This article is a review of RussianPod101.com, an online resource for learning Russian through audio podcasts.
In this review, I'll take you inside the premium members area and show you the main features of the website then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it's right for you.
RussianPod101 Review: Summary
- Very substantial – tonnes of lessons for all levels
- Easy to use lesson format – audio podcast lessons and a handy mobile app
- Quality video lessons
- Dialogues are too short
- Too much “lesson” content, not enough Russian
- No speaking component
- No writing exercises for practicing Cyrillic script
- Lots of advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products when you sign up
A premium RussianPod101 subscription costs $180 USD per year.
RussianPod101 is a good, engaging resource, especially for beginners and lower intermediate levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes it ideal for busy people and those who struggle with motivation, but it is certainly not any kind of shortcut – you will still have to do the hard work yourself.
(My top recommendation for Russian learners is Russian Uncovered, which teaches you through StoryLearning®. Click here to find out about Russian Uncovered as soon as it’s released!)
What Is RussianPod101?
RussianPod101 is an online subscription programme for Russian learners of all levels.
Subscribers get access to an extensive library of Russian audio and video lessons, as well as a number of other learning tools – such as Russian flashcards and a Russian-English dictionary.
All of the content included in the premium subscription is available to access through a web browser or through a handy mobile app.
A Look Inside RussianPod101
Lessons in RussianPod101 are organised into 5 proficiency levels. Each level has different ‘seasons', or sets of lessons grouped by theme, and each set has anything from 1 to 100 lessons in it (although most have 20-40).
This adds up to a huge library of Russian podcast lessons, making RussianPod101 a very substantial resource.
This seems awesome, until you realise that there’s no ‘start to finish’, and you have to choose what to learn. With so many possibilities, it's difficult to know where to start. The dashboard (your homepage) is very busy and can be quite overwhelming to newbies!
Luckily, a helpful feature was introduced: ‘Learning Paths'. This offers you different paths or course structures based on your current level and what you most want to learn.
For example, beginners can choose from learning paths like ‘Russian Alphabet Made Easy', ‘Business Russian for Beginners' or ‘Daily Conversations In Russian: Beginner'.
I like this idea because it makes it easier for you to decide where to start. It also gives you a clear picture of what you'll have learnt once you complete the learning path.
What's Included In Each Lesson?
Each lesson contains 3 audio tracks:
- Full Lesson Audio
- Review Track
- Dialogue Only Track
Each lesson normally follows the same format:
- Dialogue in Russian
- Repetition of the dialogue with a translation
- Discussion of the story and cultural insight
- Explanation of new vocabulary
- Explanation of new grammar
Once you've completed the main lesson, you can use the review and dialogue-only tracks to practice what you've learned.
The review track is for quickly reviewing and learning new vocabulary. The dialogue track allows you to simply repeat the dialogue without listening to all of the explanations.
This is the track I recommend you work with the most.
Let's look at some of the other more advanced features of RussianPod101 that you'll find in premium subscriptions…
The really valuable part of RussianPod101 is the enriching extra features accompanying each lesson.
The dialogue text is in an interactive format: each line is clickable, so you can click one at a time and hear the audio – as many times as you like. You can also switch the text between Russian (Cyrillic alphabet), romanization (Russian written with the English alphabet) and English.
This works really well and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller bits, so you can listen and read at the same time. It's also great for improving your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
There's another section which gives you a list of vocabulary from the dialogue. Here, too, you can click on words to hear the audio (at natural speed and slowed-down) and see them written with both alphabets.
Another cool feature of RussianPod101 is the personalised flashcard system.
You can choose the vocabulary you want to learn from your lessons and export it to the website's built-in flashcard system.
These flashcard decks use a spaced-repetition system to help you learn new words. They’re fully customisable and very easy to set up and dive into.
However… there’s a big downside: these flashcards only show you words in isolation. It's much more effective to see new words in context. So the fact that you can't do that in RussianPod101 makes a potentially useful flashcard tool practically useless.
All of the lesson material is also available in downloadable worksheets, in case you prefer to have physical copies to print out. There's nothing special about these – they're just PDF versions of the information from your lesson. Nevertheless, people like to consume information in different ways, and if you like to have everything printed off and there in front of you, it's good to have.
The podcast audios can be downloaded to anything that plays MP3s, which you might find handy if you want to listen to lessons offline.
Bonuses For Beginners
In addition to the lessons, there are a lot of extra resources for beginners that add value for people exploring Russian for the first time.
When you're just starting out, Russian can seem quite daunting and you’ll want reliable info on the basics: grammar, phonology, the Cyrillic script… Trying to piece it all together from various websites is just going to hinder your progress. Here, you can find it all in one place:
- Overviews of the language
- Introduction to Russian Grammar
- A Guide to Russian Pronunciation
- Russian Alphabet e-Book with Practice Sheets
- Key Russian Phrases
- Russian Core 2000 Word List
Some of these are printable PDFs, but most are only accessible on the website.
Other Notable Features
Some of the other cool features include a quiz function, which gives you brief vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lessons, and an online Russian-English, English-Russian dictionary.
I would have loved to see quizzes that really test you. They’re all very easy, though, so it’s more of a fun element than a challenge.
The dictionary is accessible from a handy search bar on your dashboard, and you’ll find all of the language from the lessons there. It also has some rather poetic sample sentences – no surprise with Russian.
RussianPod101 Review: What I Like
There are plenty of things I really like about RussianPod101…
- It's a very substantial resource. There are lots of lessons for all levels and the library is updated regularly with new material. Beginners will find lessons on just about everything, so it’s a good option if you know nothing about Russian.
- The course is well-designed, with some really impressive content. It's not easy to select and produce graded material for an entire language course. Grammar points and language vocabulary get repeated over the course of each level, which helps reinforce what you've learnt.
- The podcast lessons are short and entertaining, which can help motivate anyone who battles to focus. Beginners will benefit from Katyusha’s easy-going videos, and more advanced learners will appreciate the intelligent-sounding presenters. (RussianPod has less silly banter than most other LanguagePod courses, which is a relief.)
- The difficulty levels are just right. Once you’ve worked out your current level and get going, you'll find that the progression from level to level is logical.
- Vocabulary is well-selected and the dialogues are based on life-like situations. This means the lessons teach useful, authentic language – the kind you’ll actually hear in Russian-speaking countries.
- The line-by-line clickable dialogues with audio and translation, plus transcription in both alphabets, are AWESOME. For me, this feature is the main benefit of the product.
- The Cyrillic Alphabet video lessons show you all the basics of writing Russian letters – from stroke order to accents. The demos are very clear and easy to understand.
- The mobile app works on all iOS and Android devices, which is handy as it allows you to listen to episodes on the go. You can even use the line-by-line audio feature on your phone.
RussianPod101 Review: What I Don't Like
In spite of its strengths, RussianPod101 also has quite a few significant shortcomings…
- The podcasts use too much English and not enough Russian. This might appeal to absolute beginners, but it’s frustrating once you get more comfortable with the language. As your fluency improves, you'll probably start to feel that there's too much English in each episode compared to how much Russian you're hearing. This is certainly true for me when I reach higher levels: I could do with more exciting, challenging listening! Even the advanced Russian audio blogs are really brief – maybe two minutes long.
- There’s no obligation or incentive to actually speak. When speaking isn’t required, how do you learn to converse with people in Russian? It’s a difficult language and your speaking skills will only develop if you get talking from the start. Even just as a model, videos where you observe whole conversations would be useful. But RussianPod101 doesn’t push you to speak – not even at higher levels.
- There’s a constant attempt to sell you the premium membership, or other related products, even after you sign up. The advertising, emails and bright on-site banners get pretty irritating when you've already paid for the product. It’s visually annoying and detracts from the user experience in a big way.
- The resources are, at times, not very cared for, which is a bit disappointing for something you pay good money for. The transcript editing is sometimes poor, the voice recorder function doesn't always work, and the information across the different study tools is not always consistent. For one thing, many phrases in the database don't come with audio recordings. Some translations are also inaccurate or misleading. For example, in a lesson on idioms there are incorrect English meanings – a pity, since translation issues could easily be corrected by an English editor. These aren’t deal-breakers, but you can’t help feeling a little neglected!
- The vocabulary lists and flashcards work with single words out of context, which is a big missed opportunity. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it's much more effective to learn words in context! You start off seeing and hearing new words in context in the dialogues, but then it drops off when you go to the review areas. Some sample phrases show up in the flashcard decks, but they’re mostly not full sentences, and often don’t have audios. I’m a big believer in keeping new language in full sentences at all times.
- Lots of teaching, not much immersion. If you extract the Russian dialogue out of a 15-minute lesson, you’ll be lucky to get 30 seconds of sustained listening to the language. The rest of the lesson is teaching explanations of vocabulary and grammar. And this is a big issue I have with RussianPod: too much ‘lesson’ talk! Although the teaching itself is good quality, it’s vital to spend more time simply hearing the language if you truly want to absorb it. I would like to see more material for extensive listening, so you can just listen and enjoy without always having to learn something new.
- Vocabulary lists from the lessons don't always contain all the useful words from the dialogues. You often hear a new word in the lesson that you want to remember and practice, but then it's not in the vocab list. Instead, you get some other words that are related to the topic. While related vocabulary might be interesting, it would be far more useful to provide the vocab that you've just learned! You can look up these missing words in the dictionary on your dashboard (and from there, export them to flashcard decks), but it's unnecessary and interrupts the user experience.
How Much Does RussianPod 101 Cost & Is It Worth It?
RussianPod101 works on a freemium model. This means that it's free to create a lifetime account and use the earliest lessons in each level, but to access the best content and special features, you'll need to buy a subscription.
As you might expect, there’s a range of subscriber options to choose from and the longer you subscribe for, the cheaper the deal. The prices are quite fair, in my opinion.
Taking a one-year premium subscription as our baseline: this costs $180. That's a lot more than the cost of a language book, but substantially less than other commercial products like, for instance, Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons).
Overall, I think RussianPod101.com is a substantial, well-designed resource for learning Russian that's easy to consume. And, despite my issues with the teaching format, I think you'll find it useful if you decide to sign up.
However, if you're looking for a comprehensive beginner programme that will take you all the way to the intermediate level in Russian and that uses a much more exciting, engaging and effective method, then I've got something that might suit you better…
Russian Uncovered: A Better Alternative To RussianPod101
While RussianPod101 is reasonably well-structured and has lots of lesson content, it's not the most fun Russian programme.
That's where Russian Uncovered is different.
Russian Uncovered is a comprehensive online beginner course, that takes you from a complete beginner in Russian up to an intermediate level. And it's fuelled by a fun and unique method called StoryLearning®.
StoryLearning is a process that was invented to teach you languages naturally. It’s so natural, in fact, that it’s based on how human beings learn their native language.
In this course, you'll learn through an exciting original story in Russian, written especially for beginner learners.
Even though you learn through story, you have a native teacher and experienced language learner by your side, all the way through the course, giving explanations in English and tips to learn the material fast.
Uncovered teaches all of the key aspects of the language – reading, listening, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, speaking and writing. So, by the time you've finished, you'll be a confident intermediate level Russian speaker, ready to go out and actually use your Russian in the real world!
What You Get With Uncovered
- Complete 20-module course to learn to speak Russian with confidence through StoryLearning™. This is a method that relies on your brain's natural way of learning.
- 60+ video lessons with your experienced Russian teacher. You'll learn with the same method that's attracted worldwide attention, from the BBC, Independent, Open University, European Commission, El País, and more!
- Learn the secrets I used to learn 8 languages and how to use them yourself to learn to speak with confidence & take part fully in conversations with native speakers.
- Fully downloadable programme so you can learn faster – anywhere, any time, and on any device… even without an internet connection!
- Complete learning material, including audiobook, translations, printable worksheets… everything you need to get started and find success with your language learning!
- Expert pronunciation training videos, so you can perfect your pronunciation and speak like a native from the start.
- Money-back guarantee, so you can buy without risk today, and get a full refund if you don't love it.
If you're determined to learn Russian and looking for the most fun and effective Russian course around, I'm confident you'll love Uncovered!
Ready to start? Click here to find out more about Russian Uncovered and start your language learning journey.