There is no language learning without actual communication with a native speaker. This is the ultimate goal of your learning: to be able to speak the language. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to wait until you speak perfectly. Start practising from day one!
Italki is an online language learning service where you can find teachers or native speakers. On italk you can enjoy real language practise at a very low cost as opposed to traditional private lessons. You can search by teacher location, session price, availability etc. You can also see the teacher’s rating and testimonials from other students. Russian learners can choose between a wide range of tutors. Don’t forget that Russian is spoken in a few countries like Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus etc.
After you create an account, you top it up with credit-points. Each time you book a session, depending on the session’s price, the relevant points are deducted from your account. You can then connect with your teacher on Skype and begin your private lesson.
What I found really helpful is recording all the Skype conversations. Right after each session, I used to play back the recording and listen again to parts of the conversation that I had missed. This is really effective ear training as the content is directly relevant to you. These are real conversations that happened between you and a native speaker in which you talk about your life, interests, job, habits etc. It is also worth to pay attention to people’s reactions and responses because certain phrases will most probably appear again with another speaker.
In the beginning, it is recommendable to keep the flow and focus on the comprehension instead of stopping on every single word to ask for explanations. You can always play back the session to nail down a beautiful word or syntax that you missed. By recording, you will save money and increase the value of a single session. More importantly, you have the opportunity to revise the material and make it more solid in your memory. Also, you will be able to judge yourself from a listener’s perspective; you can focus on your weak points, avoid repeated mistakes, and practise pronunciation of words that you struggle with.
Finally, you will definitely make friends on Italki, either teachers or students. On my first trip to Russia I had the opportunity to meet my teachers in person and spend time together. It is a great tool that you should definitely add to your learning.