The 9 Best Books to Learn Russian Successfully

Kelsey Wetherbee Published on January 25, 2023
Best books to learn Russian

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Are you looking to learn Russian but haven’t found the right way for you? Using a textbook to learn Russian might seem old-school, but it’s a tried and true method. There are many options available for independent learners and those who want to refresh what they’ve learned in the past. This article is a guide to the best books available to help you learn Russian effectively. No matter what level you are, there’s a book for you on this list.

With over 258 million speakers, Russian is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Of course, it’s the official language of Russia, but it’s also the official language of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It’s also one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations and is taught as a second language in many other Eastern European countries.

How Long Will It Take You To Learn Russian?​

What is your current level?

A1
Beginner
A2
Elementary
B1
Intermediate
B2
Upper Intermediate

What level do you want to reach?

A1
Beginner
A2
Elementary
B1
Intermediate
B2
Upper Intermediate
C1
Advanced
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Even if you aren’t traveling to Russia specifically, knowing Russian can help you communicate and travel throughout countries that belonged to the former Soviet Union, where Russian is often used as a lingua franca. It shares enough similarities with other languages like Ukrainian, Polish, and Czech to be an excellent gateway to learning any of these languages.

How We Chose and Tested the Best Russian Books

For any language learning products we’ve tested or researched, we follow a strict testing methodology to make sure our experts make the same considerations. Here are the factors we looked at when testing Russian textbooks specifically:

  • Structure and Topics: We took into consideration how easy it was to navigate each book’s content and lessons. We also looked for useful extra features like glossaries, answer keys, English-Russian translations, and more.
  • Quality of Content: To verify the quality of each book, we checked the complexity of its content, whether or not they provided detailed explanations for grammar topics, how they treated the cultural aspects of the language, and if they fulfilled their goal effectively.
  • Features Available: We reviewed additional features like audio tracks, mobile apps, flashcards, recordings, and other tools to verify that they were useful resources for Russian learners.
  • Value for Money: We took the three previous factors and compared them to the price of each book to determine if they are valuable and convenient resources for Russian language students.

Our Top Picks for Best Russian Books

Below is a table with the best books to learn the Russian language. Scroll down to learn more about each one.

Best Overall Russian BookComplete Russian
Best for BeginnersBeginner's Russian
Most Comprehensive BookRussian for Dummies
Best for GrammarRussian Tutor
Best for ReadingRussian Short Stories For Beginners
Best for TravelEasy Russian Phrase Book
Best for SpeakingConversational Russian Dialogues
Best for Learning CyrillicLearn the Russian Alphabet
Best for VocabularyRussian-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Complete Russian

Best Overall Russian Book

Complete Russian is the best overall book because it guides you through the language from the beginner level (A1) to the upper intermediate (B1/B2). Its lessons and practice activities help you practice the 4 skills you need to become fluent: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. You start by studying the Cyrillic alphabet and move on to pronunciation, basic vocabulary, and grammar to begin learning Russian with the right foot. Each chapter introduces a different topic that relates to the modern world, like visiting the airport or booking a hotel room, and uses accompanying audio tracks to guide you through a dialogue. All the audio tracks are voiced by native speakers, and the book includes cultural notes to teach you more about Russia.

In my opinion, this book is a valuable resource for self-study because of its comprehensive approach to the Russian language and culture. Most books only teach you only the grammatical aspects and leave out the cultural parts, which often leads to Russian learners struggling to understand context. With Complete Russian, you study the language while you learn about the culture. The book has everything you need to study on your own, including quizzes you can complete to measure your progress. It’s a good choice for learners who have had some exposure to the language but are still at a beginner or low intermediate level. Find out if you like this book here.

Key Benefits

  • Practice all the language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking, to reach the intermediate level of Russian expertise
  • Includes audio voiced by native speakers to guide you through the content and improve your conversational skills
  • The cultural notes teach you about Russian culture and history and help you understand the context of the language you are learning

Beginner’s Russian

Best for Beginners

Beginner’s Russian is best for beginners because it’s a self-study guide that can be used by people with no previous experience with Russian. Each lesson teaches grammar and other important topics by using everyday situations, such as introductions, jobs, and dining out. The chapters follow a logical order and build upon what you previously learned, so you’re always using the knowledge you acquire. The book includes a complete breakdown of what vocabulary, grammar, and cultural topics are introduced in each chapter, which can be helpful if you want to study on your own since it provides a comprehensive approach to the language.

One of the best elements is the interactive online workbook, which gives you access to audio voiced by native Russian speakers as well as additional practice activities. In my opinion, this is a great way for complete beginners to study Russian even if they have no previous knowledge because it starts by teaching you the most essential knowledge (the Cyrillic alphabet) and moves on to more complicated topics in logical order. If you can’t afford an online subscription or tutor, this is a good place to start. Find out if this is the book for you here.

Key Benefits

  • The book was designed for beginners so the lessons follow a logical order and teach you to the most essential knowledge first
  • It includes an interactive online workbook with audio voiced by native speakers so you can practice all language skills
  • You learn Russian through the context of everyday situations, which in turn helps you apply the language to daily life

Russian for Dummies

Most Comprehensive Book

Russian for Dummies is the most comprehensive option in this list because it covers all of the important topics to get you conversational. It focuses on grammar, frequently used words, and how to handle common situations. With this book, you can learn tricky subjects like verb conjugations, different tenses, and the Cyrillic alphabet in a simple yet clear way. Unlike other books in this list, you don’t have to complete the lessons in order to understand the following chapters. This book uses a cross-reference system to help you find where to go next or the right place to start.

I chose this book because it gives you everything you need to develop your language skills from the start. The two authors of the book, Andrew D. Kaufman and Serafima Gettys, have PhDs and extensive experience in teaching Russian as a second language, and it’s clear that they’ve put a lot of care into creating a comprehensive resource. If you find yourself lost, the book has a detailed introduction that explains how the book works and how you can get the most out of your learning experience. The book also gives you access to online resources that help you practice listening and pronunciation, which are skills most Russian students struggle to improve. While this book is appropriate for learners of all levels, it’s recommended that you learn the Cyrillic alphabet before diving into its grammar explanations. Grab your copy of the book here.

Key Benefits

  • The book lessons and material help you practice all skills including vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening, and speaking
  • There’s additional material available online so you can hear native speakers correctly pronounce each word and repeat after them
  • It uses a cross-reference system that allows you to find the content you’re looking for or the right place to start your studies

Russian Tutor

Best for Grammar

Russian Tutor is a detailed workbook to perfect your Russian grammar and continue to learn new vocabulary. The book is designed to be a “tutor” and includes explanations for difficult topics, cultural points, and helpful hints for learning Russian. You study Russian verb conjugation, pronouns, and sentence structure including how to use specific verbs without pronouns and other particularities of the language. Plus, it has 200 practice activities that focus on real-world tasks to teach you how to apply the language to the real world, including sending tweets and going shopping for groceries.

The book provides a progressive study plan, but you can start wherever you want to address any weak points you need to clarify. Because Russian Tutor has a big emphasis on grammar, some of the content might be too heavy for beginners still learning the basics of the language. The book has explanations written in English but, besides that, most of its content is written in the Cyrillic alphabet so you can immerse in the language and get the best out of using the book. For that same reason, I think this is the best book for intermediate and more advanced learners to learn Russian grammar by heart. Learn more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Complete 200+ practice activities to improve your vocabulary and grammar skills
  • The book includes explanations, cultural points, and helpful hints to make learning Russian easier for you
  • There are communication goals for each of the 20 units, which help you focus on different aspects of language and measure your progress

Russian Short Stories for Beginners has 20 stories that cover typical situations and dialogues with examples of how people speak. This is the best book to start reading in Russian because each story is completely written in the language, and comes with a summary in both Russian and English to ensure you understand what you read. There are also comprehension questions at the end of each chapter you can complete to test your understanding of the story. The goal of the book is to keep you engaged with the reading material and teach you basic vocabulary and grammar concepts through conversational methods. In short, I think this makes it the ideal resource to practice in your spare time.

In my opinion, this is a great pick for Russian learners who want to read and increase their vocabulary because it includes colloquialisms and a glossary to introduce you to the language. Learning how to read in Russian can be complicated due to its different writing system, but Russian Short Stories for Beginners provides the additional materials you need to improve your reading comprehension, including helpful tips to understand all the content and improve your skills. The stories center on modern times and are engaging, and all new vocabulary words are highlighted to help you review them. Note that the book doesn’t teach you the Cyrillic alphabet so you must have a basic level of Russian to get the best experience. You can find the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Practice reading in Russian with 20 engaging modern stories and learn the basics of Russian vocabulary and grammar through a conversational method
  • The book has lists of vocabulary words, sayings, and slang words to help you understand all uses of the language
  • There are tricky reading comprehension questions you can complete to challenge your understanding and measure your progress

Easy Russian Phrase Book

Best for Travelers

The Easy Russian Phrase Book is the best guide for travelers who need to learn Russian in a short time. It contains 1,500 of the most common phrases that will help you navigate common situations such as ordering food, asking for directions, and transportation. Each phrase has an English translation and there’s a phonetics pronunciation guide that shows you how to say each word and phrase correctly, even if you have no previous knowledge of Russian or the Cyrillic alphabet.

This is the best book for travelers because of how easy it is to find what you’re looking for and its portability. This is a pocket-sized book, and you can carry it in your bag and review its content whenever the need arises. You can use The Easy Russian Phrase Book to study on the plane to Russia or carry it around with you to make sure you can communicate with native speakers in all common scenarios. Overall, I think this is a must-have for beginners who are planning to travel to Russia soon but, of course, everybody can use it to work on their conversational skills. See what you think about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • The book has 1,500 common phrases in conversational Russian to help you communicate in common scenarios
  • The context is arranged by topic, which makes it easy to navigate quickly
  • It includes a pronunciation guide that shows you how to pronounce each sound, word, and phrase

If you’ve thought that you can’t learn how to speak Russian using a book, this is a good choice for you. Conversational Russian Dialogues has over 100 stories that center around conversations and how people actually speak Russian. The book includes stories for A1 to B1 Russian learners, and you can start by reading beginner-friendly texts, or choose more advanced ones to challenge your skills. This is the best book if you want to speak conversational Russian because the dialogues show you how you can respond to everyday situations you might encounter while living in Russia. Each story is written in Russian and features common vocabulary and phrases used in modern life in scenarios like setting up a bank account or boarding a plane.

Many Russian learners fear they won’t be able to communicate in real life, but with Conversational Russian Dialogues you can learn the language you need to handle any kind of situation, including colloquial phrases. I wanted to include this book in this list because it teaches you natural-sounding language instead of formal phrases, which is great if your goal is to learn to speak like a native speaker. The book is aimed at advanced beginners and intermediate Russian learners, but there are English translations available so you can check any words you might not understand. Learn more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Read 100+ stories to learn conversational Russian vocabulary and phrases, and navigate all kinds of situations with ease
  • The dialogues teach you how to interact with native speakers in common daily life scenarios, including colloquial and common phrases
  • The book has stories for Russian learners of the A1 to B1 level, which allows you to read the content you are most comfortable with or test your skills with more challenging material

Learn the Russian Alphabet

Best for Learning Cyrillic

Learn the Russian Alphabet is a workbook that helps you practice writing words and phrases using the Cyrillic alphabet. In my opinion, this book is a great supplemental resource if you want to want to be able to read and remember the alphabet with ease. It has both print and cursive letters so you can easily read and write all kinds of texts. The book also includes the spelling of common Russian words so complete beginners can start learning useful vocabulary. You can complete tracing, writing, and spelling exercises for the 33 Russian letters, and build your muscle memory while you become familiar with them.

For its price, I think Learn the Russian Alphabet is a valuable resource that fulfills its goal of teaching you how to spell and write basic Russian words. There’s no better way to become accustomed to a new writing system than through practice, and this book has over 100 pages you can use to refine your writing skills. I recommend Learn the Russian Alphabet to all levels of Russian learners who want to improve their reading and writing skills. Find out if you like the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Includes instructions on how to write the Russian alphabet letters
  • It teaches you to write and read cursive and print letters so you can understand all kinds of texts
  • There are many practice pages to help you practice tracing and re-writing the letters

The Russian-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary is a great choice if you want to learn a lot of new vocabulary words. It’s arranged by themes and situations and you learn different words related to that common topic. There are over 10,000 words and each one has a unique illustration, which makes it perfect for children who are new to the language. Each word is accompanied by its English translation and pronunciation written in the Roman alphabet, so you can study them even if you can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet just yet.

While this book is, as its name says, a dictionary, I think it’s an easy and effective way for complete beginners to learn basic Russian words for all sorts of topics. Its features make it accessible to all levels of Russian students, and it even comes with a free audio app so you can hear how the words are pronounced. In general, it’s a good place to start exploring the Russian language. You can see if this book is right for you here.

Key Benefits

  • The book includes 10,000 illustrated words with their respective English translation and pronunciation
  • The content is organized by topic so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for
  • It comes with a free audio app so you can listen to the pronunciation of each word

Other Russian Learning Books We Researched

To create this list, we reviewed many Russian learning books to pick the best ones. Here are some books that we didn’t include on our list:

  • The Everything Learning Russian Book: This book focuses on teaching you the conversational language you need to navigate daily life in Russia, like reading the Cyrillic alphabet, pronouncing, and asking for directions. While this book can come in handy on a trip to Russia, some of its explanations are too brief and basic for Russian learners who actually want to learn how to speak the language.
  • Russian Grammar and Vocabulary Workbook: The book provides thorough explanations so you can understand the core of Russian grammar rules. This is a useful resource for intermediate and advanced learners, but the content can be too heavy and confusing for beginners in search of a clear introduction to Russian grammar.
  • 2000 Most Common Russian Words in Context: With this book, you learn the 2000 most common words used in the Russian language in the order of frequency. While this is an easy way to increase your vocabulary, some of its examples have translations that are too literal and won’t help you apply the words in different contexts. 
  • The New Penguin Russian Course: This book aims to help beginners learn basic Russian in 30 lessons that tackle vocabulary, grammar, and conversational language. However, because the book has been around for a while now, some of the language used in it is already outdated or doesn’t portray the way native speakers speak in real life.

Why You Should Use Books To Learn Russian

Using a book to learn Russian might seem like an outdated method to learn, but most books provide detailed descriptions and practice questions that other resources, like language apps, can’t provide. If you are trying to self-study Russian, a book is an excellent choice because they offer explanations, tips, cultural tips, and more.

How To Use Books To Learn Russian

If you are studying Russian, it’s best to establish a language-learning routine. The most progress is made when you study every day, or at least frequently, even if you can’t dedicate a lot of time. Consistency is key to remember what you learned and build upon it.

But a book is not the only way to study. It is an effective way to learn Russian but is best used in conjunction with other learning methods. For example, a language app is an inexpensive way to learn a lot of Russian vocabulary and practice basic phrases. And it’s always a good idea to take online lessons with a tutor from Russia so you can better practice speaking and conversation.

Best Books To Learn Russian: Final Thoughts

Hopefully you’ve found a book on this list that can help make studying Russian easy and enjoyable. There are many excellent options available, but reading user reviews and seeing what additional resources are included can help you choose the book that’s right for you. Once you choose your favorite option, it’s time to get to work! With consistent study, you’ll be speaking Russian before you know it. Удачи!

Best Books To Learn Russian: FAQ

What is the most effective way to learn Russian?

The most effective way to learn Russian depends on your learning style. If you prefer to learn independently, a book is an excellent choice because they provide descriptions, practice questions, and most have access to online audio so you can also practice listening and understanding. There are also language apps that can help you learn effectively as well as the option to take an online course or private lessons with a Russian teacher.

What should I read to improve my Russian?

What you should read to improve your Russian depends on your level. If you are an advanced learner, there are many famous Russian authors that have written works like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Master and Margarita. But if you are a beginner or intermediate learner, a book like Russian Short Stories for Beginners or Conversational Russian Dialogues is a better choice to help you continue to improve

How can I learn Russian by myself?

You can definitely learn Russian by yourself up to an intermediate level. There are so many options available to learn Russian online, such as a language app, course, or online classes with a teacher from Russia. Any of these will help you learn basic vocabulary and grammar to reach a conversational level of Russian.

Can I learn Russian in 3 months?

In three months, you can reach a basic conversational level, but you won’t be fluent in Russian. The US Department of State classifies Russian as a level 3 language, meaning that it’s difficult for English speakers to learn because of the differences between the two languages.

To see how long it will take you to learn Russian, check out this fluency calculator.

Kelsey Wetherbee

Kelsey is the Content Manager and Editor of Langoly. She is a TEFL-certified English teacher with more than eight years of classroom experience in three different countries. She’s an avid language learner with an advanced level of Spanish and is currently studying French. Whenever possible, she loves to travel and enjoys meeting people from all over the world. Connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

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