Frequently Asked Questions
Everything you ever wanted to know...
Picture from SRAS
graduate A. Sanders
If you have any problems finding your answer on this page, try pressing Ctrl-F and type a keyword into your browser's search function. We've tried to arrange these questions in as logical an order as possible through the table of contents below, but the range of questions about study abroad in Russia is vast and highly varied. If you can't find your answer here, you can always contact us!
Table of Contents:
- Russian Education
- Language Acquisition
1. Eligibility (back to top)
Except in cases where specific programs list specific requirements, anyone who is over 18 years of age and who has already earned a high school diploma may apply for our courses. Applicants need NOT already be a student at a university or college. SRAS does not discriminate based on age, sex, race or any other factor.
What if I don’t know any Russian?
You are still eligible to apply for most of our programs, and we accept students on a rolling basis (besides the internship programs, which are merit based), so you are not any less likely to be accepted in comparison to someone who knows Russian – there is no difference. You should be aware that there are relatively few English speakers in Russia. We’ve had plenty of students with zero Russian language experience study on our programs in Russia – it is a bit stressful in the beginning, but it is not impossible to get by and it is a pretty incredible experience you will draw on for the rest of your life. Take the challenge!
What if I am not a US resident?
You are still eligible for our programs in most cases (inquire with us), but you will do the visa processing yourself in that case – we will ship you the visa support document (visa invitation) and advise you on the process.
What if I am under 18?
Unfortunately you will have to wait until you are 18, for insurance reasons. That does not mean you cannot start planning your study abroad program now – contact us and we’ll help you plan how best to integrate your study abroad experience with the rest of your career goals.
What if I am not currently a student anywhere?
Not a problem. We regularly host non-traditional students – which can include those just graduated, between programs, those taking a hiatus from a hectic career, or retired. Some locations/programs may be better suited depending on your situation – so contact us!
If I’m in a wheelchair will it be a problem?
Russia is about 50 years (or more) behind the times when it comes to wheelchair access. It is a real problem and you should contact us about whether we can help set something up.
2. Program Recommendations (back to top)
What if I want the most up-to-date information on any/all of your programs?
The most up-to-date information on any of our programs is found on our website, on the program pages. If you have questions you can’t find the answers to on the program page, contact us. We’ll be happy to help!
Can I contact former SRAS students for their opinions?
Yes. Upon request, we will be happy to forward you a list of references to contact either by phone or by email. You can also click here to see what students have to say about SRAS.
For credit transfer, what programs are best?
All SRAS programs are eligible to receive academic credit from your home institution. However, the decision of whether or not to award that credit is solely at the discretion of your home institution and its particular rules. You should contact your academic advisor at home to find out what requirements and restrictions your home institution has. All official certificates and transcripts are issued by the host university in Russia and supported by documentation from SRAS. It is strongly recommended that you obtain prior approval for credit from your home university before beginning your studies abroad.
I want immersion. What program would you recommend?
How immersed you are mostly depends on – you. Moscow and St. Petersburg have the greatest number of English speakers and the largest expat networks, but it is not particularly difficult to avoid either if you try. Locations outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg do provide less temptation to hang out with English speakers, and sometimes it is easier to make friends who are locals in cities besides Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is partly because such cities (and hence the university communities) are smaller, and partly because English-speaking foreigners are more of a novelty. Living in a home stay is one great way to become more immersed in the culture – you always have someone to talk to, you will have more everyday transactions in Russian, and it provides a window into real Russian life and mentality than you might have otherwise. We also have fewer students studying during the academic year than in the summer. In short, for the most immersive experience possible, you might consider a year-long program with the home stay option in Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladivostok, or Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
I’m interested in international relations. What program would you recommend?
If your Russian skills are advanced, the best option would be our MGIMO Visiting Scholar Program, the premier school in Russia for studies in international relations, international law, and international economics. Courses are taught in Russian. If your Russian isn't so advanced, your best option would be to enroll in our Russian Studies Semester. You would take some Russian language classes as part of the program core, and take subject courses in English.
Are there any programs that have some classes taught in English?
Yes, look at our program pages – most of those listed as being for "begginers" or "all levels" combine Russian language with classes in English on various subjects. Note that in summer some of these programs are only offered in Russian. If you are interested in a particular subject, we might be able to arrange individual study in English on that topic – contact us.
What program would you recommend if I’m interested in art?
The Arts in Russia program deserves special attention, hosted at the Hermitage, the most famous art museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is not only for art students but for anyone with a strong interest in the arts and culture as a way of understanding the people and history of Russia. We strongly recommend considering it.
How can I best integrate study abroad into my long-term education?
We recommend a summer introduction to Russia after your first year of college study, followed by a semester or year of intensive study abroad during your third year, with Russian language, history, and culture classes taken at your home university in between. This schedule not only provides intensive vocabulary development at the appropriate stages of your Russian language career, but also provides you with experiences that will shape your studies ahead.
3. Program Rules (back to top)
Can I study in more than one location?
Most SRAS programs will allow study in more than one university, so long as you spend a full semester at each university. Students should be aware, however, that changing universities requires changing visas, which requires a trip outside of Russia to collect the new visa from a consulate. While student visas can be renewed in Russia, new visas, which must be issued if you change your host-university, can only be received at a consultant outside of Russia according to Russian legislation.
Can I travel during my program?
Contact us about specific travel plans. Most universities will allow up to two weeks after the program ends if you are on a program in which you are studying more than 3 months. Note that if you are studying less than three months you will have a single entry visa, which means you will not be able to leave the country during the program if you want to be able to get back into Russia. Students are welcome to explore areas within Russia, keeping in mind students have a schedule of at least 20 hours/week with most programs.
Can I find my own housing?
In most of our study locations you can find your own housing, but there may be some university paperwork requirements of your hosts/landlord as concern visa registration. All SRAS programs include dormitory accommodation, so if you set up your own accommodation you will be reimbursed the cost for the dorms (which are generally very inexpensive). Inquire with us for the exact amount. See our housing page for more information on housing types and our accommodations page in our travel services section for help if you are still looking for accommodations in Russia.
Can I bring someone along with me on my program?
All visitors to Russia need to hahivve a visa, so it is possible for you to bring someone along, but they will either need to enroll in a program at the same university in order to get a student visa in that location, or they will need to get another type of visa – a one-month tourist visa or a three-month business visa. Inquire with us for advice on the best type of visa in your situation. We can help obtain a visa for your travel partner as well as assist with accommodations.
Can I bring my children to Russia while I participate in the program? What about family housing?
Russian law requires that children be on the same type of visa as their parent. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly rare for Russian universities to sponsor the visas of a student’s family members – inquire with us for any current universities that will still do this. Family housing can be a problem – Russian family dorms are intended for long-term degree students, so they are given priority, and they always fill up very quickly. Home stay is an option, but conditions will be very crowded and most hosts will not agree to having children. If you are determined to overcome the obstacles, contact us.
Why are academic courses required with most internships?
Russia's labor laws and laws regulating foreigners are stringent. Foreigners must be carefully documented with visa, registration, and migration card. Internships must be documented as educational programs to avoid needing work visas and work permits, which are prohibitively expensive. This documentation can be performed/coordinated by SRAS only if the intern arrives on the basis of a student visa, which, by Russian law, requires that the intern additionally spend time in a university classroom.
When are academic courses not required with internships?
Internships are available without an accompanying academic program only if the applicant can prove that he/she meets four conditions. 1) He/she already has housing available in Russia (shown with a letter from a friend or relative that he/she will be staying with). 2) He/she will have appropriate registration in Russia (shown with a letter from the registered owner of the property at which the student will be staying). 3) He/she will already have an appropriate visa or has a Russian passport. 4) He/she has a high level of spoken Russian and qualifications for the position desired. In this case, applications must be received at least three months in advance of the intended start date. Internship placement and service fee is $1295 and includes placement and support.
What if I want to stay when my internship ends?
In some cases, internships may be extended so long as the academic program is also extended. Also, as in any internship in any country, there is always the possibility that your internship may turn into a real job offer. The reality of this usually revolves around both your performance and your circumstances — if you already have a degree, are prepared to spend considerable time abroad, what experience you have that a Russian does not, what sort of salary you expect, etc. All of the complexities of job-hunting at home are magnified when considering long-term employment abroad.
Can I contact past students and interns?
Yes. Contact us for more information. You can also click here to see some select quotes from past students about our programs.
4. Money (back to top)
Are there scholarships and funding available for study abroad in Russia?
Yes. We've listed literally everything we've ever heard of on this page.
When do I need to pay for my program?
Besides paying the application visa and deposit upon application (see section one, above), you will need to pay the visa processing fees within two weeks after acceptance unless otherwise indicated online on your Enrollment Status Page (opened after you register on our site). Full payment of program fees must be made four weeks prior to departure. Deferrals are only granted for those amounts guaranteed by loans or scholarships.
What if I’m applying for a scholarship and my enrollment is contingent upon receiving this funding?
In this case you should still go ahead and apply, but be sure to note on the application that your participation in the program depends on receiving the scholarship. The application fee will be non-refundable, but the deposit will be refundable if you forward us a letter of rejection from the scholarship source before expenses related to the visa are incurred.
How easy is it to find a job to earn some spending money while in Russia?
It is usually not too difficult to find English-teaching opportunities, but other types of work will be difficult to obtain, for several reasons, but the main ones are: 1) You won’t be able to work full-time because of your study schedule, 2) employers are not legally allowed to hire you unless they obtain a work permit for you, which is a, difficult, long, and expensive process. For more general info on working in Russia see the related page on our Student Guide to Russia.
What expenses do I need to budget for?
Besides the tuition as outlined on the program page, you additionally need to budget for airfare to and from Russia. You will also need to budget for food, entertainment, incidentals, etc.
Are refunds possible?
After you have applied for your SRAS program, SRAS immediately begins the process of arranging your visa, housing, tuition, and other program components as listed and needed. As all of these things take time, they must be arranged and paid for well in advance to make sure that students will be able to easily and safely enter Russia and begin their program. Once funds are committed, they are non-refundable. Based on this fact, our refund policy is as follows:
Application fees are not refundable.
Deposits are refundable only before
you receive your acceptance letter. The only exception to this rule is if you make it very clear upon applying that your ability to participate in the program is entirely dependent upon funding (such as FLAS awards, Gilman Scholarships, etc.
) for which you have applied. Upon presentation of a letter of denial of funding from that source, we can refund the deposit, less any costs that may have been incurred up until that point. This policy is necessary to make sure that you will have a visa with which to enter Russia. Visa processing is not fast or inexpensive and your deposit is spent beginning the process. Read more about Russian visas and visa processing
Tuition (less deposit) is fully refundable if we are notified in writing at least 30 days before your departure date. Internship fees are also refundable at this point, minus a penalty fee of $250 (this is in addition to the $250 non-refundable deposit).
If we are notified 20-30 days prior, a full refund less the greater of either the deposit + visa fee or 20% of the total program cost can be given.
If 10-20 days, a full refund less the greater of either the deposit + visa fee or 35% of total program cost.
If 1-9 days a full refund less the greater of either the deposit + visa fee or 50% of total program cost.
No refund can be given after your arrival in Russia.
Can the GI Bill be applied to a study abroad program in Russia?
Regarding the GI Bill, there are two key points to be aware of: 1) It can only be applied to degree studies. Language courses don’t count. Even if you are taking language courses as preparation to enter degree studies in Russia, they don’t qualify for the GI Bill. 2) If you are considering applying for degree studies in Russia, keep in mind that with very few exceptions you must already be able to speak Russian to enroll. Otherwise, you will have to take a year-long language preparatory course and the GI Bill will not cover the cost of the preparatory course. You can find the list of schools that are currently approved here. If you do not speak Russian and cannot afford to enroll in a year-long language preparatory course, your best bet is to use the GI Bill for degree studies in the US and have them approve study abroad as part of the degree.
What if I have to use the Fly America Act?
That means you have to fly on an American carrier (such as Delta) as far as it is possible before switching to a non-US carrier, such as Aeroflot. American carriers only fly into Moscow (be sure to double check this for the most up-to-date information), so you will need to switch airlines for any other destination. Be aware that international flights allow more weight/bag. If your tickets are unrelated, you will likely be charged per kilogram over the limit on your Russian domestic flight. For those on domestic Russian flights, the current limit is 20 kg of checked baggage and 10 kg of carry on. Most international flights will allow you more than double that amount.
5. Applying (back to top)
How do I apply?
Go to the top right hand corner of our homepage and click "Login." The entire process is self-guiding and online for your convenience. Once you have completed the online form, you will receive an email from SRAS about the status of your application, usually within three to five business days. You should submit the application fee ($40) and deposit ($250) immediately. The application fee is not refundable. The deposit is refundable if you are not accepted or if you withdraw your application before acceptance. See section three of this page for more about our refund policy.
What if I've missed the deadline?
SRAS can accept late applications for most programs. You should contact an SRAS representative as soon as possible to discuss your options. Late fees may apply.
What if I’ve already applied? Do I need to do it again?
If you have applied in the past, just update your information and submit the new app fee and deposit – no need to start from the beginning. If you don’t remember your password, let us know.
What are the application deadlines?
Deadlines are listed on each program page. If you are applying for an internship or customized programs, we recommend applying as early as possible.
Where should I have my recommendation sent?
Your recommendation can be sent to us by email.
How long should the application essay be?
The essay should be about 500 words. Clarity is more important than volume.
6. Newly Accepted Students' Common Questions (back to top)
How will I know what the next step is for the visa process?
Once you have applied and been accepted, SRAS closely monitors the visa process and will guide you through the visa process. You will also have your own SRAS login page with a list of tasks to be completed and the date they need to be completed by. Be sure to check this page and your email fairly frequently.
When do I need to send my passport in the mail?
Since we can process your invitation using a scan of your passport we will not need your actual passport until after the invitation is ready. This means we will need your passport about 1 month before your program start date (earlier if you plan to enter the country earlier than the program start date – but you’ll need to let us know about such plans before the visa process begins at all!)
How do I get to Russia? Does SRAS have group flights?
Each student will purchase his or her own individual airfare. For advice and resources for purchasing international airfare to Russia, click here. As part of the post-acceptance process, you will be asked to fill out the "travel section" on your SRAS account page with your flight information. From this information, we arrange your airport pickup and transportation to the university.
Can I travel around Europe or China before entering Russia for my program?
Russian law requires that you receive your Russian visa in your home country, so international travel pre-departure is tricky. Contact us in advance about whether your plan is feasible.
Do I need any special immunizations to enter Russia?
You do not need any special immunizations to enter Russia – you just need an HIV test. Some universities may require additional medical tests upon arrival. Your SRAS consultant will inform of you of any additional requirements.
Can I bring my medication for mental or psychological disorders abroad?
Medication for personal use may be brought with you in almost all cases to Russia, Ukraine, or Kyrgyzstan. However, medication for many mental or psychological disorders, such as ADD, ADHD, and depression is not available in these countries. Many drugs have no analogues available either and, as the drugs are not generally recognized by the ministries of health in these countries, shipping is usually restricted as well. You may check with SRAS on specific medications, but for these countries, you will usually have to bring a supply with you to last the duration of your stay. For more information on bring medication abroad, please see our packing list.
If I don’t have the original of the HIV test, is a copy OK?
When do I need the HIV test, and what are the requirements?
The HIV test is not needed at the time of invitation processing, only consulate processing. In practical terms this means you should plan on getting your HIV test results about 1.5 months before your program starts. Note that the test cannot be more than 3 months old (based on your entry date). There are no specific requirements on the type of HIV test, except that it MUST have your name and the date on it, that the results of the test are negative, and the official letterhead of the clinic where the test was administered. You will be given instructions on where to ship the results as well as the other visa materials at the appropriate time.
When will I know my class schedule?
Shortly after you arrive in Russia, you will be tested for your Russian language level. Groups are based on your test results and thus the final group and teacher assignments can only be made afterwards. While SRAS does offer testing and assessment on its site, its partner universities require that their own written tests be taken in person in Russia. Generally, language courses begin on the second or third business day after you arrive (to allow for testing and for you to sleep off some jet-lag). Courses tend to be held between 9am and 3pm, but your final schedule will depend on your group placement, course selection, and special requests you may make.
What about books and class materials?
Books are assigned after you are placed in your class and can differ based on your assigned teacher and determined level. Class books are generally comparatively cheap in Russia, although students should come prepared to spend up to fifty dollars per semester.
Who will be in my classes?
RS-100/200/300 (the Russian language component included in most of our programs) are taught through each university's program for foreigners and will likely contain students from non-SRAS programs as well. These courses typically contain five to ten students, but occasionally have as many as fifteen or as little as two, depending on that year's enrollment and other factors. Most of our other programs are SRAS-specific courses. In order to present complex material that is normally covered in multiple courses, the university faculty cooperates with SRAS to offer special intensive courses, often in English, to individuals and small groups. Class size typically ranges from one to five but can be more. Most of our courses advertised as being in Russian-only are regular Russian university courses that SRAS students may join if they have particularly advanced Russian skills. In this case, your classmates will be mostly Russians. Class size can vary greatly.
When will I get my transcript?
If you need one, you may receive your certificate and/or transcript a few days before your departure from Russia. HOWEVER, you must inform SRAS before arriving in Russia and inform the host university upon arrival that you will need a certificate and/or transcript. You must additionally remind your host university two weeks before your departure from that university. If students do not complete all three steps indicated here, SRAS cannot guarantee the timely issuance of transcripts and/or certificates. We will make every attempt to help students retrieve documentation after they have left Russia, but processing and shipping costs will apply.
7. Degree Studies (back to top)
Students entering degree studies must pass a language exam called the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (TORFL). This exam is given at the end of the preparatory courses, or by arrangement upon arrival at the university. Any student can arrange to take this exam at select universities. There is a fee for arranging the testing, which involves written and oral sections. Practice tests can be found on our site.
Do I have to be able to speak Russian to apply for a degree program?
Yes. You need to be able to pass the Level One TORFL exam for the Bachelors, which is only officially offered in Russia (we can help you get there for the exam as part of our enrollment assistance). Almost all classes are taught in Russian and those taught in English are usually intended for students from Pakistan, Africa, etc. If you do not yet speak Russian you are not out of luck – Russian universities offer year-long preparatory courses aimed at helping you pass the TORFL exam. If you are unsure of your language level you might try taking our online TORFL practice test. If you think you might need a refresher before taking the official TORFL exam in Russia we can arrange a language program in Russia focused on helping you pass the exam.
What are the admissions requirments for degree studies in Russia?
The specific requirements will depend on the individual university and on the area of study, but you can get a general idea by looking at this page.
Can I still apply for degree studies in Russia if I haven’t taken the TORFL yet?
Yes, you can still apply. Universities often let you take the exam after you arrive for the semester, but it all depends on each individual faculty. Contact us for more info!
With Degree Studies and Visiting Scholar programs, am I stuck in the faculty I apply to?
At the bigger universities you enroll by faculty (economics, mathematics, history, etc.) and each has its own tuition – so you are basically "stuck” there and cannot take classes from, for instance, the mathematics faculty if you enrolled in the history faculty. Russian students do not cross between faculties like students do in the US – the mentality is quite different – so the university structure cannot accommodate movement in most cases. With Degree Studies and Visting Scholar Programs, you are expected to focus on a particular topic. That said, smaller universities (ISLU, MGIMO) are a little more flexible about this as everything is done more centrally. Contact us with specific requests!
What would the total cost be for degree studies with SRAS’ enrollment assistance?
The exact cost is the SRAS Direct Enrollment fee + tuition + housing. Tuition and housing depends on the university you would like to apply to and the particular faculty (history, economics, mathematics, etc). Contact us for more info.
8. Program Related Services (back to top)
What are "Airport Transfers?"
A transfer is transportation from the airport to your actual destination inside the city (such as a dormitory or home stay). Most airports in Russia are built a considerable distance from the city and finding the correct address you'll be staying at, especially if you have a substantial amount of luggage, can be difficult. For this reason, SRAS includes one round-trip airport transfer as part of those services included with most programs (check the individual program pages to see if it is included with the specific program you are interested in). If not directly included, they can added for a fee. Contact SRAS for a quote.
Public transportation from the airport can be confusing and the taxi drivers who wait for tourists are not always the most honest – we don't recommend even making eye-contact with them. If you do not speak Russian, and especially after such a long plane ride, there are many pitfalls. We recommend arranging a taxi that will wait for you with your name on a sign, either through a travel agent or educational program.
Public transportation is a cheaper option, but certainly not as convenient. Depending on what modes of transport you use, it will cost you from $3-10 dollars to transport you and your bags, but you must pay in rubles, so be prepared to change money at the airport. If you have a lot of luggage or big luggage, you will be required to pay extra fare for each bag as though it were a person. Taking public transportation is not a good idea if it will be difficult for you to carry your things, as it is very crowded and requires a good deal of standing and/or hauling (especially if you are going to be making transfers inside the metro).
How does the cell phone program work?
All SRAS programs include either free use of a cell phone for the duration of the program or assistance in purchasing a cell phone at the beginning of the program. See individual programs for details. Calls, SMS messages, etc. are not included.
The service plan differs slightly from phone to phone as cell companies cancel and introduce new plans frequently. However, the following guidelines and estimates generally hold true:
Payment for calls is made by using one of many special terminals found throughout the city. You will be shown how to apply money to your account and where to buy long distance calling cards as part of your SRAS orientation after arrival.
During orientation your SRAS representative will assist you with putting money on your phone. We recommend that you keep a minimum balance of 100 RUR (around $3.50) on the phone at all times, in case of emergency. Students are responsible for returning the phone in working order and with a positive balance.
Incoming calls and SMS messages are free.
Outgoing calls to local cell numbers: ~5-10 RUR per minute.
Outgoing calls to local land-line numbers: ~10 RUR per minute.
SMS: ~1.5 RUR each.
Calling the US directly: varies between surprisingly and outrageously expensive.
Calling the US with a calling card: ~8-13 cents per minute. (Plus cost of local call if calling from a mobile.)
All terms subject to change without notice.
Lost or broken phones are replaced by the student either by paying a replacement fee (3000 rubles or $100) or by purchasing a similar model and returning that model to SRAS at the end of the program.
What is "SRAS In-Country Support?"
This means that if you have specific interests you would like to pursue, you can contact us and we can try to point you in the right direction. If you run into specific problems (with your program or with any of the myriad of bureaucracy that you will encounter), SRAS can always be reached by your mobile phone or by email to help you find a solution.
What about Insurance?
Most program fees (see individual program pages) include full health and accident insurance based on arrival/departure dates up to 2 days prior and post. Students may additionally request optional property insurance (at extra cost) to cover laptops, cameras, or other valuables brought to Russia. See our Health and Saftey Guide for more information.
9. Russian Education (back to top)
For more reasons to study Russian, see this Russian Life article, this list of reasons from professionals and government authorities, or this list of interviews with students and professionals who have worked or are working in Russia already.
What is an academic hour?
As is the case in many countries, Russian universities run on academic hours. An academic hour in Russia, depending on the specific host institution, is usually either 40 or 45 minutes, the time in between used to get to another classroom and for you and the teachers to have a mental break. In most language programs, when groups are small and there is no need to change classrooms, academic hours are often done in "pairs" with only a short 5 minute break between. This "compactness" of your schedule can often be confusing and you might think you are studying for less hours than you are. Questions of academic credit nearly always assume academic hours.
What is an academic year in Russia?
The academic year, with slight variations from university to university, runs from September 1 until approximately June 30. As with any university, the first week is a lot of paperwork, testing, and settling in and the last month can be mainly exams. It is possible to shorten your semesters to fit the US academic schedule for most programs. Degree students and UPC students should follow the Russian academic calendar. The semester break is usually in January for students following this calendar. There are several 1-2 days holidays during the year, mainly in November, January, and May.
What are the language departments like?
Russia has a long history of teaching the Russian language to foreigners. An active program (initiated by the Soviet Union) of recruiting students internationally meant intensive language training was necessary, as few students knew even the Cyrillic alphabet. Students needed to enter degree studies after a one-year preparatory course, able to compete with their native Russian classmates. A methodology for intensive Russian language training was developed and continues today. Professional teachers of Russian have studied the teaching of Russian to foreigners as either degree study or as a component of their philology or other language studies. Departments of Russian for Foreigners exist in most major universities. The size of the department - sometimes it is just a small division - depends on the number of foreign students normally enrolled. In large cities, at least one university will have an extensive center, where students undergo preparatory courses. Large universities with a strong humanities base will also offer Russian language study within the philology (or similar) faculty.
Where can I find out more about the Russian education system?
See this short developmental history written by SRAS Program Director Renee Stillings.
Contact SRAS with any additional questions you may have.
10. Language Acquisition (back to top)
How quickly can I learn Russian?
Of course, the answer for this differs from student to student and can depend on your aptitude, if you already know a second or third language, your study habits and personality type, and many other factors. It also depends on how you will be looking to measure your Russian skills to judge if you have "learned" the language. There are several measures developed by several different organizations to approximate how long it takes the average student to reach a certain level of ability. We've outlined some major ones below - from the Russian Ministry of Education, the US Department of State, the US Department of Defence, The Council of Europe, and from SRAS Partner Liden & Denz.
a. The Russian Ministry of Education has outlined the following hours that it expects a student would have to complete in order to gain proficiency in relation to TORFL levels. TORFL is the measure of proficiency officially recognized by the Russian government. The Ministry also states, however, that these hours are only suggested and may vary substantially based on student ability and other factors.
Elementry Level: 100-120 hours
Basic Level – 180-200 (in addition to the previous hours)
TORFL 1 – 160-180 (in addition to the previous hours)
TORFL 2 – 380 (in addition to the previous hours)
TORFL 3 – 280 (in addition to the previous hours)
TORFL 1 is basic conversational fluency. TORFL 3 is needed for admission to graduate programs in Russian universities. Find out more about TORFL levels here.
b. The US Department of State uses a three-tier category system as outlined in the chart below.
The figures usually cited in answer to this question are those used by the US Department of State or the US Department of Defense. These are figures based on average class time needed for students to reach an acceptable professional proficiency in the target language.
Class hours to achieve goal
Category I: Languages closely cognate with English.
French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, Norwegian, Afrikaans, etc.
Category II: Languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English.
Albanian, Amharic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Khmer, Latvian, Nepali, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese, Zulu.
Category III: Languages which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn to speak and/or read:
Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
c. The Department of Defense (DoD) divides the languages they teach into four groups as follows:
- Group I: Languages included: Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, Haitian Creole, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish
- Group II: Bulgarian, Dari, Farsi, German, Greek, Hindi-Urdu, Indonesian, Malay
- Group III: Amharic, Bengali, Burmese, Czech, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Cambodian, Lao, Nepali, Filipino, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese
- Group VI: Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean.
While each language has its own curriculum and requirements from the military, a Russian course taken from the Defense Language Institute (which is directly connected with the Department of Defense), will run about 1600 classroom (academic) hours to completion for a professional grasp deemed appropriate to DoD work. The chart below shows the number of hours needed to achieve a "basic professional knowledge" of a language. Note that this information is taken from old DLI information and is not included in new DLI information (each language is now listed with its own prerequisites and curriculum), but the numbers still seem to hold roughly true in most cases.
Information on the Groups
|Hours needed to reach Level-2 Proficiency*
|Speaking proficiency level expected of a student with superior language aptitude, after 720 hours of instruction
So what does that mean?
It means that if you study for eight classroom hours a day and studied five days a week, you would have a working knowledge of Russian in about four and half months (one semester). Note that this does not mean that you would be fluent, but simply able to comprehend and express basic day-to-day phrases and thoughts. Advanced skills (able to negotiate and express complex ideas eloquently) can be obtained after several more months of intense study.
Study abroad can greatly speed this process by providing more opportunity for practice (more "classroom hours" provided in real situations on the street, in shops, etc.). However, it can really only do this if you avoid speaking English and use your time abroad to seek out Russian friends who will let you practice with them and correct you when you make major mistakes. It should also be noted that the estimates above assume that the student is serious, attends and participates in class, and studies diligently outside of class.
It is safe to say that students with some background in Russian can advance faster than those who come without basic skills and need to spend much of their time trying to "survive" in a foreign land without the language.
*What exactly is level two?
As defined by the Defense Language Institute (again, by old information - the new information breaks down proficiencies by several skills such as speaking, reading, and writing):
"Able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements. Can handle routine work-related interactions that are limited in scope. In more complex and sophisticated work-related tasks, language usage generally disturbs the native speaker. Can handle with confidence, but not with facility, most normal, high-frequency social conversational situations including extensive, but casual conversations about current events, as well as work, family, and autobiographical information. The individual can get the gist of most everyday conversations but has some difficulty understanding native speakers in situations that require specialized or sophisticated knowledge. The individual's utterances are minimally cohesive. Linguistic structure is usually not very elaborate and not thoroughly controlled; errors are frequent. Vocabulary use is appropriate for high-frequency utterances, but unusual or imprecise elsewhere. While these interactions will vary widely from individual to individual, the individual can typically ask and answer predictable questions in the workplace and give straightforward instructions to subordinates. Additionally, the individual can participate in personal and accommodation-type interactions with elaboration and facility; that is, can give and understand complicated, detailed, and extensive directions and make non-routine changes in travel and accommodation arrangements. Simple structures and basic grammatical relations are typically controlled; however, there are areas of weakness. In the commonly taught languages, these may be simple markings such as plurals, articles, linking words, and negatives or more complex structures such as tense/aspect usage, case morphology, passive constructions, word order, and embedding."
d. The Council of Europe has come up with the following categories of language proficiency.
Levels according to the European Language Portfolio
(Council of Europe)
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to
areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar
matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal
with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where
the language is spoken. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes
regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain
for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much
obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
e. SRAS partner Liden & Denz has estimated that the following teaching hours are needed to achieve these levels.
Corresponding teaching levels at the Liden & Denz Language Centres
||Lessons (weeks) 
||TRKI exam level
|40 (2 weeks)
||200 words or constructions
|80 (4 weeks)
||600 words or constructions
|100 (5 weeks)
||1000-1200 words or constructions
|100 (5 weeks)
||1300-1500 words or constructions
|80 (4 weeks)
||1800 words or constructions
|80 (4 weeks)
||2200 words or constructions
|200 (10 weeks)
||3500 words or constructions
|200 (10 weeks)
||4500 words or constructions
|160 (8 weeks)
||6000 words or constructions
1) average number of lessons (each 50 minutes) for a standard group course;
2) open group courses not available year round;
3) rarely requested level; only taught in One-to-one or closed group classes.