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Learning Russian in Riga: Maximizing your Learning Experience

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Going to Russia these days is a chancy business. Sure, there are still people within Russia from the outside world - I've met people returning from St. Petersburg who were there from before the war! - but it is incredibly difficult to get money into the country due to sanctions, and travel links have been heavily disrupted. And of course, if you're opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine like I am, then do you really want to go to Russia and in your own small way provide the foreign exchange currency that the Russian government will find a way to use to help fund its war effort in Ukraine? For a lot of people, still interested in Russia, Russian culture, and above all else the Russian language, but not interested in going to Russia itself, different destinations have been vital to enable them to keep studying Russian. One of these is Riga, the capital of Latvia, a member state of the European Union, but also a city with a hefty minority - sometimes it feels like a majority - of Russian speakers and Russian schools. If you have chosen to keep studying Russian and go to Riga, what are some of the ways you might use to maximize your learning experience and get the most Russian learning and exposure out of your trip?

Schools and Classes

There are a whole host of different language schools and classes in Riga, so many that listing them all would be quite the challenge! I don't know them all myself, but one of the key things is that you aren't necessarily bound to select from just one school. I for example, took classes from Liden & Denz Riga, which offers typically both morning classes and afternoon classes, and in the Fall (when I was not there), evening classes, as well as Saturday classes from Pygmalion. One odd feature is that Liden & Denz is partnered or in some sort of association with Durbe, so they're actually the same. Here is a list of some of the available schools.

Conversation Partners and Tutors

Of course, if you have come to a place like Riga, a (at least somewhat) Russian speaking area, then you probably did so because above all else you wish to actually interact with Russophones. One of the best ways to do this is trying to find conversation partners and tutors. Thankfully, Riga offers some of the easiest ways to go about doing this.

Tandem

Tandem is a language exchange app which I've found tremendously useful to find people to learn Russian with. Theoretically, Tandem can't be tailored to purely local areas like Riga or Latvia unless if you pay for a subscription - but it's really easy to do it in Latvia's case, since outside of Latvia almost no one is going to be learning Latvia. Simply look for people learning or who know Latvian, and odds are they know Russian as well.

Riga Language Exchange

The best local group for language exchanges is Riga Language Exchange on Facebook. It offers a pretty good stream of people interested in learning other languages, and when you post about coming you will generally get a host of people interested in sharing their language and learning yours. It also from time to time, generally every couple of weeks, hosts a language exchange get together in a bar.

Tutoring Sites

There aren't as many tutoring sites as there are in France (or perhaps there are, and it is just that I haven't found them), but if you are interested the biggest one, the equivalent of Craig's List or Le Bon Coin, is ss.lv. It is entirely in Russian and Latvian, so you do need some introductory level of Russian to deal with it. The language courses are found in their own category. You can filter it to just select Russian courses. There is also Tutaroo and Grammarly as sites to look on (although neither is that filled for Riga...) and Riga Language Exchange has a fair number of advertisements for people's tutoring.

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Cultural and Literary Interests

When you first come to Latvia, you will probably think that Riga is a less Russian speaking city than you would think, since everything in Riga is written in Latvian. But in fact there are still plenty of opportunities to find Russian language books and literature. While all bookstores might have their fronts in Latvian, there are book stores like Jana Rozes Gramatnica, Valters un Lapa, or Gramatnica Globuss - in general, any bookstore in Riga will probably have a Russian section inside. One almost exclusively Russian bookstore which I enjoyed is Novaya Riga, which also has a small café section. You can also look at the somewhat deceptively named Riga Book Club which offers book advice and some book exchanges.

There is also a Russian Theater if your Russian is good enough to dare try it, although listening to plays in person is quite the struggle! Also not specifically intended for it, movie theaters are also a decent exposure vector, since they have subtitles in Latvian and Russian generally, with most films having their audio in English.

There are also plenty of little stalls outside the buildings which feel even more Russian somehow.

There are also plenty of little stalls outside the buildings which feel even more Russian somehow.

Russian Speaking Areas

One of the best ways to surround yourself with Russian is at the Riga central market, where almost everyone speaks Russian. It really gives you the feel of what things would be like in Russia itself, with the little stands of people selling berries, vegetables, watermelons, or loads of kitsch inside and deep fried meat pastries like my beloved Belyash pastries. If you feel comfortable enough to talk in Russian with strangers, this is probably the place to go to really feel immersion!

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