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I’m an Aussie. And I’m what they call Down Under, a “jack of all trades, a master of none”. I’m addicted to language learning, yet some folk even question my ability to speak my mother tongue 😉

My language list is—

Can speak: English, Japanese

Work in progress: French

Lapsed beginner: Mandarin, Thai

Dabbling: Spanish, Dutch, Korean

Curious: Arabic


My partner is fluent in Russian and recently we flew Aeroflot to Europe.

He tried to encourage me to learn some Russian, but it always started out wrong for my language learning style.

Step one was the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are only 33 letters. It should not be such a struggle to memorise them.

But trying to drum it into my brain would not work.

To begin with, many of the letters look similar to English but have different pronunciations.

B = V

I can understand slight changes in pronunciation. B and V can be “close” in my thinking. But:

X = H

H = N

P = Rwatermelon

There was no way this would stick.

I tried learning the letters like Russian children (maybe) do: “A is for Apple” style.

But as every Russian child knows “A is for watermelon” and “я” (last letter of the alphabet) is for “яблоко” (apple).

This could not end well.


In addition to trying to memorise a confusing script, I was trying to learn 33 unfamiliar words.


At heart, I’m a short-cut guy.

So I searched online for “quick, easy Cyrillic”.

I was happy to find pages that said I could “learn to read Russian in one hour”.

Then to my joy, I discovered a site that guaranteed I would be able to read this rascal writing in FIFTEEN MINUTES. Outrageous claims appeal to me—I had to check it out.

This site uses mnemonics. Memory aids. Stupid stories for each letter to help you remember. And it worked.

I heard many years ago that the brain remembers things better when it is stimulated more. If something is very funny, stupid, scary, gory, crude or sexy, the brain will latch onto the information. I used this technique to teach English at schools in Japan (without too much of the “sexy”). The reactions of students to different stimuli vary, but they ALL react, and that is the point. It sticks because it elicits a strong reaction.

The other great site I found uses familiar words to practice and reinforce the alphabet.

But how is that possible when I don’t know my Russian watermelon from my apple?

It’s as easy as А, Б, В—the author of the site compiled a list of Russian words 1) used in English (vodka, familiar place names, etc.) and 2) borrowed from (or with similar roots to) English (meteor, America, university, mathematics, etc.).

Coupled with cryptic clues instead of plain answers, I found myself deciphering words, thinking more and thus imprinting the letters in my mind.

When I flew Aeroflot, I wasn’t conversing with the flight attendants, but it was fun to be able to read words around me (inflight magazine, signs at Moscow airport, etc.)


With French (and Dutch, Spanish), I have taken the opposite approach. I know the alphabet already, but the pronunciation of it in French and Dutch in particular confuses me. So I started with aural until I was comfortable enough with the sounds and some vocabulary and grammar to start trying to read.


My next challenge is to find effective mnemonics for Korean and Arabic.

Go easy on the водка and happy studying, товарищ !



Learn to Read Russian in 15 Minutes Is This Real? http://9gag.com/gag/aqZbPmp/learn-to-read-russian-in-15-minutes-is-this-real-life

Learn to Read Cyrillic (Russian) Within the Hour