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updated 9/6/19
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updated 9/6/19


Welcome to what is currently a four-volume Russian language series, Russian Through Propaganda (Books 1 and 2, for beginning students), and its continuation, Russian Through Poems and Paintings (Books 3 and 4, for intermediate students). Each book in the series corresponds to a semester's worth of intensive Russian study at the university level, and each book consists of 50 daily lessons that build on one another and provide a clear sense of progress.

The goal of this series is to provide rigorous, in-depth coverage of Russian grammar in a rich context of Russian history, culture, art, and, especially, literature, of both the Soviet and Imperial eras. The series is meant for ambitious beginners: it will take you from learning the alphabet to reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment in the original, by the end of Book 4 — and with countless poems, paintings, proverbs, propaganda posters, and short stories in between.

Because this series is admittedly focused on grammar (and, eventually, literature), I highly recommend that independent learners use these books in conjunction with a more dialogue-driven book or app that has plenty of audio.

Find supplementary content for each day's lesson (here's Day One, for example) by clicking on the books above. Note that these pages are still very much under construction. I've currently completed through Day 17.

The first five lessons in each volume are available as PDF previews above. Hard copies (print-on-demand) can be purchased through Lulu.com.

from recent posts: day 1 material:

Welcome to Moscow — in Russian, Москва (say "Mahsk-VAH," with the stress on the second syllable). Important note: in our texts, we'll mark stressed syllables in Russian by underlining their vowel (but usually not for words of one syllable only!). Keep in mind that "real" Russian texts would never mark stress in this way. Russians may sometimes mark stresses using an acute accent mark (as in "â"), but only for instructional purposes, or in (relatively rare) cases when the stress is ambiguous or unusual, even for native speakers. Otherwise, Russians simply know where the stress falls on a given word.

This is Red Square, with the Kremlin wall on the right, Lenin's Mausoleum in the center, and St. Basil's Cathedral in the distance. Since we'll be focusing on the Soviet era throughout the first two textbooks, we'll be visiting many relevant sites in Moscow as we study Russian grammar (don't worry, the focus will shift to Petersburg for Books 3 and 4!).

One of the most distinctive landmarks on Red Square is the Savior Tower - one of many towers that make up the Kremlin wall. In Russian, it's called the Спасская башня (say: SPAHS-skuh-yuh BAHSH-yuh). It's known for the famous descending chimes with which its bells mark the hour. Take a listen here.

You undoubtedly recognized the iconic onion domes (in Russian, купола - say "koo-pah-LAH" of St. Basil's Cathedral. The Russian for "cathedral" is храм - say "khrahm," where the "kh" is like the German "ch" in "Bach."

You probably didn't know that the "Basil" after whom the cathedral was named was a so-called Holy Fool - a very important type in Russian history. In Russian, he is called Василий (say "Vah-SEE-lee") — or, to be more precise, Василий Блаженный ("Vah-SEE-lee Blah-ZHEN-nee") - "Basil the Blessed." Here's an early example of how cases are used in Russian: the form we just gave is in the nominative case, used to simply "name" things. Where English can use the preposition "of" to express possession, as in "The Cathedral of Basil the Blessed," Russian will change the case endings of both Василий and Блаженный to genitive case endings. This gives us the full Russian term for St. Basil's Cathedral: Храм Василия Блаженного (say: "Khram Vah-SEE-lee-yah Blah-ZHEN-nuh-vuh."

Opposite the Kremlin and Lenin's Mausoleum is a gargantuan shopping complex called the GUM (pronouced "GOOM") — in Russian, ГУМ. We'll step inside it later — including for some Soviet-style ice cream.

This ornate brick building is the State Historical Museum, also on Red Square. It's easy to assume that Red Square's name has something to do with Communism, but its name long predates the Bolshevik Revolution! The explanation is quite simple: in Russian, what today means "red" (красная - "KRAHS-nuh-yuh") once meant "beautiful," so the original sense of the name was "Beautiful Square." Meanwhile, the modern Russian term for "beautiful" would be "красивая - "krah-SEE-vuh-yuh."

Lenin's Mausoleum - in Russian, Мавзолей Ленина. Lenin's preserved body (or what's left of it) is still on display here, in a glass sarcophagus.

Can you read the inscription after Day 1's lesson? Ленин - say "LYEN-in." You may notice that the term we just used to describe his mausoleum - Мавзолей Ленина - once again involves a genitive case ending. It is, literally, the mausoleum OF Lenin.

Behind Lenin's mausoleum, at the foot of the Kremlin wall, many other famous Soviet-era figures are buried, including Yuri Gagarin (Юрий Гагарин), the first human being in outer space. Here too, somewhat inconspicuously, stands the grave of Joseph Stalin (Иосиф Сталин), the Soviet dictator who will figure prominently in much of the propaganda we'll see during our studies.

Needless to say, Stalinist propaganda presents a highly idealized picture of Soviet life, particularly before the political "thaw" that followed Stalin's death. In time — particularly when we reach the literature unit at the end of Book 2 — we'll grapple more directly with the historical reality obscured by official propaganda.

Resurrection Gate (Воскресенские воротa "Vuh-skrih-SYEN-skee-yuh vah-roh-tuh"), leading to Red Square. The gates we see today are replicas, built in the 1990's — the originals were demolished in 1931 to make way for large military vehicles to enter Red Square for parades. Take a look at the word воротa — compare how it's written in Russian, and how it's actually pronounced. In short, because of vowel reduction, the Russian "a" isn't always pronounced "ah," nor is Russian "o" always pronounced "oh." While not quite as noticeable, the same is true of Russian "e." HOw these vowels are actually pronounced depends on their position relative to the word's stressed syllable.

Another view of the Kremlin walls, with their many towers. Many old Russian cities have a "kremlin" at their center; in medieval times, the entire city (or at least its most important structures) was contained within fortified walls. This helps explain the literal meaning of the Russian word for "city" — "город" (pronounced "GOH-ruhd"): the city is thought of as something that is "walled." In fact, this Russian word is cognate with the English word "yard" and "garden!" This example reminds us that Russian is indeed an Indo-European language, like English; so, while cognates may not always be obvious, they do exist!

The large white tower seen in the very center of the Kremlin is the Ivan the Great Bell Tower - the колокольня of Иван Великий. Again, switching to genitive case endings, we get the full Russian name: Колокольня Ивана Великого. By the way, we'll study the genitive case in more detail later on; today, we're just seeing a few examples.

A panoramic view of the Kremlin, with the Moscow River (Москва-река) flowing alongside it. As we mentioned, many old Russian cities have their own kremlin, or кремль, but the Московский Кремль is obviously the most spectacular. Later in this series, we'll venture inside!