Step 1: Fall in love
Find some time, make a cup of tea and recall everything you know about Russia, Russian people and their language. Quite possibly you are aware of more words than just such words as “Vodka”,”Matreshka”, “Balalaika”. Life is not standing still, and we do have something to offer: nature, which gives you a thrill (by the way, have you ever dreamed about a vacation at the Baikal?), the view on life which is unique only to the Russian soul, the cuisine, the age-old traditions which you can see on every home table (have you ever tried brined cucumbers?), contemporary art and architecture, sport (if you are a fan of Formula 1 or, for instance, football, then buy the tickets in advance): world championships are not so far away.
Or probably, Russian is the native language of your wife, daughter or son, your future mother-in-law or even your granny? All your feellings addressed to them will be supplemented by a special warmth, gratitude for the try to become closer to each other, their pure joy for your success. Your urge of studying Russian will be an excellent present for your relatives.
Or a little bit of exotics? English, German, French … Will you agree that knowing these languages is quite normal, but Russian lesson will make you a superhero in any society. “Russian? Why do you need it?” – “For myself. I have been going to study it for a long time and now I have made up my mind. You know, Russia is the biggest country, what if I need this language”.
No matter which option is closer to you, the key thing is love for the result. Language is rather a part of the new world which you discover than a goal. Fall in love with this world prior to your first lesson.
Step 2: Find your teacher
Believe me in every spot of the Globe you will definitely find some people who will start giving Russian lessons with pleasure (I am not talking about Skype lessons now). Historically and thanks to the existence of the Soviet Union up to 1991 people from numerous countries speak Russian (as a native language), aside of Russia these counties are Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and many others. You should not be stopped at all by the fact that your future teacher is not from Moscow or St. Petersburg, we all speak one and the same Russian, but you really need to look at the time when was this person’s latest visit to Russia.
Again Russian has not changed but the reality has. If you are going to visit the capital of Russia, the awareness of the fact that we do have metro ticket machines which can be switched into English and in two taps you can easily buy a ticket, will simplify your life in here and save up your learning time of the topic “Dialogue with the metro cashier”.
One more important issue is experience. According to my observations the Russian view is as follows: the key criteria of professionalism (for Russians themselves) is education and experience. Especially in the education sector. I think everyone used to have a teacher who had brought up not a single generation of students, but everybody was afraid of her. Remember? I have never meet a person in my life who did not have such a teacher. There was her experience but there was not any wish to communicate with her. Now when you are an adult choose a person who is after your own heart, whom you will see twice a week, spending the time which you could devote to your family or your hobby. Choose the person whose eyes are sparkling when you meet, who feels the joy when he opens a new lesson, choose with your heart. Brighten up your life with this choice!
Experience. In fact, foreign language teacher experience is a number of times when he explained a certain topic (or the whole course) to various students. Does this number necessarily guarantee the quality of this lessons? In my opinion, no. Ask for the test lesson, ask to show the portfolio with the materials and go to the teacher’s website. Believe me, you will get from the first glance if you want this start or not, if you like his work style or you would better continue the search.
Please pay for the trial lesson. Teacher’s salary is his work time. If your intentions are serious enough, then saving on one lesson does not play any role in your budget, but it will describe you as a person who appreciates his and other people's time and has got a responsible approach to business.
Getting back to the subject of experience, I will highlight: treat inexperienced teachers with indulgence. Being the author of the course for the teachers’ training, I see the efforts and care given by the inexperienced teachers to their class preparation! Where the experienced teacher will think: "I'll give this and that, and in the end I will come up with something on the fly", the only-just-begun will not sleep the night, worrying and trying to do everything possible to 110%. Give them a chance. There is a good likelihood that this chance will be happy for both of you.
Skype classes. Here the same laws as in the face-to-face communication are valid. Also pay attention to the materials portfolio. Negotiate how the tasks will be given in general and “practical touch” tasks in particular (compile a sentence, choose out of … , find , word cards and picture cards): it would be good if the teacher uses an interactive board and Google Drive, the instruments which can mitigate the difference between the lesson at one table and the lesson with one screen. Share Screen option will not give much. You should not rely on it as a universal solution.
Step 3. Choose a text book
Let's face it: Russian text books have very little in common with the books you are used while getting acquainted with other languages. Most of them do not have colored pictures, translation into any language, they are overloaded with tables, and the tasks like "Read and Translate", containing the vocabulary required for students coming to study in Russian universities. The number of contemporary textbooks is growing. A good example of such a textbook for beginners is «Moi russkiy drug» ( "My Russian Friend", M. Zagrebelnaya). There are others, talking about them can be a topic for a separate post, if you are interested in this topic.
And again the same advice: look at textbooks the teacher advises you (pay attention to the quality of the scanned copies, if you have classes on Skype: there are no official electronic versions of textbooks on Russian as a foreign language). Ask a few to compare, ask which one and why your teacher likes.
Don’t be afraid to study without any textbook, if the teacher tells you that he has his own manuals. In case of teaching Russian as a foreign language it is a sign of a high quality of teacher’s work, that classes will be fit for the real life purposes, but not for the dialogues of the librarian with a student who needs Pushkin’s book.
Pay special attention to the structure of the author's course. Select the binder which appeals to you (if the teacher does not offer it to you at the beginning of classes) and keep all lessons materials, paying attention to their sequence and content. Create your own text book! This is not only useful, but also a very interesting part of the process.
Step 4. Create a lesson of your dream
If you have found the right person, identified the course content depending on your goals, I already have something to congratulate you with! To complete the picture there is only one stroke to add: a schedule. Primarily think about how to make the lessons of the Russian language a part of your life, which will come into your reality without ruining a comfortable course of events. How many times a week are you willing to study? What is important to you: the process or the result? Is there any reason to hurry? Or is it better to choose the knowledge quality and the drill, but not the number of pages? Or, the other way around, you have already bought a ticket to the Baikal and you have got only two weeks ahead to go? Answering these questions will greatly help not only you but your teacher as well.
Choosing Skype class, please bear in mind that you would better make short lessons at the computer (30-45 minutes) but frequent one (2-3 times a week), as while sitting at the computer it is physically difficult to keep full attention for an hour or longer.
Decide whether you have the desire and time to do your homework. The homework which has not been done will not only frustrate you and give some uneasiness (let’s remember school years), but it also violates the teacher's lesson plan, forcing him to come up with ideas on the fly on how to use free time all of a sudden. Talk through your opportunities with the homework in advance.
Step 5. Enjoy!
Give yourself an adventure! Forget about everything you know! Become a smooth tablet which will soon have fancy lines of a new language on it! The intention to do word-by-word translation (especially in the beginning of your way) creates complications, confusion and discomfort, when a new language does not copy the rules of your own language or the language you’ve studied before, this is why you should trust your teacher (if you have chosen him with your heart) and make the first step.
On the way you will come across some strange shapes, sounds and expressions that are not given to you by any other language except Russian. Russian is the language of soul. Where in English we say “nobody”, Russians say “no soul”. Russian is the language of goodwill. Each time, greeting each other, we say “Здравствуйте” which literally means "I wish you health," and the English “thank you” means literally “let the God save you” (спасибо). Russian is the language of the world, 260 million people are Russian native speakers. Welcome to the big and happy family! With soul and a great pleasure!