Russian is the official language in the Russian Federation, which has a population of more than 140 million people. Russian is also spoken in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other republics of the former USSR. Because of the legacy of the Iron Curtain, Russian speakers have a good chance of being understood anywhere from Riga to Belgrade.2. What you already know about Russian
Аbout 10% of Russian words are internationalisms and bear a resemblance to English words, e.g.
- проблема, problem
- кофе, coffee
- кафе, café
The main source of loan words for modern Russian is English so don't be surprised if you see words such as флэш-карта, flash card, or хакер, hacker.
By the way, even the old word вокзал (train station), comes from a very similar English word – Vauxhall.3. How hard is it to learn?
Many people who are learning to speak Russian agonise over its pronunciation and grammar. The various endings of the nouns, six cases, two aspects of the verbs and the correct placement of stress may seem tortuous indeed.
But the good news is that there are only three tenses in Russian and the word order in Russian sentences is predictable.4. The most difficult words and tongue twisters
- Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку. Sasha walked down the avenue and sucked a biscuit.
- На дворе трава, на траве дрова; не руби дрова на траве двора. There is grass in the yard, there are logs on the grass, don't chop the logs on the grass of the yard.
The Russian sense of humour might seem sarcastic to foreigners and at times even rude, but even so Russians are ready to laugh at themselves. Since the Soviet era, jokes have reflected not only realities of everyday life but also politics. This is still unchanged in modern Russia where new jokes are being told the day after a story about a political row appears on the front page of the newspapers.
But Russians also laugh about the same topics as the rest of the world, eg. cute things children say, mothers-in-law, neighbouring countries and grannies visiting the doctor.6. If I learn Russian, will it help me with any other languages?
Russian sits within the East Slavic branch of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest relatives of Russian are Ukrainian and Belarussian, which you will be able to understand on a basic level after learning Russian.
Knowing Russian will make it easier for you to speak any other Slavic language, eg. Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Slovene.7. What not to say and do?
As with all languages beware of false friends, i.e. words that sound similar but have a different meaning.
Don't try to buy a магазин (magazine), in Russian – you end up with a shop.
Better ask for a журнал (zhurnal).
Don't be surprised if someone invites you into his kабинет (cabinet). You're not meant to sit in his cupboard or join his cabinet, you're simply invited into his office.
And watch out for which syllable of a word is stressed as it has an impact on the meaning. Я плачу, ja plachU, means I'm paying while я плáчу, ja plAchu, means I'm crying, which you might well be considering the prices in Russia today.
If your name is Luke or Luka, don't be offended if people start giggling when you're introducing yourself. Люк means hatch and лук (luk) means onion.8. Famous quotations
- Все строят планы, и никто не знает, проживёт ли он до вечера. Everyone is making plans, but no-one knows if he's living to the evening.
- Любовные письма нужно жечь всенепременно. Из прошлого получается благородное топливо. Love letters have to be burned. The past provides the most noble fuel.
Schtschi!Russian wasn't the native language of other iconic Russian figures, such as minor German princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, better known as Empress Catherine the Great. She managed to write the simple Russian word
щи (cabbage soup), with eight spelling mistakes: schtschi, that's eight wrong letters in a two-letter-word, as the Russian joke goes.9. First publication
Unearthed in 2000, the Novgorod Codex is considered to be the most ancient Russian book which dates back to the beginning of the 11th century. The wooden book with four wax pages was used for a few decades to record psalms and other religious texts.10. How to be polite and show respect
Russian is one of those languages that differentiates between a formal and an informal you.
So please use the polite Вы for people you've just been introduced to and switch to the informal ты after you've been invited to do so.
Then there is the patronymic: a Russian name consists of the first name, patronymic and family name, e.g. Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky or Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva. The patronymic does what it says - it's based on the name of one's father with -ovich behind it for a son and -ovna for a daughter. It is considered polite to address someone by his first name and patronymic so if you're learning Russian there's no better way to impress than knowing someone's formal name. Learning to use it correctly in accordance with six cases is a completely different matter ...