Russian At A Glance

  • 270 million speakers throughout the world
  • 150 million native speakers in Russia, widely spoken in post-Soviet states such as Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine
  • One of the six official languages of the United Nations

Spanning nine time zones and 6.5 million square miles, Russia is the largest country in the world and an epicenter of major political power. Its contributions to the arts are just as substantial: some of the finest examples of literature, music, ballet, and theater were born there. Russian luminaries include Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, as well as composers Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Rachmaninoff.

The language of this complex country has Slavic origins and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Learning Russian may seem like a challenge, but if you can read the Greek names of your college fraternities and sororities, you’re already on your way to reading Russian. Several Cyrillic letters—A, B, D, K, L, M, O, and T—are pronounced and look the same in both English and Russian. Unlike English, whose grammar can seem random, Russian is a structured language, based on rules, which simplifies the learning process. In fact, learning the entire Russian alphabet usually takes only a week or two, and most people can read and write some Russian within a month.

Whether you’re heading to Russia to visit, study, or work, a grasp of the language will serve you well. About 25% of the population speaks limited English, but tens of millions speak only Russian. So if you don’t know Russian, both communications and travel will be difficult; street signs have no English translations. And conversations with the Russian people are opportunities not to be missed—most are happy to engage in cordial small talk or a thought-provoking discussion about philosophy or literature.


The best place to speak Russian is in Russia, and must-see destinations for first-time visitors include Moscow’s Red Square, where St. Basil’s Cathedral and its extraordinary “onion dome” architecture towers over the city, and St. Petersburg, site of the lavish Catherine’s Palace and the Hermitage Museum, which houses more than three million items. Whatever your interest, Russia delivers: from the Black Sea beaches of Sochi, to the incomparable experience of the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the enormous parks, where birds are so comfortable with humans, one may land on your outstretched palm. In 2018, crowds of visitors will head to Russia for the FIFA World Cup, and many will indulge in meals of knishes, thin “blini” pancakes, or “lymonnk,” or lemon pie.

Numerous scholarships to study in Russia are available from the Government of Russian Federation Scholarships, the School of Russian and Asian Studies, and other institutions. The Critical Language Scholarships (CLS) provides group-based Russian language instruction for American undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. students.

Your Russian language skills can also be the ticket to an exciting career. The Departments of State, Commerce, Defense, and Energy, and various intelligence agencies have needs for Russian speakers. Russian companies in the energy, construction, timber, IT, and engineering sectors are almost always hiring. You can find work abroad with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and diplomatic missions, teach in English-language schools, or consult in the marketing and aerospace fields. There are also openings for financial and policy analysts, and in print and broadcast media.

Russian is the second most common language used in science publications. And speaking of science, since 2011, when NASA began relying on Soyuz rockets to reach the International Space Station, all astronauts have been required to learn Russian.


What can you do with Russian?

  • Join NASA and work with the aerospace industry
  • Become a forensic psychologist
  • Work on U.S.-Russia energy policy