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on 10 January 2016
It's a real struggle to use this book. Small text full of grammar explanations followed by little exercises. I thought everybody knew by now that the best way to learn is by doing, not listening to someone tell you how to do it.
This book should be re printed with more bite-size sections and more practice exercises.
Look at Murphy's English grammar book series as a model.
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on 30 July 2017
Good resource for learning Russian.
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on 23 August 2016
The book has a typical no-nonsense approach, without pointless drawings, so it covers quite a lot for such a small book. The layout and style used to be much more common than in modern textbooks: introduce new vocabulary for every chapter, start with one or more grammatical themes, offer several examples and a dialogue, and then give exercises to practice. The grammar in introduced with simple explanations, avoiding unnecessary jargon, and it has a reasonable amount of examples to illustrate them. The total vocabulary used is about 1500 words, which is reasonable for a beginner, although you are expected to take it from there and expand your vocabulary considerably unless you intend to keep your Russian to a very simple and straightforward exchange of short, simple sentences, rather than a proper conversation, or the ability to read normal literature. Of course, the book is not intended to be the only resource to learn the language, so you need to complement it with other materials, especially sound.
Another good thing about the book is that it starts introducing the Cyrillic script, and in chapter 2 introduces the cursive writing as well, which looks almost like a completely different writing system to the untrained eye, but it is something essential for anyone who is serious about learning the language.
The downside is the pronunciation. Ideally, the book should offer the option to purchase a CD/mp3/tape or whatever, because Russian is not exactly an easy language to pronounce for a non-Slavic speaker; this is why I gave it 4 stars, and why I hesitated to even give it 3. The book describes how to "pronounce" the letters of the Russian alphabet, but the explanations are extremely inaccurate, and your pronunciation will be atrocious if you just follow the explanations. For example, it says that the Russian K sounds like in "kangaroo", but this is wrong, because the k in kangaroo has an aspiration, whereas the Russian K never has aspiration. The book should have picked a word like "sky" that doesn’t have an aspiration and it is practically identical to the Russian one; this might sound like nit-picking, but the difference is very significant to Russian ears. Same thing with T: the example says it sounds like "tan", but it actually sounds like in "stand", where there is no aspiration. It also says that Ш sounds like something in Welsh, which is not true (you can find the sound in Chinese, though), and ж is supposed to sound like in “pleasure”, and although it is not too far off, the tongue should be curled backwards. Russian has several sounds that don't exist in English, so saying that it sounds like X or Y in English is just useless, because you'll pronounce the wrong sound.
Without sound files, the book should have provided a serious phonetic transcription like the IPA, even though most English speakers don't know it, and provide a 3-5 page explanation on how the symbols are correctly articulated; at least you would have an accurate transcription of the real sounds if the ideal resources are lacking, i.e. recorded sounds by native speakers. Have you ever struggled to understand a foreigner trying to speak your language, because a lot of sounds were very… weird? Chances are they also used a book in their language that said "The letter R in English sounds like XXX in Chinese/Vietnamese/whatever". Now you know how you'll sound without sound files or accurate transcriptions.
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I've tried a few Russian Courses (including the BBC Talk Russian), but they didn't seem quite right. These courses were more aimed at learning to speak some basic Russian (holiday) phrases, rather than a good understanding of the language itself. In learning this way, though, I think you actually make it harder for yourself (even to learn the holiday basics).

If you're thinking of choosing between the BBC course and this one, I'd suggest this. The BBC course gives you a very basic understanding of the Russian alphabet (one page!) and then focuses on teaching holiday phrases. This may seem ideal (if you're just going to St Petersburg for a week), but it isn't very easy this way. To learn the alphabet simply from a list of letters and then expecting you to read words through listening to them isn't the best way.

In this (Penguin) course, there is a very good opening chapter (see the "Look Inside") that teaches you the alphabet properly. This is critical! (And it doesn't take long to learn). You need to understand how to pronounce the letters, and understand them in context, before you can move on to learning phrases. True, you do get to "hear" the words in BBC Talk Russian, but learning how they sound is no substitute for being able to remember Russian words accurately from their spelling. Whereas there is light emphasis in the BBC book on both learning through spelling and listening, there is strong emphasis here on learning through spelling. The good thing is that Russian (unlike English -- think: "thorough") is a very literal language, and most words sound exactly like they are spelled. You don't really need to learn them by ear (it helps to fine-tune your understanding, but you're far better (given how quickly this book teaches it) learning how to read Russian properly first). It's like learning to read a map and navigate: would you prefer to be presented with a key to the map and road systems and then simply learn the routes you needed, or would you be better being talked through the symbols and roads in logical sections and given a good grounding in the basics to navigate any route?

This is a fairly comprehensive course, that aims to take you to "A-Level" standard. It's something you can constantly pick away at, but if you're simply looking to learn some holiday Russian, you would still be better (in my eyes) using this book to get a good basic understanding of the alphabet and grammar -- and then learning a few lists of holiday phrases (or then using BBC Talk Russian) after. The way the book is laid out is perfect, and has clearly been written by somebody who knows how to teach languages. For example: as you are learning the alphabet, you are also given lists of useful words to spell (in Russian), so not only are you learning the alphabet, but you are growing a vocabulary as you go). The book is perfectly structured, and moves from the alphabet to handwriting to learning phrases to grammar in a logical and easy to digest way. Throughout, you are also given useful titbits that help you to see the language in action.

If you put in the work, then this book will reward you well. It is ideal for beginners; if you just want to learn holiday Russian, then use this book to understand the basics for a couple of weeks and then move onto holiday phrases. You will learn how to form basic sentences (rather than just learning phrases). You will develop a ground-level understanding of the language, whereas if you put your efforts into the BBC book, you will simply learn a list of automated phrases. The bottom line is that Russian isn't the simplest language to get by in, but if you put the time in this book will make it easy to learn. Use this book daily (and revise constantly), and you will soon be confident in basic Russian. It will also take you far further if you work through the whole book, to the point where you can comfortably type, write and speak Russian to conversational level.

One last thing: there is an excellent site for practising the Russian alphabet (and other aspects of Russian), and if you search "practice russian" you should find it. Best of luck, and I hope this review was helpful if you're wondering where to start.
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on 2 September 2015
One of the best books for well paced learning that integrates both vocab and grammar in a non painful way. In fact, it is actually a FUN book despite the grammar as the lessons are structured in a way that makes you feel on top of the learning process. Many grammar books are daunting because of their propensity to cram in as much as possible at once, including all exceptions, and long lists of caveats. This book takes a more iterative approach, alerting you to the fact of exceptions to rules, with key ones that you will encounter, but not blinding you with them until it is necessary, or you have reached a higher level.
I WISH there was one like this for Polish!!!
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on 17 June 2012
Since beginning to learn Russian I have bought a fair few books, but know I study from a core few... including the New Penguin Russian Course. It's a great book, packed full of informtion and could potentially lead you to an A level. It's design for the more serious student rather than those looking to learn casual phrases before going on holiday.

Russian is a difficult language to learn, so bear in mind that it's going to take a long time and will require oodles of hard work and dedication. Don't think weeks or months; be realistic and tell yourself it's going to be a number of years before you'll become reasonably proficient. I guess that's why so many people give up? To begin with, you'll feel you're forgetting words as fast as you learn them, but as you go over and over it those words begin to stick into your brain. My biggest headache (and I suspect others might agree) is that I had to learn English grammar in order to begin to understand Russian grammar.

We're so lucky that we have a plethora of resources available to us nowadays. So allow me to recommend a few ideas... The New Penguin Russian Course, Michel Thomas Russian Course (audio), Oxford Russian-English dictionary (mine's downloaded onto my iphone, so it goes everywhere with me, Oxford Russian Grammar and Verbs, Internet radio (listen to native Russians chatting even though you might not initially understand what's being said... it helps you tune in to the intonation) and buy Russian films with English subtitles. If you can, try and find a native Russian speaker who'll help you to correct pronunciation and other aspects, particularly cases. If you're unable to find someone locally (I was very lucky in rural Dorset) then try the online community, Language Exchange. Learning to read Russian is fairly easy; you'll make silly mistakes for a while, but take it slowly and you'll soon be astonished with yourself. With that it mind, don't forget Google translate. It's a pretty usefull tool, though it does modify some of my naughty words!

Good luck.
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on 28 December 2000
As a student of Russian language I have found, and continue to find, this book incredibly useful. It's ideal for all levels of learning, from absolute beginner to advanced. It explains the complexities of Russian grammar clearly using plain English, and provides a more than adequate vocabulary base. A must for anyone wishing to learn or improve their Russian skills.
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on 14 February 2012
I purchased this book on the strength of the reviews here. The book does a marvelous job of introducing the Cyrillic alphabet, which is one of the biggest hurdles to a new learner. There are many interesting cultural insights that as well as helping give you a fuller picture of the Russian speaking mindset, actually clues you in to some essential etiquette.

Some have marked this book down because they found it to hard going or too dense in terms of grammar. To those people I would say, it's Russian, it's mostly hard, deal with it! Short of paying for an immersion course or going to live in Russia there is no way around the fact that you must understand grammar before you start learning any other language, especially one that does things as differently as Russian when compared to English or French.

The book does in fact provide brief explanations of any grammatical terminology it uses so if you are reasonably sentient there is no problem. Just give it time, concentration and practice and you progress at a satisfying pace.

Only possible draw-back is the lack of accompanying audio, but you could order this along with the Michel Thomas Russian Foundation by Natasha Bershadsky. This is also very good at introducing the sounds of Russian, the intonation patterns and much grammar as well. The Michel Thomas is good but combined with this Penguin book you will soon start to feel at home in this beautiful language that can appear quite alien at first.
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on 28 January 2009
I agree with most of the comments from other reviewers. This is useful but far from perfect. In particular, I imagine it might be rather daunting to a complete beginner (who it is ostensibly aimed at).

I did Russian O-level about 30 years ago [the German class was over-subscribed!], and have never used it since. My daughter is now learning Russian at school, so I decided to re-learn the language to help her (and for my own enjoyment). Coming to the language for a second time, this book is an excellent summary of Russian's rather complex (but fairly regular) grammar. It is aimed at adult self-learners; and if you put in the effort, the explanations are pretty thorough. But it is rather a dense book, so you will need to concentrate. I suspect some people might give up. Those people might prefer a book that leads them through the language more slowly and gently.

In answer to another reviewer's query - yes, the stress is marked on (almost all) words throughout the book. This is important because in Russian it is not obvious where the stress falls when learning new words. I like the fact that the stress is NOT just shown the first time you encounter a word; that would be too easy to forget. One thing that is rather silly though is showing the stress on some one-syllable words (those containing the letter O). The author justifies this because some one-syllable words are unstressed in certain phrases. My own opinion is that those phrases are too rare to justify his blanket approach. Not a big problem though.

A couple of other complaints I have are -

There is a useful glossary of vocabulary at the back of the book. This contains chapter references for each word. But why not provide page references instead??? It is quite frustrating trawling through a chapter to check the usage of a specific word or phrase.

The chapter on pronunciation is rather confusing. His explanations of stress etc are generally correct, but unclear. I had to re-read them several times to make sense. He also makes a big deal of the "yuh" sound in soft vowels, when it is actually pretty straightforward. (They are pronounced as one sound, not two - as in the English words Duty, Tuna, Canyon, Onion, and unlike the "ee" in Stereo & Period. Harder for Americans presumably, because they say Duty as Dooty!)

Some of his explanations are ambiguous. Forcing you to go back and check what he really means.

Word Order is not covered till almost the end of the book.

UPDATE - since I wrote this review I have bought other books & CD's - now I hardly ever look at this one! It really is too much hard work to wade through it. If you want a grammar reference book, then the Oxford Russian Grammar is much clearer. If you want to actually LEARN Russian, then look for a course that takes things more slowly. I would downgrade my review to 3 stars - but the website won't let me!
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on 20 May 2017
A good grounding in the language. Could have done with a cd to help with pronunciation. I use it alongside another course which has a cd.
Good grammar, well written and easy to understand.
Would have been better if the paper quality was improved.
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