I remember when I first came across the word ‘следовательно’: therefore. No matter how many times I tried to memorise it, I kept forgetting it! I realised I had to find a different way to get it into my head. ‘It’s a long word’, I thought. ‘Let’s try to break it down to see what happens…’ But, how do you break down a word, if you can’t see any other words in it? Google Translate is a powerful tool for this purpose because it provides instant translations as you type. So, if you start typing ‘следовательно’, you gradually get the following results:

Learn Russian - Break the word downСледfootprint, track

If you pay attention to these four words, you can easily create a story to link them all together. For example, I can see here an investigator who follows the footprints and… therefore finds the truth! That’s it! Now, it is impossible to forget the investigator who solved the mystery! You have just managed to learn easily four words instead of just one. More importantly, these words are strongly connected with each other.

The good news doesn’t stop here. After all this process you have more chances to remember a root word or connected phrase that you didn’t initially think of. In our case, the word ‘следовательно’ probably is not the most common Russian word, but the expression:

На следующей неделе: next week

is one that a beginner probably sees quite early. The adjective ‘следующий’: next, following has the same stem – ‘след‘ – as ‘следовательно’. You have just created another link between the four words and an expression you already know.

Alternatively, you can use Wiktionary to find related words. In our case, for следовательно, there is a link to следовать under the section ‘Related terms.’ Similarly, for следовать, there is a link to след.

Hence, when you come across a long word, always try to break it down to simpler ones. The extra time spent on this process will help you memorise the targeted word easily, bring to the surface more associated words, and build strong connections in your head.

PS: All the above are also explained in this video from my talk at Oxford University Russian Society on how to learn Russian.

How to learn Russian - Break the word down