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Ten facts about Russian


Where is Russian spoken?


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.

What you already know about Russian


About 10% of Russian words are internationalisms and bear a resemblance to English words. For example:
проблема, problem
кофе, coffee
кафе, café

There are plenty of loan words from Italian, French or German, so you have an advantage if you know any of these languages already. Admittedly those loan words might look a bit archaic as they made their way into the Russian language in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the word парикмахерская, "hair salon", from the German word for "wig maker."
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.


How hard is it to learn?


Many people who are learning to speak Russian agonize 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.

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.

Know any good Russian jokes?


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. Here is an example:

Транспортировка кока-колы через территорию Украины прекращена. Это потому, что они из нее газ воруют?
The transport of Coca-Cola through the territory of Ukraine has been suspended. Is it because they steal gas from it?


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.


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.


What not to say and do


As with all languages beware of false friends, ie. words that sound similar but have a different meaning.
Don't try to buy a магазин, "magazin," 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, "kabinet." You're not meant to sit in his cupboard or join his cabinet, you're simply invited into his office.

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."

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.

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, eg. 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...

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