One of the most intimidating and difficult parts of learning a language is speaking.
I only really found this out after coming abroad. Most foreign language courses will start with the alphabet, grammar structure, and basic phrases needed to navigate a foreign city. This was the level of Russian I had when I first arrived for my year abroad in Ukraine and Russia. Perhaps because I had basic phrases already stockpiled, when planning my trip abroad, I remember being primarily concerned that that my listening comprehension wouldn’t progress enough. However, after my first semester, I could understand a surprising amount of Russian. My real challenge proved to be that my speaking abilities were severely disproportionate to my listening comprehension. I found myself held back by how intimidating it can be to speak in a foreign language, especially to native speakers. I was almost too careful with my speaking, always double checking my sentence structure and grammar cases before saying anything, making carrying on a conversation difficult. Luckily for me, I found an organization that gave me the ideal environment to practice my conversational Russian and break me of these habits.
The Russian Learners and Speakers Club is a comfortable way to meet with both native Russian speakers and foreign students and practice your conversational skills. The group meets every Monday night at the Friends Hostel, which is roughly a thirty-minute walk from the university dorms. The hang-outs typically last 2-3 hours, and there are snacks and tea for participants. When I arrived for the first time, I was slightly taken aback by how many people were there. The living room at the hostel was packed with people from a dozen different countries: Russia, Germany, Vietnam, China, Belgium, Canada, etc. While some smaller groups of people were speaking in Chinese or German, the majority of the people were speaking in various levels of Russian.
I had the pleasure of speaking with travelers, fellow students, and locals from St. Petersburg who came to the meetings every week to meet people from all over the world. The overall environment was incredibly welcoming and supportive, regardless of the level of Russian a person could speak at. There were times when I was struggling to put my thoughts into words, and the native speakers would kindly assist me without judgement. I found these gatherings to be one of the best places to practice my speaking because mistakes were welcomed. One local gave me a great piece of advice regarding speaking practice: “Don’t worry about the cases. Just start spitting words out, and you’ll slowly start to put sentences together correctly.”
I strongly urge all of my fellow Russian-learners in St. Petersburg to go to the Speakers Club. This is a great way to practice conversational skills outside of the classroom setting, as well as meet supportive peers during your time abroad. In St. Petersburg, it can be easy to fall back on English, especially since so many people in the city have at least a small understanding of the language. The Russian Learners and Speakers Club will give you an opportunity to converse with people who may indeed speak English, but will ultimately encourage you to practice your Russian. The patient and helpful setting found at these gatherings is what every language learner could hope for while studying abroad!
Russian Learners and Speakers Club in St. Petersburg
Location: Friends Hostel- Vosstaniya Street, 11, Saint Petersburg, 191036
Cost: 100 RUB (~$1.50)