After meeting her French fiance during her degree year abroad, Anna Parkin decided to learn Russian for their honeymoon in St Petersburg
It was in the third year of my French degree, while I was living in Bordeaux, that French lived up to its romantic designation. I’d been in the city for just five days when I found myself at a house party, hosted by my now-fiance Christophe. I was the one speaking French with a heavy English accent. He was doing the opposite. We decided to meet up the following week for a “conversation exchange”, and it was then we discovered a shared desire to travel the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.
Seven years later, and the Trans-Siberian adventure still hasn’t happened. But we’re edging closer; this June we’ll be spending our honeymoon in St Petersburg. So for my next language learning adventure, I’ll be taking a break from wedding planning to abandon France’s soft, gentle accents and attempt to learn as much Russian as possible.
So how should I go about mastering this new Slavic vernacular? A few years ago, I bought myself a teach-yourself-Russian textbook. I lasted about two weeks. And even then I embarrassingly found myself copying the correct answers from the back of the book. As if there was a teacher who was going to come and check.
In fact, that’s just what I need: a teacher who can motivate me. I learn best via conversational methods – speaking and listening – but since a Russian boyfriend is off the cards, I’ve decided to find a tutor. My first port of call was thetutorpages.com, where you can browse private tutors via subject and location. The site shows tutors who are willing to travel to your location, as well as those offering online classes via Skype. You can also post your own request, so I left a message in the “Tutors Wanted” forum.
The Skype option particularly appealed to me for its ease and wider range of teachers. A quick search proved this was a competitive area – there certainly wasn’t a lack of choice when it came to native Russian teachers. Most offered good value rates and flexibility when it came to lesson times. Some also offered free trial lessons.
As well as tutors running their own show, I found some online language schools. The most promising one was Russificate, which offers one-to-one online lessons with native speakers favouring a communicative approach. It also offers a “Russian for tourists” course, which seems a good place for me to begin. I was keen on the welcome video by the company’s director Yulia Amlinskaya, a friendly lady who says she puts an emphasis on fun.
After a few hours’ research, I check my email and am pleased to see I’ve already had some replies to my queries. While the majority are promising, the rather misleadingly named russianforfree.com, tells me I’d need to pay €1 for my trial lesson. Another response fills my screen with Cyrillic script I can’t (yet) decipher. This is obviously a teacher who doesn’t have much patience for absolute beginners. The search continues.
Anna Parkin is a fashion journalist based in Paris, she is learning Russian via Skype for six weeks as part of the Guardian online language learning challenge. Follow her progess on the case for language learning series. or on Twitter using the hashtag #LearnALanguageOnline.