Liden and Denz Moscow Review, aka Language Group Courses vs italki

Published on 15 July 2022

This article will answer the following questions in order:

  • What exactly happens in the course at Liden and Denz?
  • What are the pros and cons of taking the class? These are mostly generic to any group language course.
  • How do I personally evaluate the time-effectiveness of a group course versus italki in the broader language learning process?

I took Russian language courses at Liden and Denz in Moscow for about five weeks, having purchased six weeks initially but, like many, ultimately leaving Russia following the start of the war in Ukraine.

Before enrolling, it was difficult to find any details on the internet of exactly what the Liden and Denz course entailed. The purpose of this post is to help those who are curious about the course and whether it would be useful to them.

Before enrolling, I had debated for a long time on whether to take the courses or continue my previous method self-studying with italki for conversation practice. For me, the major concern was efficiency of time. Three hours a day is a substantial chunk of time; could I (accounting for one’s discipline) use that three hours a day more effectively?

Note that I took the “B1+” class (for students aiming for B2), meaning that most students had enough of a foundation to have at least basic conversations in Russian. However, the format of the class might completely vary based on level, location, and teacher.

TLDR: Courses at Liden and Denz are an enjoyable way to improve at Russian. It’s not the most efficient use of time, but if one is proactive about using the time to speak and listen, it can yield great improvements.


A typical three-hour class might go as follows:

  • Hour 1: Random conversations about life, presentation on the news (see below), discussion of news.
  • Hour 2: Some activity: reading an article, grammar exercise, workbook or vocabulary exercise, etc.
  • Hour 3: Continuation of exercise, usually with more discussion on related topics.

In general, the class was quite focused on conversation. As a result, the schedule is often quite non-linear (not in a bad way): any activity will be interleaved with tangents on conversations about people’s opinions or experiences on a certain topic. For example, if we read an article about how more people are moving to the city, this might lead to a conversation comparing and contrasting such a phenomenom in students’ home countries.


During my time there, the class had between three to seven people at any time. New students joined, other students left, some days people didn’t come, etc. The level between students also varied quite substantially.

Random conversation

Almost every class started with random conversation that would often organically lead to further conversations. For example, on Mondays, the teacher asked, naturally, what people did over the weekend. Maybe somebody went to the ballet but had bad seats, sparking a discussion over such experiences while simultaneously introducing related vocabulary. As another example, a student once complained about overly aggressive solicitors on the street something, again prompting a broader discussion about related issues.

Basically, anything goes with regards to discussion. Some days, these were quite brief; other days, this consumed a large chunk of time.

Participation in this conversation is optional, though the teacher may occasionally prompt non-speaking students. I occasionally refrained when the topics were less interesting to me or I was simply tired. Regardless of the excuse, I tried to force myself to participate. If I wanted to sit and watch other people have a conversation, I’d open up YouTube, not go to a classroom and pay money. But in the end, like most things with learning, it’s a matter of discipline and proactivity.

Covering the news

Every class started with “sharing the news” from one or two people, depending on the class size that week. The premise is straightforward: a student selects a piece of news and shares it with the class in a free-form format.

Personally, I always enjoyed sharing the news and would have been happy for more than one chance a week. I viewed it as a good opportunity to use new vocabulary and try to deliver a semi-prepared, fairly short presentation about a topic. In my opinion, not everyone made the most of it, sometimes giving a brief, low-effort summary. But like most things in the class – the opportunity for a challenge is there.

Reading articles

One common activity was reading articles before the class and discussing it in the next class, doing related exercises. More concretely, this include matching synonyms and antonyms for new vocabulary, providing definitions in our own words of vocabulary words, and answering questions about the passage.

Liden and Denz has their own textbook, though the class had finished it already at the time that I joined, so I ultimately had little experience with it.

Later on, the teacher gave us a choice, asking us to select between a number of article-based textbooks that we would go through. We ended up going with “В мире людей”, which, I believe is a very standard book for TRKI2/B2 preparation.

Grammar exercises

Grammar exercises were fairly common, but I never felt that the primary focus of the course was on grammar. Perhaps once or twice a week, we would do something grammar-related. However, we did cover very useful topics that I was unlikely to study on my own. This is discussed further in the “Pros” section.

Vocabulary review

This was a cross-cutting activity, in the sense that it was almost always happening at any given time in the class. The teacher always had a document projected on the wall, where she wrote any interesting vocabulary. From time to time, the teacher would review the nuances of the vocabulary.

A non-exhaustive list of common things that happened here:

  • Teacher gave examples of sentences, idioms, or phrases.
  • Explaining synonyms or nuances
  • Clarifying student questions

Listening exercises

We did listening exercises, though very rarely. Again, note that I was there for only five weeks, so my breakdown of the frequency of activities could potentially be biased to the particular choices of the teacher at that time. It didn’t seem to be very common; I remember only two such instances. We watched a newscaster, and we later did a B2 listening exercise with multiple-choice questions.


Below, I’ve listed out a few things in particular that I found useful about the course. Note that this is coming from the perspective of someone who had not studied Russian in a classroom environment before. It’s possible that these are common to all group language courses.

Expressing more complex thoughts

I felt that the class provided ample opportunities to practice expressing complex thoughts with a teacher immediately correcting or suggesting better phrasing. One can similarly learn from the errors of others.

In the end, capitalizing on these opportunities requires some amount of proactivity, but the conversations and their topics were almost always centered on more complex topics: comparing and contrasting, expressing opinions in sophisticated manners, talking about political/social/economic topics, etc.

Things you don’t want to study yourself

We studied a good amount of grammar that I probably never would have grinded through on my own. For example, the declensions of the numbers (the different cases of один, два, три, полтора, etc.) or the nuances between similar verbs (поменять, сменять, etc.) Truthfully, doing exercises for those are so grueling and mind-numbing that I never would have allocated my own time to do it. However, I did end up getting a decent foundation for it, since we did grammar exercises and formed example sentences both in-class and as homework.

Language stamina

One of the main reasons that I chose to enroll in the course was to improve my “language stamina.” By this, I mean the duration at which I can sustain Russian conversation. When I was thinking about enrolling, I could probably participate in a conversation for about fifteen minutes maximum before getting exhausted.

I entered the course with the aim of fixing this, and it definitely worked, as doing Russian things for three hours a day, even after two weeks, will quickly improve such stamina.

Meeting other language learners

Before participating in the class, I don’t think I’d ever met another foreigner studying Russian. It’s not that they’re super rare, but depending on your circumstances, it might be hard to stumble upon one outside of the group class.

It’s always inspiring in any activity to be surrounded by other people participating in the same thing, especially when their level inspires you to work harder. Their mistakes, when corrected by a teacher, will also force you to think about your own mistakes.


I want to preface this by saying that the cons are simply my evaluation of the downsides of taking this course or probably any group course in general. I actually enjoyed the course and would recommend it, but I’ll posit some of the downsides so that readers can think critically about the tradeoffs before enrolling.

Time efficiency

I felt that there often was an unnecessarily large amount of time reviewing the list of vocabulary words that were gathered throughout a lesson. Naturally, there are definitely times when a native speaker needs to explain the nuances of a phrase; however, in the vast majority of cases, I felt that a ten minute discussion could have been resolved in thirty seconds by going to Reverso, looking up the phrase, and reading three example sentences.

Ultimately, students will need to review the vocabulary on their own time. Barring students with absolutely unbelievable memory (not me), almost no students are going to remember or reproduce all words learned after seeing it twice in a lesson. As a result, I don’t think that the short time spent on the words reinforced the knowledge very strongly. In my case, I made Anki cards for every phrase that we learned.

Lack of compositions

Likely because it’s a lot of work for both students and teachers to read and edit compositions, there was very little emphasis on writing. Students were encouraged to form more complex sentences, but we were never challenged to form more complex compositions. By this, I mean, for example, an essay or even a paragraph.

At some point, it’s not about forming one good sentence – though this is a prerequisite – but it also becomes important to understand the flow of sentences and the way that sentences interact with each other. Again, the class doesn’t necessarily have the responsibility of teaching you to do everything. In the end, it’s possible to do this outside of the class, which is what I ended up doing.

Easy to be complacent

I found that one needs to really focus on not squandering the opportunity every morning to talk. It’s easy to be complacent when there are other students, passively listening to the discussion.

The reality of learning, in my opinion, is that learning is about discipline and putting yourself in environments that encourage you to be disciplined, which is why I consider this a legitimate critique of the environment. Before I realized that I needed to be proactive about making the most of my time and money, I definitely had a few days where three hours had passed, and I realized that I had said two or three things the whole time while zoning out on my computer. I also noticed a lot of students doing the same thing on occasion.

So given the above statement about learning and discipline, I would consider this a con, in the sense that the group classroom environment was not always conducive to active participation.

My thoughts: italki lessons vs. group courses

Taking the group courses was an experiment for me. How do I feel about it overall? Let’s lay this out logically.

The reality of forcing yourself to study

First, let’s address price. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I recall that Liden and Denz turned out to be around $8 USD per hour for the course (it becomes cheaper the more weeks you purchase upfront). A one hour private lesson on italki is about $10-$12 USD per hour, depending on the teacher. That is to say that they are around the same price; private lessons are slightly more expensive, but I would presume that most people who can dedicate three hours a day on a working day to a language course probably don’t feel a life-changing difference between $8 and $10 an hour. We will consider the price per hour as very similar between the two.

Operating on the premise that both italki and group courses are in the same price bracket, now the question remains: which one is a more effective use of time?

I’ll say this outright: booking three hours of italki lessons every day would be substantially more effective than three hours at Liden and Denz. Even booking two italki lessons, which would be the same price as three hours of Liden and Denz. In individual lessons, one will generally be much more active, forming sentences and constantly thinking of something to say.

It should be noted that using italki effectively is also an art in itself, as generally it has fewer formal aspects like studying grammar and is more focused on conversation. Group courses will cover some topics that italki doesn’t, as in my experience italki “teachers” are more like “people to converse with who will correct mistakes.”

However, as I mentioned earlier, learning is often a question of discipline. It’s not so simple to compare daily classes to signing up for daily italki lessons. It’s objectively simpler to go sign up for group course than to sign in to italki and commit to booking two lessons every morning, knowing that it’ll be more work to cancel or move each one. Believe it or not, this is the reason why I continued with the classes as well. This practical aspect is undoubtedly a factor worth considering.

In my case, I had a process of studying, and I actually learned a lot about the process of studying a language by participating in the group class, especially with regards to how we can find extract and internalize new vocabulary and complex constructions from articles. I don’t believe that it was the most efficient use of my time, but I do believe that it helped me improve a lot.

The ideal balance

In the ideal world and accounting for my time budget for studying language, I would have preferred do Liden and Denz courses two or three days a week, “winning” me back hours that I could use to study in other ways. But again, this opinion is personal, and the ideal system on how one goes about studying language and the number of resources available outside of a course.

The conclusion

If you don’t have a solid process for studying outside of a course, then I highly recommend the Liden and Denz class. It will fulfill numerous needs in the learning process: exposure to new vocabulary, listening and conversational practice, grammar, etc. However, be aware that the course will never be enough on its own, and serious learners will nonetheless need to make the active effort outside the course.

For those capable of consistently booking italki lessons every day and using those lessons effectively, it is a better use of time and money. However, in reality, not all of us can bring ourselves to do that, including myself (I’ve heard from my teachers, however, that such people do exist). Ultimately, Liden and Denz is an enjoyable and solid way to improve one’s Russian. From the perspective of time efficiency, it’s not the most-absolute-complete efficient use of one’s time, but it still has the potential to be good.