Setting yourself up for failure: how not to learn

This article is about how NOT to learn Russian, but it may be applied to learning any other foreign language. There are a lot of mistakes that you can make in the beginning that will put you on a course towards failure. When you fail, you have wasted a lot of valuable time — especially when you fail to learn a language. I’m here to help (and hope) you succeed, but it’s ultimately up to you. Let’s hope that you do succeed!

Life is very interesting. There are so many things that can go right, yet it always seems that one little teeny, tiny thing can screw everything up! I have experienced this a lot in my life, and I’m sure you have as well. Things are going great, but you do something (or something happens) that knocks the train off of the tracks, causing it to crash. The same thing can happen when learning a foreign language. Let’s take a look at what you should NOT do when learning Russian.

1. Don’t have a goal!


Why are you learning Russian? — Because I can…

This is the number one reason why many fail at learning a foreign language. They just simply do not have a reason to learn it. You need to ask yourself: “Why am I learning Russian?” If you cannot answer that question, you are going to fail. You must have some type of goal set. Perhaps you want to learn more about Russian culture, you want to read Russian books, you want to travel to Russia, you want to get a Russian mail order bride (wait, what?), those are all goals. Find your goal and whenever you feel like you are slacking with your learning, remind yourself of that goal. Tell yourself “I need to learn, because of [insert goal here].”

Motivation is key in language learning. Not having a goal = not being motivated to complete a task. The goal is the reward. Let’s say that you have to shovel rocks 8 hours a day. If you are getting paid, you will be motivated to work. Why is this? It’s because you are being rewarded for your work (money!). If your boss tells you that he is not going to pay you anymore, you are not going to be motivated to work. If you decide to work anyways, you have just wasted your time because you are not going to be rewarded.

2. Brag all the time

Look at these guns!

Yeah…I’m learning Rooskee Yizeek…That’s Russian for Russian language…

Bragging about learning something is not a good thing to do. You trick yourself into thinking you are more advanced than you actually are. Furthermore, you begin to think that you have accomplished more than you actually have. On the outside you say “I am learning Russian” but on the inside you’re thinking “I have learned a lot of Russian” especially if you say that all the time, but are actually not accomplishing much.

Bragging is “okay” after you have made some major accomplishments. Just be a little careful with it. If you do brag about it, brag around people that will keep you on your toes. You don’t want to look like a jackass when someone asks you a simple question that you can’t answer (like “How do you say ‘dog’ in Russian?”) But a situation like that will be a good ‘slap in the face’ to remind yourself, “Hey, I probably shouldn’t brag about something I have yet to actually master.”

3. Do not focus on speaking and listening

Sorry, I can’t understand you. Can you please write it down?

Have you ever heard of “use it or lose it?” You will not learn ANY language by simply reading and writing it. Why? Because a language is spoken. Writing records the language, but not literally (like not a sound file, lol). You cannot interact in the real world without being able to speak and listen in the language you are learning. You probably cannot go to Russia at the moment, so you are going to have to find a way to speak Russian at your home. An audio course, right? Well — maybe in the beginning, but ultimately you are going to have to have a realtime conversation with a native Russian speaker. Grab yourself a friend on Skype (a Russian friend…), and chat with them as often as possible. You will get corrected A LOT, but it’s definitely worth it.

4. Be shy!

I don’t talk to strangers…

DO NOT BE SHY! No ones expects you to know everything about something you are LEARNING. It takes time to speak a new language, and you are going to make many mistakes in the beginning. Being shy is going to hurt the language learning process and lead you to failure. That is not cool…

Don’t be afraid of meeting new people, but do not forget to be cautious with every new person you meet. Don’t tell them exactly where you live, how many people live in your house, the exact time when you go to bed…be smart. If you are nervous about the idea of talking to a new person, just remember that they are thousands of miles away. If they creep you out or offend you, stop talking to them and block them — and move on and find someone else.

5. Learn like a baby!

Go on…I’m listening…

Okay, we all know what course I am talking about! Their commercials are on television all the time and they tell you that they will help you learn a language “naturally”, just like you learned your first language! Do you remember what it was like learning your first language? — No, because you were a baby… Are you a baby now? No, because babies can’t read… Don’t try to learn like a baby.

This product I speak of has some plus sides to it, but it is still a total fail. It is much too expensive for what it delivers. You can learn much more with a $10 book, believe you me. Don’t believe me? Buy this product along with The New Penguin Russian Course and see which one delivers more, and then kick yourself in the ass for spending all that money.

6. Learn like a linguist!

I can write down Russian’s phonemic inventory with my eyes closed!

Hey there! Do you know what an alveolar trill is? What about the subjunctive mood? What about a participle? What about reflexive verbs? — You don’t? Uh-oh! Does that mean you can’t be successful at learning Russian? — No, it doesn’t! You can ask a fluent Russian child the same questions and he/she will not be able to answer them…yet they speak the language…Magical!

A common misconception is that ‘learning languages is for smart people.’ You do not have to be “smart” to learn a language. And while we’re on this topic, think about what “smart” is. No one is smart at everything, just particular subjects. So, a linguist may be able to dissect parts of a language and tell you how it works, but that does not mean he can speak the language fluently and use it in real-world situations.

Learning a language is not about knowing grammar terms and rules. It’s about USING and gaining knowledge via REAL WORLD USAGE. Us English speakers automatically know to say “She likes me” instead of “She likes I.” Russian speakers automatically know to say “Она любит меня” instead of “Она любит я.” But they do not learn that these are examples of the accusative case in use until much later on.

Note: I’m a total nerd, wannabe linguist…so if you are too, do not be offended. And yes…I know Einstein wasn’t a linguist.

7. Put things off!

I can do this tomorrow! I wanna get some z’s!

The day you tell yourself “I don’t feel like learning Russian today, I’ll learn it tomorrow” is the beginning of the end of your quest to learn Russian. What about tomorrow? Will you tell yourself the same thing? When you learn anything, you need to develop a ritual. Do not let yourself believe that you are too busy to do this. If learning Russian is a goal of yours, you should and will make time for it. If you tell yourself you are too busy, then it’s obviously not important, so why do it at all?

Even if you only study for 20-30 minutes a day, try to do it in the same place at around the same time. It will become a habit. Don’t think of it as a bad habit (like smoking). Think of it as something wonderful (because that’s what it is) 🙂


Seriously take a look at each of these seven steps and think about them. In the end, language learning is all about motivation. I really want to highlight that. As long as you stay motivated, you can do anything. This doesn’t just apply to language learning, it applies to anything you do: exercising, working, etc.

Stay motivated and always remember to ask yourself “Why am I learning Russian?”. And if you don’t have an answer, let me ask you “Why are you wasting your time?”


Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [7]

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