Most common Russian Words with Anki

Are you ready for some Russian vocabulary? I hope so because I have created Anki electronic flashcards with the 10000 most common Russian words. At the back of every card in addition to the word definition in English, you will also get audio pronunciation and links to Google Translate, Yandex Translate, noun declension/verb conjugation rules, and examples. And if that “10000” sounds a little overwhelming, I have also made smaller decks of cards with the 1K, 1.5K, 2K, 3K, 4K and 5K most common Russian words. All I need from you is some motivation.

Anki is a flash card software which uses a spaced repetition system. That means that a card shows up at spaced time intervals. The length of each interval depends on how well you remember a card every time you review it.

The desktop version of Anki is completely free and available for all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux). You can download it here.

The first time you open Anki you should be able to see a Window like this:


Your new profile obviously has no cards at the moment. Now download one of my decks (Anki file) with the most common Russian words. Click here to download the decks. 

After you download a deck, click on Import file on the above window. Select the file — Anki Deck — that you have just downloaded. Then click on the title of the Deck to start studying the words. Press Study Now on the following window. (Note: If the name reads “10000 most frequent Russian words” irrespective of the deck you downloaded, you haven’t made a mistake. Just rename the file. The reason is I used the big deck to create the smaller decks 🙂

The first card you will get is the following ( И – the most common Russian word!)

After you guess, click on Show Answer to confirm. You will instantly hear how the word is pronounced and reveal the back of the card with the following:

  1. Google Translate link
  2. Yandex Translate link
  3. Wiktionary link (with rules on noun declension, verb conjugation and other useful information)
  4. Yandex Examples (Examples with the current word on Yandex)
  5. Frequency Index of the current word (1: Most Frequent).

For example, this is what you get after you press Show Answer on the card И.

Now you can use the links to find more about the word. After you explore the word and find examples, you can press Edit and make any changes at the back of the card. These changes will be saved and become available the next time you see this card. For example, you can add a couple of examples directly on the back of the card for quick reference.

Before you move to the next card:

  1. If you managed to get it correct very easily press Easy. This means that you will be given this card again in 4 days as indicated above the button.
  2. If you managed to get it correct but it wasn’t something really obvious press Good. This means that you will be given this card again in 10 min for revision.
  3. If you managed to get it incorrect press Again. This means that you will be given this card again in less than a minute.

You can also use the following useful shortcuts:

  1. Again: Press 1.
  2. Good: Press 2.
  3. Easy: Press 3.
  4. Replay the audio: Press R.
  5. Show Answer: Press Spacebar.

From my experience, I have found a convenient setup to work with Anki and a browser needed for the hyperlinks. I divide my screen into two parts: 1) Anki on the left-half and 2) Google Chrome on the right-half as shown below. Every time you click on a link in Anki, a new tab will open on the right without having to switch windows to see it. Obviously every now and then, you will have to close a few tabs in Chrome. A useful shortcut to quickly close tabs is Ctrl + W in Chrome. Also, if you pay attention below, as the targeted word here is a verb (сказать), the Wiktionary link title refers to the conjugation rules of the verb. If the targeted word is a noun, you will see there a link called “Wiktionary – Declension”. If the word is neither a noun, nor a verb, you just see a “Wiktionary” link.


I know that some of you are not absolute beginners and you would like to start from a more advanced word than И. In that case you can do the following:

  1. Click on Browse on any of the cards.
  2. Select your Deck on the window that pops up like below:Anki-Most-Common-Russian-Words---Browse-words
  3. Click on due to sort the cards by that column (frequency order).
  4. Click on any card on the Grid (the card up to which you are more or less familiar).
  5. Press fn + left arrow to select all the previous cards (the familiar words).
  6. Click Delete on the top right of the window.

After doing all the above you can start reviewing words with a frequency index greater than the one you wish. That’s all! You can now get cracking!

Last but not least, I want to bring to your attention the following points:

  1. The above method should never be your principal method of learning vocabulary. It should be a complementary method which helps you catch important-frequent words that just slip through your day-to-day vocabulary net. If you want to explore effective language techniques for the Russian language, you can read the relevant section of my blog here. I have also written a book on how to learn Russian with all the necessary methods and material you need to learn Russian effectively without a teacher.
  2. The default word definitions come from Yandex Translate website. They are not always the best because you can never get the best translation with any tool. Always, consult the links provided to find examples and more information about every word before you move to the next.
  3. The list of the words has been compiled using this reliable resource here.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share and leave a comment below to let me know about your progress and ideas! Enjoy!


Mnemonics and their limitations in studying vocabulary

The keyword mnemonics technique uses keywords and mental images to associate verbal material. For example, let’s say you want to memorize the French feminine noun affiche that means poster in English. For this, you could imagine a feminine looking fish attaching a poster to the wall.

This technique has become increasingly popular lately. It is also the core learning strategy of Memrise, an online language learning platform. Memrise was founded by the memory champion and author Ed Cooke.

I hadn’t practised this technique until I came across Memrise. I started fanatically creating mental images and keywords to memorize words in Russian. I realized that not every word is easy to tackle with mnemonics. However, I managed to use my imagination and come up with some surreal mental images that helped me to memorize a few Russian words. I got really excited! “This technique is gold”, I thought!

However, we have to be careful with how we arrive to “cause-and-effect” conclusions. Do I successfully remember these words because of the mnemonics per se, or because of the repetition of the retrieval process? In fact, I was over excited to confirm that this method works, so I kept going back to recall the mnemonics from my memory (retrieval process or self-testing). In that case, maybe it was the repeated retrieval process that helped me to memorize the targeted words.

For this reason, I decided to dig deeper into research. I found that lots of studies show a benefit of the mnemonics in the short-term, i.e. when someone is tested soon after a study session. However, when targeted words are not keyword-friendly, or someone receives delayed tests on them, the benefits vanish.

Hall (1988) conducted several experiments and showed that a control group outperformed the mnemonics group on English words that were not keyword friendly. Even when the mnemonics group was given the keywords, i.e. they didn’t have to waste time generating them, the control group performed better.

Condus, Marshall, Miller, Raugh & Atkinson (1975) investigating the long-term benefits of the mnemonics, they included a test soon after the practice and one after a longer delay of several days, or even months. These studies showed a benefit of the mnemonics method for both the immediate and delayed tests.

However, the promising results of the later research were compromised by the design of the experiments as the exact same groups were tested both on the immediate and the delayed tests. Given that the mnemonics group showed increased performance on the immediate test, this initial successful recall could have boosted the performance on the delayed test. In other words, the advantage in the delayed test performance for the mnemonics group could have been due to the retrieval practice (immediate test) and not due to the mnemonics per se (It is known that retrieval practice slows forgetting.)

For this reason, researchers tested different groups on the immediate and delayed tests. The results below show that although the mnemonics group outperformed a rote repetition (repeated study) group on the immediate test, the benefits on the delayed test vanished for those who received only the delayed test.

Mnemonics Experiment 1

In a second experiment, after researchers nearly equated the performance of the two groups on the immediate test by giving more training to the rote repetition group, the repetition group performed much better than the mnemonics group on the delayed test as shown on the chart below:

Mnemonics Experiment - WangThis shows that the mnemonics are not as effective for long-term retention. This is probably because it gets harder to decode the mnemonic if lots of forgetting has occurred . For example, for the feminine looking fish we have lots of target words, “fish”, “poster”, “wall”, “feminine” etc. Which of these words corresponds to what?

Apart from the long-term retention disadvantage of the mnemonics, their critics also report the following:

  • Time is needed to train someone to generate appropriate mnemonics.
  • Time is needed to generate keywords and mental images.
  • There is no evidence that mnemonics are superior to traditional self-testing or repetition of study.
  • Mnemonics are limited in terms of learning domain to foreign languages. Even within that domain, not all the material is keyword friendly, i.e. it is not always easy to create keywords.

Going back to Memrise, Ed Cooke and his team, apart from mnemonics, rely heavily on repeated retrieval practice using sophisticated algorithms. So, their system throws you a certain word several times spaced with intervals that are optimized for effective learning.

As a conclusion, you should use mnemonics for keyword-friendly words when you learn a foreign language but make sure you refresh them frequently in your memory. In general, testing and spaced practice are proven methods that promote effective, long-term and durable learning. Stay tuned, I will soon come back with more interesting results…

Mnemonics limitations in language learning

We have 3 winners!

Hello lovely diversified people,

We have 3 winners from the last italki prize competition:

1) Daniel Smith

2) Emmanuel Tartagal

3) Sarah Kim

The guys above each wins $40 to spend on italki private language lessons! I would like to thank you all for your participation and very useful intelligence you gave to me regarding your difficulties learning a language and your needs! I promise to do my best to help!

Subscribe here as more prizes are to come!

Thanks again,



Visualisation and language learning

Learn Russian with visualisation

Visualisation is the process of creating mental images with a certain purpose. Top performers know very well the importance of picturing themselves succeeding in their minds before they do in reality. Michael Jordan always used to take a last shot in his mind before he took one in real life. Muhammad Ali always visualised knocking out his opponent well before entering the ring. Researchers in the Cleveland Clinic Foundation compared people who trained to build their muscles to those who just visualised themselves training. The ones who trained in reality increased their muscle strength by 30%. However, the ones who just performed mental workouts increased muscle strength by almost half as much (13.5% – see scientific paper here).

Visualisation can be applied to language learning too with astonishing results. Jane Arnold, a professor of language teaching methodology at University of Seville, has extensively written about this (see sample pages of her book here). She recalls that her interest in visualisation was prompted by an American Scholar who saved hours of studying by visualising himself speaking fluently in Italian and French before travelling to Europe for summer conferences.

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Walk and speak Russian loudly

Imagine you walk home after work. You probably spend this time thinking about your busy schedule, tomorrow’s meeting, the bills you have to pay etc. Instead of doing that, why don’t you start a conversation with yourself loudly in Russian? Maybe you want to practise the days of the week, the verbs you learned yesterday, or talk about your plans for the evening. If you are a beginner, take a chance to look around you and describe what you see. For example, you can say things like:


Walk and speak Russian loudly

Что это? – What is this?

Это большой дом – This is a big house.

Это красная машина – This is a red car.

Сегодня хорошая погода – Today, the weather is good.

Люди идут по улице – People are walking on the street.


This is an example of a multisensory learning method which involves visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements. You see an object in real life and you pronounce the word loudly while you walk. Research has shown that it is very effective to pair a word with an actual object this word represents. This process is similar to learning a word by associating it with an image. At the same time, you improve your pronunciation as you are forced to speak the language.  Also, you can make this method even more powerful by adding an acting element. Pretend you are an actor, or a teacher. Change the tone of your voice, speak dramatically, whisper, shout with surprise! That will even more stimulate your auditory and kinesthetic senses and help you memorise better.

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Break the word down

I remember when I first came across the word ‘следовательно’: therefore. No matter how many times I tried to memorise it, I kept forgetting it! I realised I had to find a different way to get it into my head. ‘It’s a long word’, I thought. ‘Let’s try to break it down to see what happens…’ But, how do you break down a word, if you can’t see any other words in it? Google Translate is a powerful tool for this purpose because it provides instant translations as you type. So, if you start typing ‘следовательно’, you gradually get the following results:

Learn Russian - Break the word downСледfootprint, track

If you pay attention to these four words, you can easily create a story to link them all together. For example, I can see here an investigator who follows the footprints and… therefore finds the truth! That’s it! Now, it is impossible to forget the investigator who solved the mystery! You have just managed to learn easily four words instead of just one. More importantly, these words are strongly connected with each other.

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Save money and learn Russian on Italki.

There is no language learning without actual communication with a native speaker. This is the ultimate goal of your learning: to be able to speak the language. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to wait until you speak perfectly. Start practising from day one!

Italki is an online language learning service where you can find teachers or native speakers and enjoy real language practise at a very low cost as opposed to traditional private lessons. You can search by teacher location, session price, availability etc. You can also see the teacher’s rating and testimonials from other students. Russian learners can choose between a wide range of tutors as Russian is spoken in a few countries like Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus etc. After you create an account, you top it up with credit-points. Each time you book a session, depending on the session’s price, the relevant points are deducted from your account. You can then connect with your teacher on Skype and begin your private lesson.

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How to remember the gender of nouns ending in a soft sign -ь.

In Russian, nouns are assigned a gender; they can be masculine, feminine or neutral. It is very important to know the gender of the noun as it determines how the cases of the noun are formed. The rules are the following:

  1. Words like ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘uncle’ etc. relate to physical gender. Hence, ‘father’ (папа) and ‘uncle’ (дядя) are masculine whereas ‘mother’ (мама) is feminine.
  2. If the last letter of the word is a consonant, or ‘й’, the word is masculine.
  3. If the last letter of the word is ‘а’ or ‘я’, the word is feminine.
  4. If the last letter of the word is ‘о’ or ‘е’, the word is neuter.
  5. If the last letter of the word is a soft sign ‘ь’, then the word could be either masculine or feminine.

From the above rules, you can see that the only tricky words are the ones ending in a soft sign -ь. How can we easily remember the gender of those nouns?

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Watch Russian films in a ‘learning mode’!

Learning through films is a powerful method as it involves images, sounds, and emotions. The visual content is engaging and helps comprehension. The audio content will help you develop a general sense of the language sounds and improve your pronunciation. The Russian language, unlike other languages, has a very wide range of sound frequencies which start from 100Hz and go up to 12000Hz. If you want to reproduce all those unfamiliar sounds correctly, you need to listen a lot to the language and train your ear. Films are great in this respect as they will introduce you to tons of real life dialogues. With regard to emotions, research in neuroscience has shown that information that is tagged with strong emotional value is more easily recalled from our memory. Films are extremely effective in evoking emotions i.e. happiness for a couple in love, admiration for the main actor, empathy for a poor man, anger for the atrocities of war etc. Finally, films will help you immerse into the culture, history, and mentality of the Russian people.

But how can we watch a film in a ‘learning mode’? The setup that has worked in my case is three windows opened on the screen: actual film with English subtitles, transcript in Russian and a Google Translate window like below:


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