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5 Must-Watch Series to Learn Russian

Let's dive into some Russian TV series that take you through different periods and aspects of Russian life. From the grand courts of the past to the complex realities of the modern era, these shows offer a peek into what makes Russian history and society tick. Whether you're into the drama of royal life, the intensity of historical events, or the grit of modern survival, there's something here for everyone.


1. Master and Margarita

Master and Margarita

What the show is about:  "Master and Margarita" is a screen version of Bulgakov's masterpiece where the Devil visits 1930s Moscow, stirs up chaos, and challenges the Soviet society's atheism. It's a tale that mixes satire, romance, and fantasy, questioning power and integrity, all while flipping the Soviet life on its head. A good choice for those who want something deep, authentic and hilarious at times.

Number of episodes: 12

Where to watch: YouTube


2. Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great

Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great

What the show is about:  This series offers a lavish portrayal of Catherine the Great's ascent to power, highlighting her transformation from a foreign princess to a formidable empress. Fans of period dramas and royal intrigue will find this beautifully filmed show captivating, reminiscent of The Crown but set in the opulent backdrop of 18th-century Russia. Besides, you'll surely like this show if you adore stories about strong women (here at ICLS we love this type of shows :) ).

Number of episodes: 56

Where to watch: Amazon Prime


3. Law of the Lawless (Brigada)

Law of the Lawless (Brigada)

What the show is about:  If you are searching for the equivalent of the "The Sopranos", take a look at this cult Russian crime TV series about the Russian mafia. Primarily concentrating on the 1990s, this series shows the lives of four friends trying to find their ways after the Soviet regime collapse. It's a tale of loyalty, power, and the cost of ambition (that was too high for our heroes).

Number of episodes: 15

Where to watch: YouTube


4. Inside Lapenko

Inside Lapenko

What the show is about:  Don't be misled by the image — it's not an old Soviet show. Rather, it's an ironic outlook on the Soviet society with jokes that will make you laugh outloud. In addition to many stereotypical Soviet characters (all played by one actor by the way!), the series portrays events that "never happened" in the Soviet Union, like bribery, prostitution, organized crime, etc. All in a manner you will definitely enjoy watching.

Number of episodes: 28

Where to watch: YouTube


5. The Method

The Method

What the show is about:  "The Method" is a Russian detective series that revolves around Rodion Meglin, an experienced, albeit unconventional, investigator with a dark past. He has a secret "method" that allows him to catch serial killers, and as the show goes on, this method is unveiled. If you're into the idea of experiencing Sherlock-type show in a uniquely somber, Russian-style ambiance, set against a truly contemporary cultural backdrop, then you're definitely in for a treat with this one.

Number of episodes: 16

Where to watch: Russian streaming services like Okko and Ivi.


Movie bonus: Hipsters (Stilyagi)

Hipsters (Stilyagi)

What the movie is about:  Have you ever wondered how Russians perceived the US to look like during the Cold War? "Stilyagi" gives an outlook on the mid-20th century Soviet Union, focusing on a group of young people, known as "hipsters," who are infatuated with the American jazz scene, fashion, and lifestyle, contrasting sharply with the conservative Soviet backdrop. The film explores their rebellion against conformity through music, dance, and attire, while also delving into the theme of the search for identity amidst societal pressures. 

Where to watch: YouTube


How to learn Russian while enjoying your series?

Expanding on the tips provided for learning languages through films, here’s a deeper dive into how you can leverage movies and series to learn Russian. Each tip is designed to help you immerse yourself more effectively in the language and culture you're studying.

1. Read the Synopsis Carefully

Before diving into a new film or series, take some time to read through the synopsis. This gives you a clear idea of the storyline, main themes, and characters. By understanding the context beforehand, you can focus more on the language and less on trying to follow the plot. This pre-knowledge aids in anticipating dialogues and scenes, making it easier to grasp language nuances from the get-go.

2. Slow It Down

Modern streaming platforms often offer the ability to adjust playback speed. Slowing down the speech can help in catching pronunciation, intonation, and the natural rhythm of the language. However, to avoid distortion, it’s advised not to reduce the speed below 0.75f. This balance ensures clarity while giving you extra time to process the language.

3. Use Close-Captioning in the Target Language

Opt for close captioning in the language you’re learning rather than relying on translations. Close captions more accurately reflect the spoken dialogue, including colloquial expressions and slang. This direct exposure reinforces listening comprehension and helps bridge the gap between formal and informal language use.

4. Active Listening

Engage deeply with the dialogue by focusing on how words are pronounced and the melody of sentences. Mimicking the actors not only improves your accent and fluency but also enhances your understanding of emotional nuances and cultural context.

5. Repeat and Shadow

Select scenes or dialogues to watch repeatedly, then practice shadowing by repeating the dialogue as it’s spoken. This technique is akin to a speaking exercise, offering you the chance to practice pronunciation, rhythm, and intonation in a real-world context.

6. Use Pause and Repeat

Whenever you encounter unfamiliar words or phrases, pause the film to look them up. Make a note of these new vocabulary items and try incorporating them into your own sentences. This active engagement transforms passive watching into an interactive language lesson.

7. Watch Multiple Episodes of One Series

Commit to watching several episodes, or even a whole season, of the same series. This consistency allows you to become familiar with the characters’ speech patterns, accents, and the series' thematic vocabulary. Each episode builds on the last, deepening your understanding and connection to the language.

8. Consistency is Key

Incorporate films and series in your target language into your regular study routine. Consistent exposure is crucial for gradual improvement and helps in retaining the language. Like any skill, language learning benefits from regular practice and immersion.

By following these expanded tips, you’re not just watching TV; you’re engaging in a comprehensive and enjoyable language learning experience. Movies and series offer a rich source of authentic language, cultural insights, and real-world context that textbooks alone cannot provide. At ICLS, we believe that culture is an essential component of language learning and add cultural topics to our Russian classes. 

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