How to attain native fluency in Russian

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David1917
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby David1917 » Sat Feb 13, 2021 5:01 am

I certainly don't have "native fluency" nor do I think such a thing is realistic, since it's a subjective definition, and mine would include an entire generation of cultural references - from commercials to trends to catchphrases. Unless you are a literal native who grew up in Russia, you will miss a reference here or there. Not really worth worrying about that, though.

At the same time, you're not going to always be a clumsy accented obvious foreigner. It takes a lot for people to realize I'm not Russian, and usually they assume I grew up speaking it in some capacity. That's not a brag, it honestly took way too long to get to that point. Therefore, instead of joining in the chorus of people telling you it's "never" gonna happen because of some vague "critical period" theories, I'm going to answer your question.

As answered in another thread yesterday that for some brute textbook stuff, you'll want
-Penguin Russian Course
-Colloquial Russian Course (I'd suggest the oldest one, easily found on ebay/Abe/wherever for a few bucks. You can also do the newer one by Fleming, try to get an older pressing of it I think there are 3 each subsequently reduced in content, and then also Colloquial 2, again the first edition. Either way these are the kinds of books with cute games instead of grammar exercises and will do more teaching you about the language as you mention in your first post.)
-Cortina Russian Course
-Terrence Wade Russian Grammar

Do all of these, all the exercises, fill up a forest worth of notebooks and get awful hand cramps.

At the same time you really want to shadow the old Assimil Russian Without Toil course. Also found easily by online sellers. It takes a few lessons to get up to a reasonable speed, a lot of the selections are more literary than colloquial, and you might find (gasp!) an outmoded phrase or two. But you also get 3+ hours of spoken Russian to get a hold on that intonation. Also listen to Russian radio/podcasts, watch Russian newscasts, watch Russian movies/serials.

Finally, you have to get to Russia once it's feasible to do so. But luckily you have some time right now to lay some groundwork so your trips there will be more fruitful.
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby neofight78 » Sat Feb 13, 2021 8:22 am

David1917 wrote:I certainly don't have "native fluency" nor do I think such a thing is realistic, since it's a subjective definition, and mine would include an entire generation of cultural references - from commercials to trends to catchphrases. Unless you are a literal native who grew up in Russia, you will miss a reference here or there. Not really worth worrying about that, though.


I think this points at the problem here. If people define "native fluency" as "being Russian" then of course you can never achieve it. This seems to be more or less the standard people are setting here. However, I think that's not really sensible. If I watch US TV shows, I don't understand all the cultural references, yet I am a native English speaker. If I talk to someone who is British but younger than me, then they won't understand all my cultural references. It's the same here in Russia, not only cultural references, but vocabulary and other aspects of speech vary between the generations. Although Russian is fairly "standard" there are small differences between Moscow and Novosibirsk. Russian Ukrainians can have an accent, but can we say they are not native?

If your pronunciation is correct, your accent good, your grammar correct, you can understand and use all the common idioms, you can watch films and read books freely then it's native fluency as far as I am concerned.

David1917 wrote:At the same time, you're not going to always be a clumsy accented obvious foreigner. It takes a lot for people to realize I'm not Russian, and usually they assume I grew up speaking it in some capacity. That's not a brag, it honestly took way too long to get to that point.


This is my experience. There are learners with terrible accents but then there are also plenty that have perfect pronunciation. The idea that accent or pronunciation will always give a non-native away is just not true.

Having said all that, to get to a high level of Russian that could be considered "native" takes many many years of hardwork. That is probably the biggest barrier to achieving such a goal.
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby lemme_try » Sun Feb 14, 2021 5:24 pm

neofight78 wrote:
I think this points at the problem here. If people define "native fluency" as "being Russian" then of course you can never achieve it. This seems to be more or less the standard people are setting here. However, I think that's not really sensible. If I watch US TV shows, I don't understand all the cultural references, yet I am a native English speaker. If I talk to someone who is British but younger than me, then they won't understand all my cultural references. It's the same here in Russia, not only cultural references, but vocabulary and other aspects of speech vary between the generations. Although Russian is fairly "standard" there are small differences between Moscow and Novosibirsk. Russian Ukrainians can have an accent, but can we say they are not native?


I am not disagreeing with you, I am just reiterating your point. Just like in English, French or any other language, Russian speaking countries have local dialects, local accents, local slangs, local pidgin languages. You are not expected to know all the local slangs, some accents might come a little harder to understand than the other ones, and with the pidgin language it is altogether an admixture of another language. Expectations should be just like with any other languages. If speak standard Italian, doesn't mean you will be able to understand some of the dialects in the South. Well, with Russian it is much simpler, there are couple of dialects that are extremely difficult to understand even for the locals, but the rest are pretty easy to follow if you speak Russian.

The person from Ukraine, speaking Russian would be understood anywhere where Russian is spoken. Would they be considered fluent Russian speakers? Of course they are native speakers. They can communicate without much effort. The most of the cultural references would be similar, because we do consume similar media, that is being Russian pop culture, Ukrainian pop culture. People are exposed to those accents, the accent would pose no problem. Same could be said about Belorussian accent. Especially now, the pop culture from Kazakhstan is becoming popular in rest of post-Soviet countries, including Russia.

However, when it comes to Central Asia, Caucasus, and Baltic countries, things might be a bit different. Baltics are out, with exception of ethnic Russians, they don't speak much Russian. Among the independent republics, Russian is losing out in favour of local languages. Rule of the thumb is when it comes to the Central Asian countries, closer they are geographically to Russia, better they speak Russian, with exception of cities of Almaty, Tashkent and Bishkek. They speak good Russian.


neofight78 wrote:If your pronunciation is correct, your accent good, your grammar correct, you can understand and use all the common idioms, you can watch films and read books freely then it's native fluency as far as I am concerned.

This is my experience. There are learners with terrible accents but then there are also plenty that have perfect pronunciation. The idea that accent or pronunciation will always give a non-native away is just not true.

Having said all that, to get to a high level of Russian that could be considered "native" takes many many years of hardwork. That is probably the biggest barrier to achieving such a goal.


Could not agree more! It is not only about the accent, but being able to understand the idioms, being able to read, write and communicate without much effort. That is being close to native fluency.

There people who can imitate accent well, but have very little vocabulary, cannot fully express themselves. I would not consider them to be fluent. The other day my wife was showing me a video of a girl, who claimed to speak fluent English without leaving her native country. She was saying, people kept complementing her English, and asking if she was an American or Australian. Lol. Even in the heavily edited video, it was obvious her language skills were very limited.

Then you see people who might have some accent, but have complete command of the language. Those are the native like speakers of the language.
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby s_allard » Mon Feb 15, 2021 6:03 am

Rather than wade into the substantive debate here, I want to take issue with a slightly tangential point that is bugging me to no end here. That is the use of the word fluency as a synonym of proficiency. I know many people don't give a hoot and say that both words mean the same thing. I know that the OP speaks of wanting to attain native fluency in Russian.

In the field of linguistics and SLA fluency refers to the rapidity of speech - measured in syllables per second - that one is able to understand or produce. The assumption of course is that there is a certain degree of accuracy phonetically, grammatically and lexically. On the other hand, proficiency describes the general level of mastery of all the aspects of language performance and is the more comprehensive term that is widely used in academic circles. The CEFR use the term proficiency when referring to levels of performance. Fluency is thus a subset of proficiency.

Unfortunately, fluency is widely used in the marketing of language learning products that claim to make you fluent in little time and with little effort. And thus the widespread and in my opinion improper use of the words fluency and fluent. So let's leave fluency to the phoneticians and use proficiency instead.
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby IronMike » Mon Feb 15, 2021 10:58 am

s_allard wrote:That is the use of the word fluency as a synonym of proficiency.

...

In the field of linguistics and SLA fluency refers to the rapidity of speech - measured in syllables per second - that one is able to understand or produce. The assumption of course is that there is a certain degree of accuracy phonetically, grammatically and lexically. On the other hand, proficiency describes the general level of mastery of all the aspects of language performance and is the more comprehensive term that is widely used in academic circles. The CEFR use the term proficiency when referring to levels of performance. Fluency is thus a subset of proficiency.

Thank you!!! You weren't the only one bugged. ;)
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby Serpent » Mon Feb 15, 2021 6:40 pm

But "native proficiency" sounds weird ;) On the old forum this was frequently called speaking like an "educated native".

As for sounding native-like in Russian, or in any grammar-heavy language, I think the issue is that very few people can achieve a "perfect" grammatical accuracy AND a "perfect" pronunciation. Quite a few people are able to achieve one of these, but both together are very rare.

Also, as far as I can tell, English native speakers are far more used to encountering new accents and won't easily take you for a non-native. Russian simply doesn't have such a huge range of (obvious) native accents.

About needing to know "not only the translations", honestly that's just how it works in any language. It doesn't help that English words tend to have plenty of different meanings that correspond to several words in other languages. Are you able to think in Tagalog? Eventually you'll be able to think in Russian :)
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby tarvos » Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:19 pm

I've been studying Russian for 10 years and I still make mistakes, even though I'm pretty proficient in Russian. And despite that, I just learned the word for kidneys today, so as you can see, even the advanced students learn every day ;) I wouldn't worry about native fluency as much as I would worry about being able to manage in a Russophone environment - and as long as that works, I'm pretty satisfied...

And I'm pretty sure my accent still confuses people xD
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby s_allard » Wed Feb 17, 2021 6:17 pm

Serpent wrote:But "native proficiency" sounds weird ;) On the old forum this was frequently called speaking like an "educated native".


It’s true that « native proficiency » sounds weird. That’s because it doesn’t really make sense. A native speaker is one that is born and/or raised in the language. Of course not all speakers speak indentically. Far from it, one’s form of expression depends on many factors such as geographical location, education, age, social class, occupation, gender, possible disabilities, etc. But everybody is a native speaker.

In this thread, we are talking about this idea of achieving a level of native-like proficiency in Russian that would allow this person to pass for a native Russian speaker. I believe this is impossible if the person is starting past adolescence and is not living in Russia.

That said, I think one can achieve very good results as measured by exam results or a university degree. And this brings me to the fundamental point. Instead of aiming to pass for a native Russian speaker, one should plan to, first, enjoy the learning experience itself and, second, aim to reach a level of proficiency that makes speaking Russian a great medium for expressing one’s ideas, emotions, desires, needs, etc. Think of what it would be like to enjoy reading some great Russian literature without having to struggle all the time. So, don’t worry about attaining native proficiency – it ain’t going to happen – and enjoy the ride.
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Re: How to attain native fluency in Russian

Postby risbolle » Fri Feb 19, 2021 5:20 pm

tarvos wrote:I've been studying Russian for 10 years and I still make mistakes, even though I'm pretty proficient in Russian. And despite that, I just learned the word for kidneys today, so as you can see, even the advanced students learn every day ;) I wouldn't worry about native fluency as much as I would worry about being able to manage in a Russophone environment - and as long as that works, I'm pretty satisfied...

And I'm pretty sure my accent still confuses people xD


A native Russian speaker of Russian and Belarusian descent, I've been using Russian near daily for over four decades; it remains my strongest language. For all that, I still make mistakes.

Despite Russian being quite homogeneous (compared to English, for example), I wouldn't pass for a moscovite in a sound-like-a-native contest.

Thanks to my superior lack of code switching skills, I've once managed to confuse a couple of native russian strangers into complimenting me on my advanced russian skills (they thought I wasn't a native; that was depressing).

With utmost respect and not to dissuade anyone, but, personally, ever since I've given up my plans on becoming a spy, I no longer find chasing the elusive native profile target particularly important, in any language.
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