There are very few good choices when it comes to online courses for learning Russian.
When I lived in Russia recently doing my Russian immersion in Kazan (see here), I almost exclusively relied on Earworms MBT Russian and Glossika to get me started but there just wasn’t much else beyond that (apart from a few textbooks!).
They were extremely helpful tools but weren’t courses.
Well I wish I’d known about Rocket Russian at the time.
Rocket Russian is a very comprehensive audio course for learning the Russian language.
Unlike some of the other editions offered by Rocket Languages however, it doesn’t have all 3 levels and therefore it’s not quite as useful for higher-level learners. There is only one level aimed at total beginners (although the material takes you through to a good lower-intermediate level if you use the Travelogue).
Lessons are presented as podcasts but also accompanied by audio dialogues and vocabulary which suits those of us who don’t like long English explanations.
Rocket Russian makes use of what I named the ‘chunking approach’ (my own developed language learning method) which means that lessons are delivered in bite-size pieces/chunks rather than explicit grammar rules.
This makes learning more enjoyable and far less stressful (and a more natural way to learn!).
Here’s a quick video demo that I made last year of the 2016 edition (heavily improved in the new 2017 edition) exploring the French, Spanish and Arabic versions of Rocket Languages:
Rocket Russian is basically the same except that it includes some extensive reading and writing lessons in Cyrillic.
Rocket’s also available in the following languages: French, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic (Egyptian), Italian, Hindi, German, Chinese (Mandarin), Sign Language (American) and English (for Spanish speakers).
So what other options are there besides Rocket Russian?
I figure this is an important question to ask up front.
Glossika and Earworms MBT I mentioned already. These are vastly different types of resources – Glossika is a spaced-repetition tool (extremely effective) and Earworms is an audio phrasebook with a musical backing track (sounds odd but it’s scientifically based).
There’s also RussianPod101 which is more of a collection of podcast and video lessons.
Of course, there are alternatives like Rosetta Stone (read my review here), Pimsleur and Assimil too. These are all household names designed for specific approaches and learning but with (in my opinion) major flaws.
Rocket Russian stands out as a comprehensive and structured course that suits just about any learning style.
The problem with Rocket Language’s plague of annoying marketers
I honestly avoided Rocket Languages courses for a long time because I was so frustrated by affiliate spammers and their sneaky sales tactics.
People who are trying to get rich on a product that they know nothing about. You’ve probably encountered dodgy Rocket Russian reviews all over the place before landing here.
What I discovered recently is that these abuses aren’t connected with or controlled by Rocket Languages at all.
The reputation of Rocket Russian is hurt by careless marketers on places like YouTube.
Honest disclosure: In the interests of full transparency, I occasionally use affiliate links on this site which means I do get a percentage on sales for products like Rocket Russian. This helps me continue to provide high quality language content to my readers.
What’s more important to me is providing honest and trustworthy reviews on products like this one so that you can make an informed decision.
General overview of what Rocket Russian offers
Big household names like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are vastly different to Rocket Russian.
Both of these famous competitors work within their own rigid method and are very limited in the scope of what they actually teach. Emphasis is on getting your toes in the water with Russian but in terms of comprehensiveness and personal learning style preference, they don’t rank well.
Rocket Russian on the other hand is comprehensive and not restrictive.
You learn your way.
But the structure is there if you need it.
Rocket Russian’s audio dialogues are 100% natural Russian (it doesn’t use awkward formal language).
The course goes into detail on areas such as sport, family, Russia-specific topics, business, many topics that you typically find in a detailed phrasebook and more.
There are five sections – ‘Language and Culture’, ‘Interactive Audio’, ‘Writing Lessons’, ‘Survival Kit’ and ‘Flashcards’.
1. Language and Culture looks at grammar and finer cultural points.
2. Interactive Audio contains all of the high quality dialogue lessons delivered in a podcast-style format.
3. Writing Lessons show you how to read and write Cyrillic.
4. The Survival Kit contains core lessons on vital topics in Russian (a good place to start actually).
5. And the Flashcards are, well…. flashcards.
In addition to all this there’s another section called ‘Travelogue’ which is basically a narrative story in Russian that runs for 8 chapters covering lots of different topics.
This is by far my favorite section and one I find most useful at my level.
What I like about Rocket Russian lessons is that they’re presented in a fairly light-hearted way. This keeps the lessons from becoming too dull or boring over time.
The Cyrillic writing lessons in Rocket Russian are extensive
Rocket Russian is one of the few language editions that has a detailed literacy component.
The alphabet (called Cyrillic) is a practical necessity if you plan to visit Russia so I understand why Rocket Languages has spent so much time on this.
Rocket Russian covers letters of the alphabet one at a time and in some cases, in pairs. Two videos are shown: one showing how to write the individual letter and then one showing how it’s written in a word.
What I find interesting (and perhaps a negative point) is that they use cursive writing in these lessons.
The Rocket Russian forum might as well not exist (sadly)
Some Rocket Languages editions have active forums.
Unfortunately, Russian isn’t one of them.
Language forums are supposed to be full of activity with people asking questions and helping one another – community. Rocket Russian’s forum is mostly dead.
As you can see in the screenshot there, there’s not much happening.
Now, this might be because there are many other active Russian learning forums online (and sites like italki) or it may be that most members of Rocket Russian prefer to learn solo.
While I think it’s a little disappointing and in need of improvement, I acknowledge that most people who sign up for an online course like this one do so because they prefer to work on their own anyway.
I highly recommend the mobile app for Rocket Russian (better than the website in my view)
When you join Rocket Russian online, the iOS and Android app is included free.
In my opinion, the app is amazing and in some ways actually better than the web version.
It has exactly the same course content on it and runs perfectly, loads faster than the website and is a joy to use.
I’m surprised that the app is free to be honest.
For anyone who learns on-the-go while commuting, I highly recommend downloading the Rocket Russian app to your mobile or tablet.
Another neat feature to point out is that the Google Web Speech API (used for voice recognition in the audio lessons) works perfectly on mobile.
Rocket Russian: You own what you pay for
Two things I often say about Rocket Languages courses that I think are very important:
- It’s a lifetime membership, not a recurring membership.
- The entire course – both audio and lesson notes – are 100% downloadable.
The lifetime membership point is that while the price may seem steep up front, you have to remember that you’re not paying for a monthly or yearly service like many other sites.
In fact it’s become quite common now for online learning platforms to charge for a subscription.
With Rocket Russian, you pay once and you own it for life.
Included in that is the ability to download everything on the site – all the MP3’s and PDF’s can be downloaded and kept offline which means you’re not obligated to sign in to the website whenever you need to use it.
You own what you pay for.
My Russian Vocab tool and the leaderboard motivator
Oddly enough, my favorite part of the whole Rocket Russian experience is the My Vocab tool.
This is an in-built dictionary or glossary that allows you to search for any term – or – expression in English or Russian. Search results list the search string + any instances throughout the course of that term appearing (e.g. in the middle of a sentence).
You can then play that or add it to your flashcards to study later.
Especially for a language like Russian where such tools don’t currently exist.
You also have access to a leaderboard which is a gamified way to keep you motivated. As you progress, you earn points and move up levels.
Competition is a great extrinsic motivator for language learning.
Rocket Russian: Comprehensive and easy to use despite missing levels 2-3 and having an inactive forum
I hope that Rocket Languages release the final two levels of Rocket Russian in the near future.
While in its current state, it serves beginner learners perfectly, the more advanced levels that the other language editions have would make this package perfect. Unfortunately, this means that higher-level learners are better off with a package like Glossika.
The inactive community is also disappointing and could be vastly improved with a few simple changes.
But overall, if you’re starting out with Russian then it’s a great find and will offer long-term value. Its natural audio dialogues and 100% downloadability of audio lessons make it a real no-brainer. Plus the mobile app is flawless IMO.
Take a look at the free trial of the Russian course by clicking here.
Used Rocket Russian before? Share your thoughts below.
Reviewed by Donovan Nagel.