve memorization and uses various techniques to improve Russian calligraphy, such as using various fonts and technique stroke order for proper writing.
The book is also great for schools and courses that teach Russians, especially during the first few classes.
3. Sputnik: An Introductory Russian Language Course
This book is one of the best beginner friendly Russian language books out there. The book features a wide range of grammar and vocab lessons as well as exercises.
Moreover, the book also comes with various audio materials that you can use to enhance your Russian pronunciation skills.
I liked how the book also comes with various online learning materials as well as tons of illustrations that make it suitable for all ages.
The book is generally concise and is fairly easy to read, which is another reason why I recommend this book to children as well as adults.
4. Russian Reading: 20 Easy Stories For Beginners
After mastering the Russian alphabet and learning all the necessary phrases and words that you might need as a beginner, it’s time to kick things up a notch!
The best way to do that is by reading simple stories that are specifically designed for beginners, and in that case, this book should be an ideal one for your needs!
What I like about this book by Tatiana Mikhaylova is that it’s actually written by a Russian native speaker and it includes 20 stories about daily life in Russia.
This doesn’t only give you an idea about Russian culture, but it’s also presented in a way that makes you use context to deduce the meaning of new words for easy memorization!
The book uses present tense and introduces you to a wide range of new and essential vocabulary to improve your Russian!
5. Complete Russian Beginner to Intermediate Course
Another book by Daphne M. West, but this one is ideal for those who are ready to venture through the Elementary, Basic, and First levels (A1, A2, and B1) of Russian.
The book helps you learn various tricks, tips, and patterns that you can use to memorize the language grammar rules and uses a wide range of essential words in addition to a glossary to make it easy to understand.
I also like that it offers a variety of cultural notes about places as well as life in Russia within its 25 chapters in addition to various self-evaluation tests to track your progress and know where you need to improve.
6. Russian Short Stories For Beginners
Another book that also uses storytelling to help you improve your Russian is this one. The book is written by Olly Richards and Alex Rawlings and is specifically designed for students of Russian from A1 to B1.
Alex Rawlings is fluent in 11 languages and was once crowned as UK’s most multilingual student, and the book features multiple techniques that he personally used to achieve such a remarkable feat!
The book uses straightforward grammar and non-complex vocabulary in a fun and engaging way with manageable chapters to give you a sense of achievement and encourage you to come back every day!
The book is also available on eBooks and Kindle, which makes it easy to read anywhere and comes with an audiobook version for the proper pronunciation of every word!
7. The New Penguin Russian Course
This one is another super popular book among Russian learners, especially those who are learning the language without any courses or external help.
The book is basically a complete course with over 30 units or lessons that include a wide range of basics, whether they’re related to vocabulary or grammar.
In addition to all that, each lesson is followed by a wide range of exercises and revisions to help you memorize and fully understand everything that you’ve learned.
Although the book is a complete Russian language course, it focuses more on the vocabulary more than the grammar element, as you should be able to grasp up to 1,500 new words with this book that are included within its glossary for quick reference!
8. Living Language Russian: Complete Edition
Living Language is a popular series of books dedicated to those who would like a complete book that takes serious novice students all the way to advanced levels.
The incredibly comprehensive book is written by Constantine Muravnik, who is a senior lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures.
The book is composed of 3 volumes, each one with a specific level of difficulty with a total of about 46 mini-courses, all complete with their evaluation drills and exercises and grammar summaries.
Not only that, but the book also contains tons of cultural notes that will help you learn much more about life in Russia.
In addition to the book, you’ll also get multimedia resources for additional learning. These can be in the form of 9 CDs, but you can also download them online. I really like that this book is thorough and comprehensive yet incredibly easy to understand in small bites
9. Learn Russian for Beginners Easily & in Your Car!
If you’re eager to learn the Russian language but you don’t have enough time to do so, this is exactly the book you should be looking for!
As the title of the book suggests, this book is specifically designed to help you sneak in the Russian lesson in your most mundane parts of the day, such as the time when you’re simply stuck in traffic!
The book is available as an eBook version of kindle but is also available as a 6 hours audiobook version that contains tons of common Russian vocabulary terms and words (about 1,500, according to the author!)
With this audiobook, you’ll be able to learn tens of categories of words in Russian, such as names, numbers, weather, human anatomy, colors, time, sports, travel, and much more.
You see, this book may not be a complete Russian course like some other books, but it’s a great introductory option for those who don’t have time and I think it’s an excellent side book for Russian language students!
10. Easy Russian Phrase Book
People learn Russian for all kinds of reasons and purposes, and let’s be honest, some people just want to learn a few phrases and expressions that they can use to facilitate their communication with Russians, whether they’re tourists or speaking with Russians online.
In that case, this gem of a book would be an excellent pick! The Easy Russian Phrase Book contains over 1,500 common phrases that are ideal for everyday use as well as traveling to Russia.
In addition to the phrases and their translation, each expression also comes with a phonetics guide that shows you how to properly pronounce every one of these expressions. The book is also available as an audiobook version to make the pronunciation part a lot easier.
11. The English Russian Joke Book
The English Russian Joke Book is a unique book that takes an outstanding approach to help you learn Russian.
According to the author Jeremy Taylor, the best way to learn a language is through laughter and enjoying your learning time.
The book showcases some of the best jokes in Russian and English that are relatively short and easy to grasp.
The jokes are also light and easy to memorize, so you can easily recall the grammar and vocabulary rules as an added bonus, which also makes it a great asset if you have some Russian friends!
12. Russian Learners’ Dictionary
As a beginner, you might end up learning a huge range of words that you may not end up using, and therefore, you can easily forget them with time.
If you’re a beginner but you’re serious about learning Russian, the best way to have a proper reference for word memorization is this book!
The Russian Learner’s dictionary is simply a book that contains 10,000 most frequently used Russian words listed from the most commonly used ones to the least common.
Of course, this book on its own may not be a good way to learn Russian, but coupling it with other books will help you crackdown on the essentials that you shouldn’t forget later on!
13. Russian: From Intermediate to Advanced
Last but not least, once you’ve picked up the pace and managed to ace your Russian as a beginner, it’s time to take it to the next level with “Russian: From Intermediate to Advanced”!
This is one of the largest books on the list, with a total page count of around 470 pages. While such a number might seem intimidating to some, I can’t stress enough how amazing this book is for Russian students from B1 and up!
The book is specifically designed to tackle some of the trickier challenges in conjugations and grammar in addition to a richer more complex wording
This book is also available in a variety of formats, so you can enjoy it as a digital eBook version for learning on the go!
How to Read the Russian Books
Reading books that are written in Russian is quite tricky because of the unique alphabet. However, with enough practice and consistency, you should be able to get the job done. To help you with this, here are some of the most valuable tips:
1. Always Start by Learning the Cyrillic Alphabet
The first and most critical aspect necessary for reading Russian books is to learn the Russian alphabet.
Unlike the English alphabet, Russian has 33 characters, and while many of them are similar to the Latin alphabet used in English, others are pronounced or written differently.
For example, н is pronounced as “n” in Russian, and в is pronounced as “v” in Russian. Additionally, there are some letters that are completely new in Russian, such as “ы”, “ь”, and “ъ”, which have no equivalent vocal sounds in English.
This may seem confusing at the beginning but it slowly becomes easier with practice. However, as you can notice, you have to learn how each letter sounds in Russian to read their books.
2. Read Every Letter in the Words
Apart from a very few exceptions like “ь” and “ъ”, Russian is one of the languages where you pronounce every single letter in the word, so you simply need to pronounce every letter you read and you should be mostly reading the words the right way!
3. Use Context to Understand Words You Don’t Know
As you learn Russian books, especially in the beginning, it’s easy to stumble across a wide range of words that you haven’t seen before.
Yet, using context and your library of words you understand, you can easily deduce the meaning of various words, even if you don’t know their meaning.
When I find a new word, I usually like to predict its meaning based on context and other cues in the text, then go find its meaning right away. This usually helps me memorize the word when I encounter it again.
4. Find Mutual Words Between Russian and English
One of the easiest tricks that you can use while learning a foreign language, whether it’s Russian or other, is to find the words that mean the same thing in English.
When it comes to Russian, you’ll be surprised at how many words the two languages share, which increases your active vocabulary and reading comprehension significantly without much effort. These words are known as “cognates”, and they exist in tons of fields, such as:
- Food: (Салат – salad), (бургер – burger), (Фрукт – fruit)
- Travel: (аэропо́рт – airport), (о́пера – opera), (океа́н – ocean), (Такси – taxi)
- Sports: (баскетбол – basketball), (Теннис – tennis), (чемпио́н – champion)
- Music: (му́зыка – music), (Радио – radio), (Пиано – piano)
5. Learn the Pillars of the Language
There are a few words that are used in any language more than anyone else. These words include but are not limited to (and – и), (in – в), (he – он), (on/at – на), (what – что), etc.
Learning these words will also help you understand the vast majority of contexts in books written in Russian, whether they’re for beginners or intermediates.
The best way to achieve that is by using the previously mentioned book, Russian Learners’ Dictionary, which is specifically designed so that it lists all the essential words in terms of frequency of usage.
There you have it! A brief guide that walks you through 13 of the best books to learn Russian as a novice, whether you’re casual or serious!
As you can see, the Russian language may sound like a hard challenge, but with consistent work and reading some of these helpful books, you should be on your way to learning the language as quickly as possible!
If you don’t know where to start, my personal recommendation would be to start with Russian alphabet books, such as Teach Yourself Beginner’s Russian Script or Master the Russian Alphabet.
However, if you know your way around the basic Russian alphabet and grammar, you can put these skills to the test while enjoying the Russian Reading: 20 Easy Stories For Beginners book!