Is it Better to Learn Russian or German?


“Russian or German?” – a question that is hotly debated on Internet forums. As a person who’s familiar with both of them, I’d like to make a fair analysis of the two so you can look at this choice from different angles and pick which is best for you.

This question is very subjective and there isn’t a universal answer. Your decision between Russian and German will likely depend on some key factors we are going to discuss in this post:

  1. Purpose: education, business or traveling.
  2. Difficulty and how much time are you ready to invest in learning a language.
  3. Your native language and your foreign language background.

But before we discuss these three factors, let’s look at a brief overview of the languages.

Common information about Russian and German

Russian is the 8th most spoken world language with 300 million people using it in daily life, while German is in 12th place with around 95 million speakers. German is spoken throughout central Europe, while Russian spread from central Europe to the far East during the Soviet era, and is still spoken in those areas today. Russian is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, while German is not.

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1. Purpose of Studying

The first question to ask yourself before you decide between Russian and German is, “What do I want to learn the language for?”. Your choice will vary depending on your final objective for learning the language in the first place. Let’s have a look at some common goals that languages are used to achieve.

Russian vs German for Education

One popular reason for learning a language is to take advantage of international education opportunities. If you want to get a quality European education, you might want to consider German. Some of Germany’s universities are in the Top 50 World Ranking: LMU Munich (32 place), Technical University of Munich (44 place), and Heidelberg University (47 place).

These universities are known to offer free programs to those who speak German fluently. If you don’t want to obtain a Master’s degree, or it simply isn’t an option for you, you can apply to one of these colleges to learn a profession in a couple of years. The amount of programs and degrees is very diverse. You can have a closer look at them on the official application website.

As for Russia, the number one university in the country, Lomonosov Moscow State University, is only in 199th place in the World Ranking. However, Russian specialists in IT, physics, and mathematicians are highly valued all over the world.

The cost of study for a full-time Bachelor’s degree begins at around $1,300, which is a reasonable price in comparison to the commercial European programs. The Russian government annually awards scholarships (quotas) for international students. You can learn more about Russia’s study opportunities on the special portal, where you can apply for a university and for scholarships.

To enter a Russian University you need to pass the Russian language entry exam or a special test TORFL. There are many pre-entry courses at Universities, where you can learn Russian to get a good score.

So, both Russian and German have chances to be chosen, depending on your further learning strategy and budget.

Russian vs German for Business

Another popular reason for learning a language is to establish a new business or get a job in another country.

Germany is the 4th strongest economy in the world, while Russia is still a developing one. This means that Germany offers more quality, stable living conditions and salaries for those who want to live there, while Russia is a territory of risks, which can sometimes lead to much more profitable business, but also guarantees less quality and stability.

For an average person, you don’t need to know German to be successful in German business, as the market is mostly English-speaking. However, to work in Russia, you need to be fluent in Russian, as it’s a monolingual country. Although English is slowly becoming more popular, it hasn’t quite become an essential part of the Russian business culture yet.

Russian vs German for Traveling

If your aim is traveling, knowing some basic vocabulary of the locals’ language(s) will make your journey less confusing and more comfortable.

Germany is a country with a well-developed tourist industry that can offer services for any language. Knowing some English is more than enough, as 63% of locals speak it. So, learning German isn’t a necessity for traveling to Germany.

The Russian population, however, mostly speaks Russian, and rarely – English. The level of English proficiency in Russia is low. According to recent research by the EF Language School, Russia is on the 39th place out of 70 major countries, between Equador and Mexico.

For an average tourist, this means that he or she will always find someone to provide translations and guidance in the center of Moscow or St. Petersburg, but in other parts of the country, he or she wouldn’t be so lucky.

Despite this, Russians are very hospitable and will try their best to help a foreigner using signs, maps, and smartphones. The Russian tourist industry also isn’t as developed as Germany’s, so you can explore places and not be crowded by other travelers.

Additionally, the Russian language is spread through vast territories and can be useful on a journey through more than ten other Baltic countries and in the Middle East. By the way, there’s a post with 100 the most essential words and expressions that will help any traveler.

2. What is More Difficult: Russian or German?

The next factor that should be taken into account when you choose a language is how difficult it is and how much time it takes to acquire.

In one of my recent posts, I discussed if Russian is as hard as they say and what challenges a beginner can face. So, now we’ll discuss how much time a starter will need to learn Russian or German.

The FSI (Foreign Service Institute of America) created a scale of languages according to the number of learning hours it will take to an average English speaker to master a medium level of proficiency.

German is in the second group and takes 30 full-time weeks (about eight months) to learn. Russian is in the fourth group and requires 44 full-time weeks (about 11 months) to learn. So, the difference between the time spent is about 3 months, which isn’t too drastic.

Additionally, universities in both countries require non-native applicants to take a language fluency test to enroll. To enroll in a Russian university, an applicant has to pass the TORFL exam with a B1 level, which requires six full-time months. German universities also require applicants to get a B1-B2 level in the local test, which takes two to four full-time months.

When it comes to learning resources and materials, there is no lack of them on the Internet. Learning Russian, you will probably need to make use of various forums for advanced learning, but the basic topics are well-covered on YouTube (click for a list of top Russian language vloggers).

3. What is your Foreign Language Background

The last important question to consider while deciding is: what languages have you already learned, and are they related to Russian or German?

Considering that 20% of the planet speaks English – the most popular Germanic group language in the world – for most of you, German would be an easier option. However, if you have experience with Polish or Chech, Russian will seem quite familiar to you. Furthermore, this means that knowing German will ease further learning in any other language of its group (Swedish, Dutch, Norvegian, Africaans), while Russian will open a door to learning any of the other Slavic languages (Belorussian, Ukranian, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and others).

What’s your soul’s choice?

There is one more thing I’d like to mention. In addition to the rational aspects of this decision that we’ve looked at, there is also an important irrational one. I often hear stories that a certain language has become a soul’s choice. So, along with the factors that we’ve talked about, I would encourage you to ask yourself: “Which language interests me and brings me joy?”.

Don’t underestimate this aspect, as it can sometimes outweigh all other logical conclusions. Who knows, maybe one of these languages simply doesn’t sound nice to you. Learning a language you enjoy will keep you more motivated, which is exactly what you need when learning a language.

Along with a language, you’ll definitely learn about the culture surrounding the language, so consider which way of life, customs, and traditions you’d prefer to learn more about. Who do you prefer: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, or Remarque and Goethe? Did you grew up with Rammstein, or enjoy classic works by Glinka and Rachmaninov?

Can I learn Russian and German simultaneously?

Sure, you can, but they belong to different language groups, so they won’t “help” each other. You won’t find similar grammar structures or vocabulary between the two. The pronunciation is different as well.

Is there anything similar between German and Russian?

There are some words in Russian borrowed from the German language. Another common thing is the possibility to create new, nuanced words.

A great example is the Russian word “перелай”, an action that describes when dogs take turns barking. In this word the suffix “пере-” added to a stem “лай” (barking) creates a unique word not easily translated in other languages. As for German – I adore the trend of sticking words together to create new things and meanings: “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgaben-übertragungsgesetz” – that’s one word!

Have you decided which language fits your purposes and interests? If you have, what factors did you find the most important when making the choice? Share in comments below!

Conclusion

Have you decided which fits best your purposes and interests? Share in comments below! If you have, what factors did you find the most important when you make a choice? 

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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