Russian has had the reputation of being a difficult language to learn, and it is indeed somewhat more difficult for a native English speaker than French, Spanish, or German. Nevertheless, as an Indo-European language, it does not differ all that radically from English; and because of the Greek and Latin base of many technical terms, the two languages share far more vocabulary than is generally realized. In addition, one of the results of Russia's new openness to the West has been a gigantic influx into Russian of words borrowed directly from English. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to tell which language a conversation about, say, computers, is being conducted in.
An image of Old Church Slavonic
Of course, the Russian alphabet--called Cyrillic in honor of St. Cyril who 1,000 years ago invented an alphabet used by many Slavic peoples--is different and apprehension about the alphabet is, in fact, one of the most frequently given reasons for not studying Russian. This is unfortunate because the Russian alphabet is not at all difficult to learn. Standard college courses spend only the first week or less on its mastery. Half of the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet resemble English letters, while still others are familiar to us from common Greek letters. Students master Cyrillic early in their studies, and when they have done so they find Russian spelling represents the spoken language more accurately than does English spelling.