You can start learning the language before you arrive in Russia. It all depends on your motivation and ability.
Learning Russian in Russia
If you want to study in Russia, you do not have to know the language: you can find a programme which is taught in English, or learn Russian on preparatory or language courses.
Preparatory Courses at Russian Universities
The duration of a preparatory course for international students in Russia is one academic year. The course normally includes Russian lessons (4 to 6 academic hours per day) and other subjects: Mathematics, Chemistry and other Sciences (depending on the chosen subject of study). For English-speaking students, the first lessons on general subjects could be conducted in English and later switch to Russian.
The majority of teachers of Russian as a foreign language claim that most students develop a good command of the language within a year.
Preparatory courses are fee-based. They are only free for those who enrol under government scholarships.
The applicants can study Russian at whichever university they prefer and then enrol into the one that offers the desired programme.
Courses Offered at Russian Universities
Some universities offer courses which are designed to meet the needs of particular categories of students, depending on their language proficiency and aims, e.g. "Russian through Film and Literature", "Language of the Media", "Business Russian". The duration of such courses is usually from two or three weeks to three or four months.
The main advantage of such courses is their high quality, as students during their study abroad are taught by university professors who are experts in teaching Russian as a foreign language.
International summer schools offer a wide range of activities in addition to Russian language classes. Students are offered sightseeing tours, summer camps, picnics, etc.
The summer schools run from three to eight weeks. Upon completion of the course the participant will receive a certificate.
The Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg State Electrotechnical University, Kazan State University, Tomsk Polytechnic University, Novosibirsk State University, Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod as well as many other Russian universities host summer schools on an annual basis. The Higher School of Economics and Tomsk Polytechnic University also host Winter Schools of Russian.
Detailed information on the length, course content and costs is available on the universities’ websites.
Studying Russian Abroad
Even basic knowledge of Russian will be a great help during your first months in Russia. The better you know the language, the easier it is to adapt to the local customs and traditions. You can even start at home! Russian language courses are available in virtually every corner of the world.
Courses at Russian Centres of Science and Culture
Courses of Russian at Russian Centres of Science and Culture (RCSC) are available in over 50 countries. 90% of the lecturers are native speakers of Russian. They are attended by more than 20,000 people each year.
RCSC courses are aimed at various groups of learners, from employees of public and private companies and civil servants, to students and children of the members of the Russian-speaking community abroad.
These courses are fee-based. The cost of the courses varies from country to country. Contact the RCSC office in your country.
Courses at Universities Abroad
Many universities which have Russian departments that offer Russian courses to the general public. They include the University of Leeds (UK), Royal London College (UK), Pushkin Institute of Russian Language and Culture (Venezuela), Boston University (USA), Columbia University in the City of New York (USA), Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany), the German-Russian Institute of Culture (Germany) and many more.
The courses are fee-based. Contact the university to find out details about the cost of the courses.
Courses at the Russkiy Mir Foundation
You can study Russian at centres of the Russkiy Mir Foundation abroad. Russkiy Mir is a registered charity in Russia. It offers both fee-based (provided by the partners of Russkiy Mir) and free (provided by Russkiy Mir itself) programmes.
Find out about the available options by contacting the offices of Russkiy Mir in your country. The list of offices is available on the Foundation’s website.
The main benefit of distance learning is flexibility, as you can choose the time of the lesson.
Free online courses are a set of educational modules (or programmes) for independent study. Here are some examples:
Education in Russian website (Russian: "Образование на русском")
Interactive study modules in the Learn Russian (Russian: "Учить русский") section of the online project of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute. Here you will find tasks of all CEF levels: from A1 to C2. Courses are available in nine languages.
Let's speak Russian! (Russian: "Время говорить по-русски")
This is a course for beginners. The course was designed by professors from the Lomonosov Moscow State University in collaboration with the Russkiy Mir Foundation. It is available in eight languages.
Open online courses in Russian at St. Petersburg State University.
Russian language modules. To access the modules, you have to register on the website of the university.
If you need assistance from a language teacher, you can always find fee-based online courses. Many Russian universities have Russian language centres which, alongside traditional "offline" classes, offer online modular courses and Skype sessions.