Russian and English have several deceptive “false friends.”

About 10% of Russian words resemble their English counterparts. But don’t get too comfortable with guessing. These are also many words that look or sound the same but have different meanings between the two languages. For example, in English, “angina” means chest pain. But the Russian word Ангина means tonsillitis, a much less severe affliction (and all the more reason that limited English proficiency healthcare patients need access to information in their own languages!)

Corporate Russian Courses

Russian courses and 1:1 lessons at all levels for corporate clients, on company premises in Cyprus. In a group course you will feel part of the team, practise your language skills and exchange ideas with other learners at the same level, so it can be more fun as well as more profitable! 30 lessons initial course is recommended for beginners. Corporate Russian Courses Corporate Russian Courses Course Costs

Is Russian Hard to Learn?

Russian, as a part of the Slavic language group, has a reputation for being difficult to learn. The question is, how difficult is it to learn Russian, really? Is Russian hard to learn?  In this article, you’re going to find out how difficult Russian is for English speakers and what you should focus on if you want to learn it quickly.  Why should you learn Russian? If you’ve searched and found this article, the chances are that you are already thinking about learning Russian, or you may have already started.  In that case, you must have a few reasons of your own as to why you decided to pick up this beautiful, yet complex language.  There are many reasons why you might want to make Russian next on your language-learning list: Whichever your reason for learning Russian, make sure it’s a strong one to keep you motivated and persistent. Here are a couple of reasons that might help you get and stay excited: Russian is a great place to start if you are interested in Slavic languages Learning Russian can greatly aid in the learning process of other Slavic languages. As a Slavic language, Russian shares many similarities in grammar and vocabulary with other Slavic languages such as Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Czech and Bulgarian. For example, many words in these languages are very similar or even identical to their Russian counterparts. This means that once you have a grasp of the Russian vocabulary and grammar, it will be much easier to pick up new words and grammar rules in other Slavic languages, since most of them share a lot of the same grammar features such as verb declension, verbal aspect, etc. In summary, learning Russian can be a great way to get a foothold in the world of Slavic languages, as it will give you a foundation in grammar and vocabulary that will make it easier to learn other Slavic languages. Because of the Soviet Union, Russian is spoken in many countries Not only is it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but it’s also spoken in a variety of countries due to the Soviet Union’s past. Think about it, as a Russian speaker you have access to not only Russia but also countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus, and even some parts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This means that you’ll have the opportunity to travel and explore different cultures, all while being able to communicate with the locals in their native language. Knowing Russian can give you a significant advantage in the fields that have connections to Russian-speaking countries. In short, learning Russian is not just about understanding the language itself, but also getting a glimpse into the diverse cultures and histories that have shaped it. So take advantage of the fact that Russian is spoken in many countries and explore the world! However… Is Russian hard to learn? People often ask if a certain language is hard to learn. There usually is no simple answer, since it depends on whether you already speak a foreign language and if you already know a language similar to the one you want to learn.  Russian has a reputation for being a difficult language for an English speaker to learn.  This, however, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to achieve.   For an English speaker, the Foreign Service Institute places Russian in category IV (meaning it would take approximately 1100 hours to learn), along with other Slavic languages. In comparison, Category I languages, which are most closely related to English (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.) will take you up to 600 hours to learn. Russian, in comparison, will take almost twice as long.  There are a few reasons why Russian is more difficult for English speakers than some of the other languages that are more closely related to English:  Complexity of grammar Compared to English grammar and grammar of the languages closely related to English, Russian grammar is quite complex.  If you want to learn more about grammar, this article will give you more details about the verbs in Russian, and in this article you can learn more about the 6 cases in Russian. Flexible but not so flexible word order In simple sentences, Russian follows the SVO (subject-verb-object) word order, just like English.     S   +  V   +   OКатя читает книгу.[Katya] [is-reading] [book].Katya is reading a book. Although the word order seems quite flexible, some constructions will sound more familiar than others. But in general, due to the existence of the case system, you can usually move words around. For example: Я поцеловал Марию.[I] [kissed] [Mariya-(accusative case)].I kissed Mariya.  Марию поцеловал я.[Mariya-(accusative case)] [kissed] [I].I kissed Mariya.  Both of these sentences are grammatically correct and mean the same thing, just with a small nuance of emphasis. Because it is the object of the verb “to kiss”, we can see that the name “Мария” (Mariya) is in the Accusative case, and changed to “Марию” (Mariyu), and because of this change, the order is irrelevant, we know immediately who is the subject and who is the object of the sentence. Reading Learning a new alphabet can be intimidating, but for those who are interested in learning the Russian language, the Cyrillic alphabet is not as difficult as it may seem. First of all, it’s important to note that several letters in the Cyrillic alphabet look very similar to their counterparts in the Latin alphabet. For example, the letter “A” in the Latin alphabet is very similar to the letter “А” in the Cyrillic alphabet. The letters “M” and “T” and some others also have similar counterparts in the Cyrillic alphabet. This means that you already have a head start in learning the alphabet. Even the letters that may not look familiar at first glance are not that hard to learn. The Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters in total, and many of them are formed by combining simple shapes, in a very similar way to what the Latin alphabet does. With…

Expected progress in a Russian course

What kind of a language learner are you? To answer this question, you need to know the person who is doing the lessons, at least a little bit. Here are the factors to consider: Are they good linguists naturally, that is – do they have a good memory, can they retain words in their memory, can they imitate sounds and hear the difference between similar sounds? Have they ever learned a foreign language before, ideally, with a system of cases, like Latin? Do they understand the grammar of their mother tongue? No less important is the question of commitment and dedication. Is the new student going to do homework? And how many hours each week? Dedication and motivation are also very important. Is there a particular reason for doing this course? Is this reason good enough to keep you going and not give up when it seems difficult and time-consuming? Facts and figures about learning Russian What happens next is up to you… Some people stop at this point, and try to maintain the good level they have achieved, by regular practice. Others go further. There is no limit in language learning! Homework: to do or not to do  As far as homework is concerned, you would be expected to dedicate at least 2 hours a week to it, but of course, the more, the better. The ideal scenario is: the student learns everything at home, and the role of the teacher is to check what has been learned, answer questions about unclear points, and set the next assignment for learning. However, in real life, this is done by probably 1% of the students. Much more common is the scenario where students do not do much homework. Sometimes none at all. That is fine with us. We work with grown up people and recognise the fact that they have much more important commitments than learning Russian. So no one will be telling you off, but your progress will be twice as slow… So if you are not worried about the extent of your budget for the lessons, and not restricted by any time frames for achieving your goal in learning Russian, then not doing any homework at all is a possible option. Regular study and practice  Regular practice is very important. Unfortunately, if you do not practice a language, it goes into the “passive” state. It can be brought back with a bit of work, but a refresher course may be necessary. Initiative and motivation If you do not take the initiative in learning new things yourself, looking up new words in a dictionary – or, at this day and age, on your Google translate app – look through grammar explanations in your textbook and ask the teacher questions about it, you will make slower progress. You will only digest what is fed to you, depriving yourself of all the supplements you could have. The journey goes on   Where does the learning process end? Well, it doesn’t… even native speakers do not know their mother tongue perfectly, so there is always room for improvement – especially in a creative and vibrant language like Russian. Even if you know the grammar perfectly, there is always so much vocabulary and idiom to be learned! Slang, neologisms, popular sayings, cultural references, swear words (which are an important part of any colloquial language!) – you name it. It depends on how curious and how ambitious you are. Some people communicate successfully with a vocabulary of 500 words, others have 5000. It also depends on your objectives and your target situation: whether you aim to order a dinner in a restaurant, or discuss politics and literature with Russians. But a high level of language proficiency comes as a result of hard work and takes a lot of time. It’s a journey. If you soak a foreign language up properly, it gives you a new dimension in life, and enriches your personality. They say, you have as many personalities in you, as many languages you speak. And last but not least – please do not believe advertisements that promise to teach you Russian (or any other language) in 3 months. It’s impossible.

Russian Syntax: the construction of Russian sentences

Parts of sentence – why do we need to know them in Russian For example, someone who does not know what a direct object is, will not be able to use the Accusative case correctly. And without understanding what the subject of a sentence is, it would be impossible to use the correct gender of the verb (predicate) in the past tense, or agree a descriptive adjective (attribute) with the subject, etc.  In English, there is a strictly regulated word order and no cases or genders, so understanding the structure of a sentence is usually quite easy (with some exceptions, of course).  Word order in Russian sentences  In Russian, there is a flexible word order, combined with the system of cases, genders, conjugations. It allows a lot of creativity and freedom in using the language, but may lead to some difficulties in understanding both the obvious meaning and the subtleties and hidden connotations.  For example, a simple sentence that means “I have known him for a long time” can only have one correct variant of the word order in English. However, in Russian you can say it in a few different ways: Я знаю его давно. (Same word order as in English, sensible and very neutral). Or: Я давно его знаю (that would be less formal, preferred in colloquial Russian). Or: Его я знаю давно, with the emphasis on Eго, as opposed to some other person. Or: Давно я его знаю, знаю я его давно, etc. The word being emphasised is put at the beginning, and the word order is not restricted by any rules at all! On the one hand, it’s great – you can play around with words put them wherever you like in the sentence.  But there is a downside to this seemingly convenient flexibility of the Russian sentence. In literary and formal Russian, people have a tendency to make long sentences. With flexible word order, you need to understand and appreciate all the case endings and agreements between different words in a sentence (which can be miles, or, rather, lines apart!), otherwise the meaning would be hard to grasp. Sometimes sentences are so long and so overloaded with participle constructions with complicated case agreement that even educated Russian native speakers get it wrong.  As complex as it gets A classical example here is Leo Tolstoy who loved immensely complicated long sentences. If you have a look at the text of War and Peace in the original, you will see that some sentences are as long as the whole page, with fancy punctuation marks such as colons, semi-colons and dashes, with numerous participle constructions and attributes following one another like a string of beads. It sounds beautiful when read aloud but it’s totally over the top. When I was at school, our Russian language and literature teacher sometimes would dictate one of these super long sentences to us, and then ask us to analyse it: find the subject, the predicate, all objects and attributes in each part, comment on all the grammatical forms and cases. Being a language lover, I enjoyed it and found it quite easy. While some kids hated it!  Of course, no one talks like Tolstoy in his novels in real life, and no one even writes like that any more, but it’s amazing to see the potential of the Russian language, its incredible flexibility and expressiveness that allows it to paint a whole huge picture of life, with many details, in one sentence.  Interesting features of Russian syntax Here are a few:

Business Russian Courses 

Business Russian is a vast field  I often have requests for teaching business Russian, and often people who want to do it are very vague about what aspect of Business Russian they are interested in. The fact is that business Russian is a very broad term, covering a vast range of vocabulary and functions: from telephoning and making simple arrangements for meetings and travel to carrying out business negotiations and handling business correspondence (the latter, in particular, is so specialised that not all native speakers of Russian would be able to do it without previous experience!) Types of Business Russian courses  So, if you are interested in a business Russian course, what kind of course can you do? If you are an intermediate student, you will be restricted to fairly simple things: learning how to start a phone conversation, or fix a meeting. You can expand your vocabulary into a work-related sphere. The most common vocabulary areas are: banking and finance, the work of business enterprises, negotiating vocabulary, oil and gas (since Russia is rich in it!), law (a vast field in itself). There are unfortunately no easy ways of learning specialised vocabulary, you’ll just have to make a list and learn it… If you are an advanced student, or a native speaker of a Slavic language who finds learning Russian vocab relatively easy, you could do all of the above, plus more difficult stuff: working with business documentation related to your work (translating or summing up the gist of your documents), writing business letters or e-mails (which requires a very good command of the language), and participating in work/business meetings with Russian native speakers. Needless to say, if you are a beginner, you need to build a substantial foundation of general Russian before you can start learning business Russian. Textbooks of business Russian The choice of textbooks for business Russian is not very wide (since it’s a specialised field) I can recommend “Russian for Business Studies” by Svetlana Le Fleming. It gives good coverage of different aspects of business vocabulary, and supplies good texts and exercises for practice and revision. However, this book was published many years ago, and the content is rather out of date – which doesn’t diminish the value of the vocabulary lists and exercises presented there. Another reasonably good book is Деловая Поездка в Россию (a business trip to Russia) by Lebedev and Petukhova. First published in 2002 in St Peterburg by Zlatoust Publishers, it covers a wide range of business topics (banking, insurance, tax etc), giving a general overview of the subjects but not going into great detail. There are also a lot of booklets on the subject published in Russia but they are not comprehensive course books, so they can only be used as supplementary materials for reading or translating. Some of them have promising titles such as “A course for business people” but they often just give texts and dialogues with parallel translation. One problem of all textbooks of business Russian is that the economic situation in the country has been changing so quickly in the last 20 years that texts on business and economics become obsolete almost as soon as they get published. So it’s much better and more interesting to use “fresh” authentic materials from the Russian press and the internet – something that could be done at the advanced level. And finally, I am afraid I have to say that no one learns business Russian for fun (or, at least, I’ve never met such people). It’s the most boring course a Russian tutor ever has to teach, and it’s hard work for students. But if you have to deal with Russian partners or clients in your working life, it will make a big difference and will be greatly appreciated!

Russian handwriting: to write or not to write

Discovering the handwritten version of the Russian alphabet usually causes either a slight shock (oh my God, I’ve just learned the alphabet, and now there is another one to learn) or curiosity and desire to start using it. Either reaction is fine: these days you, the learner, have a choice – to use or not to use the handwritten version of the Russian alphabet.  The use of proper handwriting is becoming quite rare  In the past, writing legibly by hand was a practical necessity. But now, with the advance of modern technologies, people hardly ever write by hand. Handwriting is reserved for making informal notes, post cards, shopping lists and other rather trivial things. So strictly speaking, a learner of Russian does not need to master it. But it’s a nice touch if you do. I must admit, my own handwriting has deteriorated a lot: it has become less pretty, less consistent, less joined up. I cannot even remember last time I had to write a long-ish text by hand. However, every now and then the cursive style of writing is used in menus, business cards, advertising boards, just to make it look pretty and interesting. So in those cases, it pays to learn it.  Which letters look different?  To be fair, it’s not really even that different. Out of 33 letters there are about five that are completely different in handwriting: Т, Д, Г, П, М. The rest are just curvy versions of the same, with little tails extended to neighbouring letters, to join them together. After all, the main purpose of the handwritten style is to make writing by hand quick and fluent by joining all the letters seamlessly. And, done properly, a whole word should be written without taking your pen off the paper. All educated Russian native speakers can still do it if asked, but would not bother in real life. The skill of calligraphy is now almost dead in English (at least, according to my observation), and is definitely dying in Russian. The younger generation don’t care any more. And I can totally understand it – there is no point in sweating over perfecting your joint up writing if you type everything, or even dictate it to your smartphone!  Russian handwriting varies hugely from person to person Some people’s writing is absolutely illegible, with the most notorious examples supplied by doctors. In the old days, I would always ask the doctors to explain what they have written on my prescription, and then would rewrite it myself before I forgot! Yes, that bad…  Famous Russian writers didn’t excel in producing legible texts either. Looking at Pushkin’s writing, for example, a modern reader can only guess some of the words and would struggle to read whole sentences fluently. Russians joke that an illegible handwriting is a sign of a genius. So do not be discouraged if you see a piece of Russian handwriting that you cannot decipher. Chances are that Russian native speakers would not be able to read it either! When mastering the hanwritten style of writing is important All that said, I have never taught anyone advanced in Russian who would not be able to understand a handwritten or cursive text. It’s just part of the process of learning to get used to various forms of writing, and the more examples of it you see, the easier it becomes to understand and to master. Also, writing legibly by hand is still a requirement for formal Russian qualifications: the GCSE, the A-Level, the TRKI. So if you plan is to do one of these, it’s a must.  To cut a long story short – to write or not to write, by hand, is up to you. It depends on your objectives in learning the Russian language. For a short practical course, just learning the basics – perhaps not. For a long term journey into the world of the Russian language and culture – definitely yes. 

The Titan of classical Russian literature: Leo Tolstoy

If reading War and Peace in the original is your goal to be achieved at the end of your Russian course, prepare to be patient and learn some French as well as Russian… As your Russian tutor will tell you, Leo Tolstoy wrote the longest sentences ever, and his texts are often used to test the spelling and punctuation of native Russian speakers. Russian literature would not be the same without the mightly titan of the 19th century, which is often called the golden age of Russian literature, Leo Tolstoy. The epic Russian writer  The second half of the 19th century is the time of “thick novels”, epic descriptions of the time and the people. Dickens is a classical example.  The most famous Russian epic is of course “War and Peace”: 4 volumes, hundreds of characters, about 2 thousand pages. There is an old school joke: “I hate Tolstoy! I hate “War and Peace”! – “Why? Have you read it?” – “No, I had to photocopy it!!”  It’s true that you wouldn’t want to photocopy it… But is reading it worth it? Yes – if you have time and patience. Tolstoy is heavy on very lengthy sentences – a classical example of Russian writing. So lengthy that 1 sentence sometimes takes up a whole page. It is beautifully written, but it’s not the kind of thing you could read on a train or a plane, it requires time and concentration. When I was at school, our teacher in Russian lessons liked to call someone to the board and dictate a sentence from War and Peace to this luckless student who would have to write it down, trying to preserve the correct spelling and punctuation. The board was very big, covering half the wall, and the sentence would normally take up all of it. Then we would have to dissect it, finding the subject, the predicate, and all the participle constructions that might be miles away from the word they refer to. I think I would find it difficult even now! War and Peace The name of the novel “War and Peace” is a play on words. It is called “Война и мир” in Russian, with “мир – mir” meaning both “peace” and “world, society”. The main theme of the novel is the Napoleonic War of 1812 and its impact upon Russian society and the world. It has everything a great novel needs: a good plot, well drawn characters, several love stories, and one extra – philosophical discourse about history and the role of great personalities, such as Napoleon, in history. Most of the “boring” philosophical parts are in French. In modern editions all the French parts are translated into Russian in footnotes at the back of the book (unlike 19th century intellectuals, we are not expected to know French any more!) so the kids who are required to read this novel at school always (and understandably!) miss those parts. The novel reflects Tolstoy’s views on society, family, war, religion etc. And his views, just like his life and career, are rather interesting. Key Facts of Tolstoy’s life Coming from a rich family and being a count (by the way, his surname means “fat” in Russian – a fact that always amuses my students learning Russian in London, and his first name, “Lev” means “lion”!), Tolstoy had the luxury of being able to dedicate his life to literature and philosophy. He received a good university education, although unfinished, served in the army (in the Caucasus) for 2 years, lived in Europe for a while and then got married at the age of 34. He started a family and lived on his country estate Yasnaya Polyana (Ясная Поляна), near the city of Tula, 3 hours by train from Moscow. He had a big family of 13 children (5 of them died as infants), and his long suffering wife Sophia often acted as his secretary, writing up edited copies of his novels (let alone photocopying, she had to copy them by hand!!) A Russophile and an aristocrat ploughing his own land  In Yasnaya Polyana, he ran a farm and founded a school for peasants’ children. At this time, Tolstoy became famous for his Russophile views, believing that Western ways of life and agriculture would not be acceptable for Russians, because Russia follows its own way. Unlike other Russian liberal intellectuals, who thought that the peasants should be enlightened and elevated to their level, he thought that it should be the other way round: middle classes should learn from the people who work on the land. Peasants are better, more authentic people than intellectuals. He decided to look and live like a simple farmer who ploughs his own land. He grew a beard and wore peasant clothes (hence his peculiar look in later portraits). He taught peasant kids at school and wrote didactic stories for them. He also got into trouble with the Russian Orthodox church (as serious as excommunication!) for advocating his own brand of religion which became known as “tolstovstvo”. Its main principle is non violence and not actively resisting violence. In 1910, being already in his 80-s, secretly from his family, he left home and went on a journey somewhere, but caught pneumonia on the way, and died at a small train station – a strange and unexpected death. Anna Karenina Tolstoy’s other big novel, Anna Karenina, is probably famous all over the world for one quotation, the opening phrase of the novel: “All happy families are alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The main plot line is the life and death of the beautiful Anna who falls in love with a dashing army officer Vronsky, leaves her boring old husband and a young son, whom she misses very much, has a short spell of happiness and a daughter with the lover, but then he grows cold towards her, and she commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. A rather obvious moral tale, with…

Russian cultural awareness training

What do you need to know, while working or socialising with Russians? Are there any western habits that would seem strange or unattractive to Russians, and the other way round? Should you shake hands with Russian women in a business meeting? How formal or friendly should you be? These are the kind of questions that a Russian culture awareness course or a one-off presentation will be answering.  Who needs cultural awareness training?  Culture awareness courses or single presentations are usually booked by companies whose employees have regular contacts with Russian colleagues, partners or customers, in Russia or the UK. They are designed as a short and entertaining introduction to the Russian “modus operandi”, habits, way of life and way of thinking. They help someone completely unfamiliar with anything Russian to feel more comfortable dealing with Russians, travelling and doing business in Russian speaking countries.  Here are a just a few points that can be mentioned in a Russian culture awareness course.  Russia is a diverse multicultural country  Not everyone in Russia or from Russia is actually Russian. It’s a vast country – a federation of many republics, some of which have their own national languages and traditions. There are a lot of ethnic groups and more than 100 languages spoken in the Russian Federation. So we can make generalisations but any particular people from Russia may have their own set of cultural peculiarities.  When Russians smile Russians may seem gloomy and too serious at the first encounter but appearances are often deceptive. A polite formal smile is not the done thing, but once you have got to know someone better, smiles come out, and you will see the emotional side.  Friendship  Russians know how to be true friends, our concept of friendship includes sharing, helping, looking after each other. After all, we come from a place with a cold climate and many social upheavals where helping each other is very important. So having Russian friends would have a lot of benefits – help, support, being fed and treated to nice foods, home made psychoanalysis and collective problem solving! But it may have some down sides: invasion into your private space, with the best possible intentions, being one of them. Doing business with Russians  The principle “Nothing personal – just business” does not work in Russia. It is personal, and a good personal relationship with your business partners or clients can get you a long way. Also, Russians do not separate life and work, setting the boundaries between them, as much as Anglo-Saxons. So you can call someone you are working with at 10 pm and discuss business matters or make appointments. Russians do not like planning their lives long in advance (partly because of superstition), so making last minute appointments and agreements is the norm. When you work with people in Russia, being punctual and smartly dressed is seen as a sign of respect for the people you are dealing with. Russian superstitions Russians are a superstitious lot, even in this day and age, even in the business environment. It’s not so much about black cats and walking under ladders, but about whom you meet and what you see around you when you start on your way to an important meeting or event. Shaking hands over a threshold is to be avoided, as well as whistling in someone’s house or office. What happens if you do? Well, that would be telling…  In fact, Russians have superstitions for every life situation. Most people would not show you any serious adherence to them but deep down would feel uncomfortable when certain taboos are broken.  But interestingly, the number 13 is not a big deal for Russians – we are less scared of it than in the west. The lucky numbers are 3 and 7. So driving to a business meeting, some people look around for lucky car registration numbers around them – 777 is the best combination for good luck! Am happy to tell you more!  These and many more interesting facts will be included in the culture awareness course of your choice: business oriented, social or specifically dedicated to one aspect of Russian life (holidays, superstitions, family life, etc)  So let me know what you need to know about Russians, and I will be happy  to help. 

Facts and Figures about the Russian Language

Key facts and figures • Russian is the most widespread language of Eurasia, and the most widely spoken Slavic language. In Europe, more people speak Russian as a mother tongue than any other language. • Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages (which means that it is related to all Western European languages) and is one of three modern East Slavic languages, together with Ukrainian and Belorussian.  • Written examples of Old East Slavonic, the predecessor of Russian, come from the 10th century. • Russian is the 6th most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken by about 165 million people as a mother tongue and by about 114 million as a second language. • Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. • It is spoken in most of the ex-Soviet states, such as Byelorus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and the Baltic states, either as a native or a second language. • In some areas of Ukraine and Belarus, 2 languages are spoken interchangeably, and in certain areas this resulted in a language mixture called Surzhyk in Ukraine and Trasianka in Belarus. Russian in Soviet times and after In Soviet times (1920s – 1991), each of the republics of the Soviet Union had its own official language, but the unifying role and superior status was given to Russian. Since the break-up of the USSR in 1991, the newly independent states have been encouraging and developing their native languages. However, the role of Russian as the post-Soviet language of international communication has continued. In Soviet times, Russian was mandatory for school children in the ex-USSR states and Soviet allies: Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Albania, Mongolia, Cuba. However, younger generations are not learning it any more, giving preference to English (with Mongolia being an exception). Russian is spoken in large Russian-speaking immigrant communities in Israel (about 750,000 people), the USA (about 700,000 people) and Canada. Russian is not the only language spoken in Russia Russian is the official language of the Russian Federation but it is not the only language spoken in the country. In some regions it shares official status with other languages belonging to ethnic autonomies within Russia, such as Bashkir, Tatar, Yakut. The history and the structure of the language • The Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet has 33 letters and is phonetic in principle, which makes it relatively easy to learn. It is called Cyrillic after St Cyril, a 9th century Greek monk who, together with his brother Methodius, devised this alphabet (or, rather, a much older version of it!), incorporating elements of Greek and Latin into it, as well as introducing a few new letters. • Russian grammar is close to Latin in structure, and is based on a system of noun cases (6) and verbal conjugations, which makes it relatively difficult to master. • The core of Russian vocabulary is Slavic, so native speakers of other Slavic languages will find it easy to learn, while native speakers of other languages would have to memorize large quantities of completely new words. There are, however, quite a lot of words borrowed from French, German and English in the last couple of centuries. • Russian punctuation rules are similar to French and German ones. • The modern Russian literary language traditionally dates from the time of Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), the most famous Russian poet and writer. Pushkin hugely influenced Russian literature by introducing a simpler style of writing based on the colloquial Russian of the time, as distinct from his predecessors who used very old-fashioned “literary” grammar and vocabulary.

Russian Vocabulary

How many words are there in the Russian language? The biggest dictionary of the Russian language (“The Contemporary Dictionary of the Russian Language” in 3 volumes) lists about 250 thousand words. The vocabulary of Pushkin (Russian equivalent of Shakespeare) is about 20 thousand words. An ordinary person needs a couple of thousand words to communicate successfully. Russian vocabulary vs English vocabulary  How does Russian everyday vocabulary compare with English? My personal observation is that in Russian there are more simple everyday words describing things and actions than in English. Thus, for example, what can be expressed in English with a simple verb “to clean”, in Russian would be rendered by different verbs, according to HOW you clean it (with water, or with a dry brush) and WHAT is being cleaned (cleaning a house is different from cleaning a car or cleaning your teeth etc). Some verbs are so narrow in meaning that they can only describe one particular action, for example, “umyvatsa” means to wash one’s face, and nothing else! Talking about many words describing one thing, our students like to ask – are there many words in Russian for snow? Interestingly, no! There is only one, “sneg – снег”. However, we do have several words for a snow storm… On the other hand, it looks like in English there are more “sophisticated” difficult words, often borrowed from foreign languages. And that is why the most comprehensive English dictionary (The Oxford English Dictionary, 291 thousand words) lists more words than the Russian one. The origins of Russian vocabulary  Where do all those words come from? Russian (as well as English) belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, which originates from Sanskrit. So very simple basic words are often similar to other European languages: names of relatives, numerals, common animals, simple words like “water”, or “sun”. But that won’t be a great help for an English speaker: there aren’t many of those simple words, and the similarity is often very vague. Following the language classification further, Russian is a Slavic language, so the main bulk of vocabulary is Slavic. For those who already speak a Slavic language, such as Polish, Czech or Bulgarian, learning Russian words is much easier than for a native speaker of a Western European language. That said, there are a lot of “false friends” in Russian for speakers of other Slavic languages. A classical (and a very amusing!) example is the word “uroda” which in Polish and Ukrainian means “beauty”, but in Russian – a complete opposite, “ugliness”! In Soviet times, among very few foreign magazines available, there was a Polish glossy called “Uroda”, dedicated to fashion and beauty. What were Russians supposed to think it was about?! Or another good one: a “sklep” in Polish is a shop, and in Russian – a crypt. You can see how these words developed – “uroda” is something extraordinary (good or bad!), and “sklep” is a place of storage (foods or bodies!) Russian words borrowed from foreign languages In the course of centuries, Slavic vocabulary in Russian was “diluted” by additions from other languages. With the Tartar invasion in the 13th century came Turkish words (they say all the worst swear words in Russian come from that period in history).With the epoch of Peter the Great, who loved all things European, and especially German and Dutch, came a lot of German words. The Russian for “potato”, for example, is “kartofel” and a sandwich is “buterbrod”. As time went by, and we developed connections with other cultures, more and more non-Slavic words entered the Russian vocabulary. Catherine the Great, Peter’s granddaughter, loved everything French and decided that all her courtiers should speak French to her and to each other. And what a Russian monarch says, Russian people do! As a result, from that time until the communist revolution in 1917, Russian aristocracy and all well-educated people were bilingual in Russian and French, brought up by French governors and tutors. They would talk French to each other, and Russian to commoners and servants (quite handy – the servants could not understand and then gossip!) As a result, a lot of French words became part of the Russian language – albeit often distorted in meaning. So in modern Russian a “planchette” is a tablet computer (an i-pad), and a “plafond” is a round glass lampshade (possibly attached to the ceiling but not the ceiling!). A “portefeuille” is a briefcase, and “manto” is more like a cape than a coat. The coat is “paletot” – a very old French word which is not used any more in French (so I’ve been told by my French students). Modern changes in Russian vocabulary In more recent times, with the advance of modern technology and the Internet, we have been borrowing more and more English words. Traditionally, English words in Russian are names of sports, some breeds of dogs, and more recently, all the computer terms and words related to the world of media and high technologies. Scholars complain that Russian is now littered by a host of completely unnecessary English words, that have a perfectly good Russian equivalents. But they sound “cooler” and more sophisticated, so journalists and politicians love to use them, and they spread around. Should that be regulated and restricted? Perhaps, but a language is a living organism created by its native speakers, and not by learned scholars. Despite what the French Academy might think, you can’t regulate it. It will regulate itself! So good luck in learning it all! maybe just a couple of hundred words to start with, and a couple of thousand to finish!

17 Travel Tips for Russia

1. Learn the Russian Cyrillic alphabet If you’re planning to get around on your own, your life will be much easier if you learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Most street signs and signs in the public transport are not translated into English. However, in the recent couple of years, Moscow street names have been translated into the Latin script. Plus, the stops on the tube are now announced in both Russian and English. 2. Russian times There are ten time zones in Russia. Moscow and St. Petersburg are supposed to be three hours ahead of London. But Russia does not change from winter to summer time any more. So from the end of March till the end of October the time difference between the GMT and the European part of Russia is 2 hours. And in winter it is 3 hours. 3. You will need to get a visa Every westerner traveling to Russia needs a visa. Visit the website of the Russian Embassy in the UK for the necessary information. Visas can be obtained through the Russian Tourist Office in London. They are not cheap, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, getting a British visa in Russia is more difficult and more expensive! 4. Have somewhere to stay When you arrive in Russia, you will need to fill in an immigration card, stating where you are going to stay, and for how long. 5. Carry your passport with you it’s a good idea to carry your passport with you at all times. There is no law that obliges everyone to do that, but random checks are carried out by the police occasionally, so having your passport with you will help avoid any questions. Following the terrorist attacks in Moscow and St Petersburg in the recent years, there is a lot of police presence in public places.  6. Currency to take to Russia Which currency to take? The best bet is to take roubles (you can get them in London now) or American dollars or Euros (to be changed into Euros when you are in Russia), if you prefer to take cash. You will find banks and small bureaux de change everywhere in big cities where you can exchange dollars or Euros into roubles and vice versa. However, British pounds are not easy to change, as only certain big banks can do it. Do not change money at airports, as the rates of exchange there are much lower than in town. In big cities you will find cash machines that accept all major credit and debit cards. Practically all shops and restaurants will accept credit cards. 7. Taxis in Moscow Moscow taxies look like New York ones, they are yellow/orange. There are a lot of taxi companies, including Uber, Yandex taxi (24-12) and others. In Moscow you can get a taxi using a mobile app, or more conventionally call them on the phone. There is a lot of competition in this market at the moment, so the prices have gone down a lot in the last couple of years. If you need to take a taxi from the airport on arrival, call one in advance (or ask a Russian friend/colleague to do it for you), and they will meet you. There are a lot of taxi drivers offering their services at the airport, but I would not advise using them. They are likely not to be a proper licensed taxi.  The taxi fare from central Moscow to either Domodedovo or Sheremetyevo airport should be around 1500 roubles. (2018) That said, if you do not have much luggage, there is an excellent train service from both international airports to the city centre in Moscow. It’s a red train called Aeroexpress. A single ticket costs 500 roubles. (2018) 8. The Moscow Metro The best way to get around Moscow is by metro. It’s big, fast, reliable and cheap. The price of one journey is 55 roubles (1 pound sterling is 80 roubles – 2018). You can buy tickets for 1, 2, 5, 10 or 20 journeys. It’s a bit cheaper to buy a card for several journeys in advance. The price does not depend on your destination, it’s fixed for the whole metro system. Alternatively, you can get the Troika card (the Moscow equivalent of Oyster) and put as much money as you wish on it. You can use Troika on all public transport. On the tube in Moscow, avoid the rush hours (8.30 till 9.30 am and 5.30 till 7.00 pm) because some lines are very crowded, and the concept of personal space is not a Russian thing!  The Moscow metro doesn’t work quite like others you may be familiar with. Instead of having stations that have platforms serving several different train lines, every platform on the Russian metro is regarded as a station in itself. Thus when you transfer from one line to another, you’ll find yourself following signs not for another train line, but for another station! Don’t worry: this may sound confusing, but it’s actually very logical and you’ll get the hang of it. If you do get lost, try to enjoy it – the Moscow metro is one of the great engineering marvels of the world and is extremely beautiful. The system opens at 6 am and closes at 1 am. 9. Crowds and comfort zone  Russians do not have a comfort zone like the Brits or Americans do. So people will get very close to you on a crowded train or bus. Don’t take it personally! But if you do mind being pressed against someone’s chest or back, avoid taking public transport in rush hour. 10. Traffic jams in Moscow Traffic jams can be horrendous in the centre of Moscow at any time of the day. You have been warned. Try to use the tube whenever possible, and you will get there faster, and will see some pretty tube stations! 11. Museum tickets in Russia Museum tickets are much more expensive for foreigners than for Russian people,…

Russian Grammar

What should you know about learning Russian grammar if you are considering taking a Russian course? Here are the main features of Russian grammar that you need to be aware of, if you are about to start learning Russian. Russian grammar at the beginner level  Most English speakers who have never learned a Slavic language before underestimate the complexity of Russian grammar. The reason is that in a beginner Russian course grammar is usually presented in a simplified way while the course is centered around vocabulary, useful phrases and reading skills. This is a totally justified approach because for a beginner it is more important to get to grips with the alphabet and basic vocabulary than to tackle grammatical complexities. Also, at the beginner level in Russian some grammar aspects are actually easier than in Western European languages. For example: • The verb “to be” is not used in the present tense, which makes a learner’s life much easier. So if you want to say “This is a table”, all you have to say is “This table” – as simple as that. Or, “I am a student” equals to “I student”. All you have to do is FORGET about “am”, “is”, and “are”, rather than learning those forms. How good is that?! • There are no articles “a” and “the”, so again, all you have to do is forget about them. Unlike Western European languages, Slavic ones do not have articles. The whole concept is completely alien to us, and Russians who are learning English always struggle with using “a” and “the” correctly. If you listen carefully to a native Russian speaker talking English (especially someone whose English is not very advanced!) you will notice that some articles are missing, and some will probably be used incorrectly and inconsistently. • There are very few irregular verbs. The overwhelming majority of verbs conjugate in a regular way, sometimes with small variations. For comparison, while learning English as a foreign language, you have to learn about 120 irregular verbs (3 forms) by heart! What kind of language is Russian? Russian belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, the same one as all Western European languages, so all the grammar concepts are familiar and easy to understand. In fact, its grammatical composition is very similar to Latin. So for those students who are familiar with Latin grammar, Russian grammar will be nothing new. The complexity of Russian grammar lies in the fact that grammatical forms are incorporated in the word itself, unlike in English where a lot of auxiliary words are used and grammar forms consist of several words rather than one. So as a result, the minute you reach an intermediate level, you will have to learn a lot of endings for different parts of speech and operate little logical sequences in your mind, of the type: this is a noun, it’s masculine, it’s singular, it must be the genitive case, so the ending is – “A”! It means that you’ll be doing a lot of memorizing and a lot of practice. On a positive side, it’s a great exercise for your brain and memory! After a while, once you’ve said the same thing a hundred times, it becomes automatic, and you don’t have to strain your brain any more. As the saying goes: “Repetitio est mater studiorum – Repetition is the mother of learning”. The key features of Russian grammar • Gender, which is very important for Russian grammar. There are 3 genders – masculine, feminine and neuter. Masculine and neuter words have the same endings in most cases, and feminine ones have different endings. • Case: there are 6 cases: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Instrumental and Prepositional (Locative). Each case has certain meanings attributed to it, which are quite logical and correspond to the Latin case system (for example, Genitive is the same as possessive, and Accusative is for direct object etc). Changing the word ending for case is called declension. In Russian, practically all parts of speech decline: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and even numerals. They all have their own endings in different cases. The only part of speech that does not change is the adverb. • There are 3 types of declension for nouns, depending on their gender and the type of ending in the nominative. • Adjectives do not have their own gender or type of declension. They follow those of the noun they “belong to”. • Verb categories include the 3 tenses – present, past and future, and 2 aspects – perfective and imperfective. In the present tense, verbs conjugate (that is, change their endings according to the person of the subject – I, you, he, etc), and you will have to learn 6 personal endings in the present tense. There are 2 types of conjugation but they are very similar. Most verbs are regular, which is good news! The past tense is really simple: there is no conjugation. Instead, there is a very simple set of endings for masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. In the past and the future, there is a choice of 2 aspects: imperfective for regular or long actions, and perfective for short and completed ones. The future tense is the most complicated one: there are 2 kinds of future, depending on whether you need to use an imperfective or perfective verb. The easy things All this may sound complicated, but it’s logical and generally the verb system is easier than in English! The only down side is that every time you learn a new verb you will have to learn “two for the price of one” – the imperfective and perfective infinitive forms. • Conditional mood is very simple. It is basically the same as the past tense, with the addition of one little word БЫ that stays the same. And there is no subjunctive! The difficult things The most grammatically complex part of speech is the participle. Participles have every conceivable grammatical category: they can be perfective or imperfective, past…

Russian superstitions 

Are Russians superstitious?  Sometimes students ask – are Russians superstitious? And if so, are Russian superstitions similar to English ones? The answer is, yes and yes. Russians are superstitious. Most people will laugh if you ask them about superstitions, but… we do not like it when a black cat crosses our path, or when the first person we meet after leaving the house is somebody carrying an empty bucket. And a woman may be quite shocked if you give her a dozen roses! It’s quite odd to believe this stuff at the time of high technology and globalisation but these things are so deeply rooted in our subconscious mind that they are hard to ignore. Some superstitions are as old as Time itself, going back to Pagan Slavic beliefs. They say that the tradition of touching wood for luck comes from our ancestors worshipping tree spirits, for example.  So, here is a list of common Russian superstitions. Hope some of them will make you smile! For Good Luck It’s good luck to break a dish. If a fly gets into your soup, you’ll get a gift or a treat. It’s good luck to see a pig in the street. (but when did you last see a pig in the street, in the literal sense of the word?!) It’s good luck to meet a funeral on your way. These are all clearly the so called “consolation” superstitions, trying to turn an unpleasant situation into something more positive! For Bad Luck If a black cat crosses your way, it’s bad luck. If the first person you meet  after leaving your house (especially if you are going to some important meeting or job) is a woman carrying an empty bucket, it’s bad luck. You will not have a successful day. If you spill salt, there will be a row in the house. If you break a mirror, it’s bad luck. Do not look into a broken mirror, if you don’t want to have a broken life. Do’s and don’t’s Do not whistle in your own or someone else’s house. If you do, you (or the owner of the house) won’t have any money. Do not give sharp things (knives, scissors) as gifts. (You can see where this superstition comes from – these items can be used to injure someone.) If you get an animal (a kitten, etc) as a present, you should give a kopeck (a penny – token sum of money) for it. Do not greet anyone, shake hands, hug or say good-bye to anyone across the threshold. If you do, you will fall out with this person. I must say, this one is always observed. Even in the business environment, people do not shake hands over a threshold. As an addition to the previous one: Do not accept or give anything across the threshold.  If you give flowers to someone, always give an odd number (i.e. three, five, seven, etc) An even number of flowers (i.e. four, six, etc) is given to a dead person at the funeral. Do not celebrate your birthday in advance of the actual date. You may not make it!  Do not return into the house once you’ve started on the way. But if you do have to, then look into the mirror. Otherwise you’ll have a bad luck on the way. Starting on a long journey (an international flight, for example), you should always have a sit for a few seconds silently, just before leaving the house. Then say something like “В час добрый! – Let this be at a good time!” or “С богом! – God be with us!”, and go. I like this one: it allows you to concentrate your mind before the journey and remember anything that you might have forgotten. Also, sitting quietly for a minute makes you less stressed. Unmarried people should not sit at the corner of the table – if they do, they will never get married. General superstitions – “if” If you sneeze while saying something, you are telling the truth. If a fork or a spoon falls on the floor, you’ll shortly be visited by a woman (because in Russian a fork and a spoon are feminine). If a knife falls down, you’ll be visited by a man. (A knife is masculine). If your cat persistently washes his/her face, you’ll have guests soon. If the right eye is itching, you’ll be laughing, the left one – you’ll be crying. An eyelash coming out – you’ll have a gift. If your lips are itching, you’ll be kissing. If your right palm is itching, you’ll receive some money, and if the left one is itching, you’ll have to give money away. If your nose is itching, you’ll be drinking. If your ears or cheeks are burning, somebody is talking or thinking about you. If you have an attack of hiccups, somebody is talking about you or cursing you. If you do not recognise someone when you see them or call them on the phone, this person will get rich. If your parents are alive, do not walk around in one shoe – you’ll lose a parent. Jokes about superstitions  Russians like to make fun of themselves and their way of life. So here are a couple of jokes about superstitions. A Hedgehog comes to an Owl, saying, “Owl, you are a wise and well-educated bird, please tell me, a simple little animal, why is my nose itching all the time?” The Owl says, “It means you’ll go to a party and drink a lot tonight.” “And why are my eyes itching?” “That’s bad news! You’ll be crying.” “And why is my tummy itching?” “Listen, Hedgehog, go and wash yourself!” A hundred-year old man has broken a mirror and looks very pleased about it. “Why are you so pleased?” people ask him. “You’ll have seven years of bad luck!” “But it means I’ll live another seven years!” When you need to knock on the wood you suddenly discover that…

10 слов современного русского языка, от которых тошнит

Язык мой – враг мой. Эта сентенция невольно приходит на ум, когда двадцать раз на дню слышишь от самых разных людей вроде бы обыденные, привычные слова, от которых, тем не менее, дрожь пробирает. Причем дрожь вовсе не приятная, а совсем даже наоборот. Ниже приведем список из 10 слов современного русского языка, без которых он, увы, уже непредставим – но тем хуже для него и для нас. Бесит  Этот глагол (правда, в форме «беситься») существовал в русском давным-давно и имел вполне определенный смысл: «бесились» те, в кого вселился бес. Потом, со временем, суровое церковное значение забылось, слово стало полушутливым: бесились, к примеру, дети во дворе во время каникул или жеребята на поле. А вот теперь бесятся все, причем по любому поводу. Особенно активизировалась форма «бесит», «бесят» — так говорят о том, что вызывает активное отторжение, крайне не нравится. Вот только почему современные люди так часто стали поминать беса по любому поводу – вопрос открытый. Баксы  Если в полубандитские 90-е это слово было «крутым», в смысле модным, и подчеркивало «современность» его носителя, то сейчас звучит как безнадежная, и притом пошлейшая, архаика. Ребята, ну научитесь вы уже называть доллары – долларами, а не говорить английское слово «олень» в русифицированном множественном числе (buck – один олень, также один доллар; bucks – олени, они же доллары. Т.е. правильнее по-русски было бы говорить «баки», если уж на то пошло. Например, «забьем Мике баки»…) Кушать  Одна из самых неубиваемых пошлостей русского языка: тем, что взрослые люди «кушают», возмущались и Корней Чуковский, и Виталий Бианки, и Константин Симонов. Слово называли «сюсюкающим», «жеманным», «нелепым», «нескромным», «заносчивым»… Все правильно, оно такое и есть – если употребляется с глубоким уважением в отношении себя любимого. Совершенно спокойно могут кушать только маленькие дети. Да еще хозяйка может вас попотчевать ласковым «Вы кушайте, не стесняйтесь». Все остальные нормальные люди (а также животные) всегда и при всех обстоятельствах едят. И только. Убираться  Не в смысле «убираться из комнаты», а в смысле «убираться в комнате». Почему абсолютно нормальный глагол «убирать» упорно обзаводится бессмысленным приложением «-ся» — решительно неясно. Значение фразы «Убираю комнату» в современном русском языке понятно всем, но почему-то дикое «Убираюсь в комнате» звучит на каждом шагу. Впрочем, эта неправильность привилась настолько, что уже практически не режет слух. К сожалению. «На» (в смысле «в») Сплошь и рядом можно слышать всяческие «Выйду на коридор», «Поеду на офис». Да, неправильно, но за этим стоит большая и серьезная борьба «на» и «в» в русском языке – век от века «в» сдает свои позиции. Двести лет назад люди еще жили в улицах и в переулках; сто лет назад – уже на улицах, однако в таком-то этаже. Со временем появились уже и «выйти на коридор». Смысл понятен: в означает нечто замкнутое и закрытое, на – наоборот, распахнутое, доступное всем (на площади, на балконе). Пока что держится «в квартире», но, впрочем, «поеду на квартиру» тоже можно услышать – допустим, если речь идет о съемной квартире. Сорокет. А также его братцы триццон и полтос. Одни из самых мерзких слов современного русского, даже при их написании сразу возникает образ приблатненного пацанчика или его подружки. Которая, конечно же, любит Шампусик. Как и ее кавалер – пивасик. Няша, няшный.  Филологи хором отмечают инфантильность современного русского, и даже указывают пальцем туда, откуда все взялось: с «мамских» интернет-форумов. Вообще женщины всегда были склонны очеловечивать суровые мужские вещи ласковыми суффиксами: так миса некогда стала миской, чаша – чашкой, а вила – вилкой. Но сейчас няшки, вкусняшки, девчули-красотули и прочие мимимишки маршируют по языку такими стройными рядами, что впору пугаться. Особенно тяжко слышать эти слова из уст брутальных мужчин. Сига  К счастью, мода на курение с каждым годом меньше, и человек с сигаретой на улице уже вызывает легкое изумление, как некий персонаж из прошлого. Соответственно, и «сиги» слышны нечасто. Но когда слышны – дергает. Как от всякого подросткового сокращения, проникшего во взрослый язык. Сфоткаться  Конечно, это производное от «фотик» (фотоаппарат), а поскольку фотики из повседневной жизни практически ушли, будучи съедены телефонами, на память остался корявейший глагол «сфоткаться». Согласен, «сфотографироваться» — длинно, но был ведь вполне нормальный разговорный глагол «сняться». Впрочем, сейчас «снять» употребляется разве что в значении «познакомиться с девушкой и развести ее на секс», так что фоткаться, боюсь, нам предстоит еще долго.

Moscow – 20 years on

By Jeff Ryder Dark, dirty … and brown, all brown. The last time I’d seen so many brown buildings and brown upholstery was during my childhood in Britain in the 1970s. I half expected the customs officers at the airport to be wearing bell-bottom jeans and bandanas. That was my impression of Moscow in 1998, when I first visited. Twenty years later, although I can’t say that the overall tinge of brown has entirely disappeared (Moscow is a brown city, in my mind, whereas London is grey), pretty much everything else has changed beyond recognition. Let’s start with the ‘dark’ thing. The darkness in 1998 wasn’t imaginary; it really was dim and overcast back then, as if a giant parasol was hovering over the city. I came in early spring, when the nights are still long in Moscow. In daytime, of course, the sun was still shrouded in wintry cloud. At night, the wattage of the street lighting was ungenerous. Even with snow underfoot reflecting it back, there was little light available in the outer city, away from the brightness of the centre. It felt gloomy, frankly.  And dirty. Most buildings, including the touristy ones, looked as if they’d not been cleaned in a long time, if ever. Many were dilapidated, some seriously. There were ‘graceful ruins’ all over the city. I was shocked by the state of one old church, whose tatty zinc roof (itself an eyesore) was visibly cracked and holed. Its bricks were crumbling, its doors hanging off their hinges. Even the ruins of historic churches are preserved and venerated in the UK – seeing this one entirely neglected and gently crumbling was appalling, somehow. Many other buildings were worse. Cars and trucks belched noxious fumes unashamedly, covering everything in a fine film of sepia dust and gunge. On top of that, one’s very existence in Moscow felt vaguely imperilled. Not by other people – I saw police officers everywhere, far more in 10 minutes than I would have seen in years living in London. Rather, the danger was the environment itself: homicidal car drivers (pedestrian crossings meant nothing), huge potholes in roads and pavements, massive and menacingly pointed icicles hanging from the eaves of houses overhead. Worse than all this, though, was that the city elders had paved large tracts of town with granite, a stone that is undeniably handsome to look at, but which in icy weather acquires the friction co-efficient of the Cresta Run. A broken leg was a real and present danger on every trip outdoors, and I had several narrow escapes. That was then. How different the city felt at my last visit, in autumn of this year.  The traffic and pollution are still, unfortunately, a problem. The ‘brown’ feeling hasn’t fully gone. But there has been a huge and visible effort to tidy up the city. The old church has been fully renovated. Most buildings have been mended and painted. Pavements have been fixed, much of the lethal granite is gone, efforts have been made to tidy up the common and outside areas of blocks of flats – failing that, the railings and border markers have at least been painted and brightened up in most places. There are even – get this – public flower arrangements. Obviously on nothing like the same scale as, say, London (where horticulture is in any event a national obsession), but they’re dotted here and there, running alongside pedestrian walkways or making a cheery display outside restaurants and public buildings. Since 2011, the city has improved more than 20,000 courtyards, 450 parks and nature areas. You get a sense that Moscow has found (or rediscovered?) a bit of civic pride in its appearance. It’s not so dark, either. I’m not aware of new or additional lights in the parts I’ve seen most over the last 20 years, but somehow the streets seem brighter these days. Maybe they just turned up the power. Or maybe it’s a psychological effect; because everything else in Moscow seems brighter, so does the lux rating. Certainly there is more light – real, measurable light – in the more commercial districts of the city. Moscow was barely out of the Soviet era in 1998, and commerce was still a faintly suspect notion for many. While there were shops, they were rather reserved; their frontages and hoardings were modest and diffident, as if embarrassed to announce themselves to the world. My, has that changed. Moscow is now a pulsating centre of shrill and shameless commerce (the biggest shopping mall in Europe, anyone?), with everything that brings – good and bad – and with consumer attitudes/expectations to match. If you want it, somebody’s selling it – probably even at 2am, if that’s when shopping rocks your boat. Moscow’s also bigger, by the hour. Moscow and the Moscow region is the largest conurbation in Europe, with 20 million inhabitants. That’s 14% of the Russia’s population, responsible for 26% of the whole country’s GDP. In the 20 years since I first visited, Moscow’s economic output has grown 15% faster, on average, than the Russian economy overall. You see the evidence everywhere. Moscow is essentially an enormous building site, with cranes and concrete mixers in ceaseless operation. Old blocks of tiny flats are being demolished, their inhabitants moved to larger apartments in brand new blocks built in an ever-expanding metropolis. Everywhere you look, things are being expanded, enlarged, renovated, rebuilt – metro stations, flyovers, railways, airports, hotels, car parks, concert halls. Moscow is building its own ‘Canary Wharf’ in the centre of the city, a downtown commercial complex that befits the city’s international stature.  The speed and scale of change is dizzying. It will bring its own growing pains, of course, as it has done and still does in every major city of the world. But Moscow has taken some very big steps away from the rather drear and downtrodden place I first saw 20 years ago. Here’s to the next 20.

Russian weather: the land of contrasts

By Jeff Ryder London, UK: Fog. Seattle, USA: Rain. Mecca, Saudi Arabia: Pitiless sunshine. Rostov-on-Don, Russia: ? If this were a sequence on the UK gameshow ‘Only Connect’, you’d get short odds on ‘Snow’ for the missing word. It’s a shoo-in for the answer. Stop folks in the street and ask them what weather they associate with major cities of the Russian Federation, and none will answer: “38C, blazing sun and high humidity”. But here’s the thing: they really should.  It’s one of the striking anomalies about Russia that blows most people’s minds when they actually visit: it is not, contrary to popular belief, a kind of Narnian hellhole, a country totally plunged into permafrost for 8 months of the year, its bleak, windswept, treeless, snowbound, tooth-chattering steppe stretching grimly to the horizon in all directions.  Well, to be fair, some of it is, sometimes. But actually quite a lot of that vast expanse of land between the Belorussian border and Sakhalin is really rather nice. And swelteringly, bakingly hot – more than a bit of the time.  Don’t take my word for it. Check out the figures. Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don regularly top the league of Europe’s daytime city summer temperatures. The former (probably still better known to non-Russians by its old name, Stalingrad) is very often in the high 30s, or higher. On paper, at least, Sochi was a wildly inappropriate host for the 2014 Winter Olympics: its December average temperature is little different from London’s (and its summer temperature soars to Mediterranean heights). Moscow, two hours by air to the north, hits the mid-30s in high summer. St Petersburg, on the gulf of Finland, isn’t far behind. In short, Russia has a continental climate on steroids – cold in winter, sure, but damnably hot the rest of the time.  In light of this stark reality, the world’s unshakeable belief in Russian’s perennial iciness is up there with its fond attachment to Santa Claus and the Loch Ness monster: It’s a bonkers notion that shouldn’t persist beyond a moment’s examination of the evidence… but persist it does.  It would be easy to blame Hollywood – and I shall (see below) – but not altogether fair. Russia’s cultural iconography, indeed its sense of self, is powerfully bound up with winter – at least as much for Russians themselves as for outsiders. Visit a Russian art exhibition – the Tretyakov in Moscow, for instance (the finest collection of art anywhere in the world, in this writer’s humble opinion) – and you will be struck by the preponderance of winter themes and winter images. Frost, ice and snow dominate the Russian psyche (although that’s not to say that Russian paintings of other seasons aren’t astounding). Winter is not just a season in Russia: it’s the season, the Russian reality. This is peculiarly Russian, I should point out: Canada and the northern US states have winters at least as bad (possibly worse), but all else being equal Canada brings to mind maple leaves and maple syrup, cheery Mounties and cuddly beavers – not frostbitten peasants dragging a coffin on a horse-drawn sleigh (even Perov’s horse looks miserable).  There are plenty of rather obvious conjectural reasons for the domination of winter in Russian culture, notably the Russian character itself (gloomy, prone to look on the dark side) and Russian history (endless invasions, ghastly sacrifices etc). My personal favourite explanation, though, is the introspection bred by isolation. Despite its mind-boggling size and breadth (it’s 11 time zones wide), for much of its history – mirabile dictu – Russia was cut off from the rest of the world and largely unknown beyond its borders. It has minimal sea access (in the ‘wrong’ places, trade-wise) and its rivers mostly run north-south, so it didn’t develop the early international relationships that would have come with water-borne trade in the pre-industrial period.  Russians were also cut off from themselves. Most lived in small or smallish forest settlements literally in the middle of nowhere – hundreds, possibly thousands of miles from their neighbours. In such a wilderness, roads were effectively useless even when they were passable. In high summer, you were merely too far from anywhere else to actually go there. In winter, you were entirely cut off from the rest of humanity,  dependent for your survival over five months of savage frosts on the food you had harvested in autum (barely sufficient, if at all) and such primitive medical amenities as your small community could muster. No human beings alive today, not even remote Pacific islanders, are so isolated and self-reliant. Even (especially?) from our own pampered, globalised, inter-connected perspective, it’s not hard to see how this annual ordeal must have loomed large in the individual and collective consciousness. Even in the sunlit, scorching paradise of July, it would have been an omnipresent cloud in the sky, a memento mori that has come down to modern Russians as a cultural legacy. And if that weren’t enough to scar them, and us, with winter terrors, there are of course the bloody books and movies. The images that get top billing are, of course, the military ones – German sentries frozen to death in Stalingrad’s trenches, Napoleon’s miserable troops shuffling barefoot along the denuded Smolensk road wrapped in blankets and towels. The one that sticks with me is the scene from Ridley Scott’s otherwise excellent film The Duellists, in which French cavalry officers Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel fight off a troupe of Cossacks in a penumbral hell of swirling snow, frowning mountains and scudding black clouds. It looks nothing like real Russian countryside, but of course it perfectly fits and reinforces everyone’s geopolitical prejudices. Don’t even get me started on Doctor Zhivago.Napoleon’s 1812 ordeal in part sprang from another peculiarly Russian phenomenon that feeds into the general fear and dread of winter: the impossibility of it. Stick with me here, because this is going to get a little weird. I don’t of course mean that Russian winter is either impossible or unpredictable (both demonstrably untrue). Rather, I’m suggesting that it can appear that way. This is alien to people from western Europe, where spring and autumn are…

Meaning of Russian Names

Did you know that Vladimir means “owning the world” and Svetlana – a “woman of light”? Here is some interesting info that you may not learn in your Russian lessons but can impress your Russian friends with! Three components of Russian names I have written about Russian names in this blog explaining their structure – the 1st name, the surname, the patronymic – ИВАН ИВАНОВИЧ ИВАНОВ. If you learn Russian, you’ve got to learn the correct way of addressing people. But how do people choose their kids’ names? And what do they mean? Russian people are superstitious, and there is a saying: “sow a name, harvest a destiny”. Many people believe that a name will influence a person’s character and life. A Svetlana, for example, is expected to be blond. Tatianas are supposed to be organised and efficient. Read on to find out more! Endings of Russian names: masculine and feminine One tip about Russian names: all male names end in a consonant, and the female ones end in either A or Я = YA, according to the rule consistent with the masculine and feminine genders of nouns. So in Russian it’s always easy to tell whether it’s a man or a woman you are dealing with (in correspondence, for example) – something that is often not clear in English in writing. The exception are the diminutives of male names which acquire a feminine ending (Misha, Sasha, Dima) – it makes them sound soft and affectionate. The origins of Russian names Most names given to people are very traditional ones – Biblical, Latin, Greek or ancient Slavic. In Russia, you will not meet anyone called “Apple” or “Poppy” just because their parents were keen gardeners or thought it sounded pretty – this would be a social disaster for the kid. But there are millions of Natalias, Alexanders and Olgas. Perhaps a bit boring and predictable, but we are a conservative folk. In the old days, people were named after a saint on whose day they were born: a Russian Orthodox priest had a list of several saints for each day of the year from which the parents could choose. This of course is not the case any more – now names follow a fashion, often influenced by pop culture, films and even soap operas. As a result, a disproportionate number of girls in my generation are called Yulia (Julia), and the boys are all Sashas. And, when a popular Mexican soap “Simplemente Maria” ran on Russian TV in the nineties, a lot of girls were named Maria, an old forgotten Biblical favourite. The most common Russian names But let’s start with everyone’s favourites of all times. I think the most popular female name in Russia is Natasha, and the most popular male one is Sasha. Sasha is short for Alexander, which has a Greek root, meaning “a courageous/manly defender”. The name was traditionally given in honour of Alexander the Great (or Alexander of Macedonia, in the Russian tradition), to both boys and girls. As for Natasha, it’s a diminutive for Natalia, meaning “Christmassy”, or born at Christmas, from the Latin “natale domini”. The above mentioned Sveltana is a Slavic name, meaning “light”, hence a strong association with blondes. It is a relatively new name, made up at the beginning of the 19th century, hugely popularised by the famous 19th century romantic poet Zhukovsky, who wrote a beautiful romantic ballad called “Svetlana”. In the Russian tradition, it’s shortened to Sveta, whereas in the West it often becomes Lana. Since it’s a made up name, there is no saint patronising Svetlana, so all Svetlanas are officially registered by the church as Fotinias – a strange match! Russian names mean… Alexey, another hugely popular name, is also a defender, according to its Greek root. Andrei (Andrew) comes from the Greek for “manly, courageous”. Andrei, together with his brother Peter, was the first of Christ’s apostles. The Russian diminutive is Andryusha. Anna (a version of Hanna, old Hebrew) is God’s grace. It is apparently the most common name in Slavic countries. Anastasia – (Greek) reborn, resurrected. In the Russian tradition, contracted to Nastya. For Elena (Helen) – there are two versions of the origin of the name, both Greek. It could mean “sunlight” or “Greek” – “Hellene”. The first known and the most famous Elena was, according to ancient Greek mythology, the most beautiful woman in the world. The distributors of destiny, the Moiras, allocated 5 husbands to her. The first one was the king of Sparta, Menelaos, from whom she was abducted by Paris, which caused the Trojan War. Hence, the “face that launched a thousand ships”. Luidmila – a Slavic name, comes from “милая людям” – dear to people, liked by people. Contracted to Liuda or Mila. Sergei – from a Roman name meaning “serving” and “obedient”. The most famous Sergei (Sergiy) in Russia was Saint Sergiy of Radonezh who lived in the 14th century, the founder of the famous monastery complex in Sergiev Posad, just outside of Moscow. The diminutive for Sergei is Seryozha. Maria – means “bitter” in Hebrew. According to the legend, she was so called because she was born at the time when the Egyptians made the life of the Jews bitter. Maria is the greatest of Christian saints, the mother of Jesus Christ. Marina – means “of the sea” after the Greek goddess Venus Marina, who was born from the sea. Dmitry – derived from the name of the Greek goddess of fertility, Demeter, means “giving life”. The most famous Dmitry in Russia is Dmitry Donskoy, the 14th century prince who put the end to the Tartar domination of Russia. The diminutive form is Dima. Vladislav – a Slavic name, consisting of two parts – “vladet’” – “to own, to have”, and “slava” – “glory”. The diminutive forms are either Vlad or Slava. Igor – a Scandinavian name – “protected by Ing, the God of prosperity”. The most famous bearer of this name is Prince Igor (10th century), one of the first Russian Royals. Oleg – another Scandinavian name, meaning “saintly”. Prince Oleg was…

Russian Surnames

When do we use surnames? In Russian, someone’s surname is one of three components of a person’s full name, the other two being the Christian name and the patronymic. Surnames are used only in formal situations, mostly in writing, often preceded by “Господин” (Mister) or “Госпожа” (Miss/Mrs). Generally, calling someone by their surname is not a very friendly thing to do. It reminds one of being at school or being told off by a strict boss on one’s first day at work. What we know about the history of Russian surnames Surnames in Russia were introduced relatively late. According to a census of 1897, 75% of the population of the Russian empire did not have surnames. Most of these people, however, were citizens of the ethnically non-Russian regions of the empire. It was only long after the revolution of 1917, in Soviet times, that a hundred percent of the population got official surnames and passports. In Russia itself, which was an agricultural country, the majority of the population until 1861 consisted of peasant serfs, almost fully dependent on their lords. They had very few rights, were obliged to work on the lord’s fields and pay a monthly contribution (wheat or other commodities) and could even be bought and sold. Until 1861, when serfdom was abolished and the peasants became free, most of them did not have surnames. For official documents, if necessary, it was enough to mention the village a person was from, or the name of their lord, or the first name combined with profession/occupation. In the 17th and the 18th centuries, even those peasants who did have surnames, did not inherit them from earlier generations. The surname was the same as the patronymic. If an Ivan had a son called Vasily, he would be called Vasily Ivanov, but Vasily’s son would be called Vasilyev. Thus a surname would only last a lifetime. The first Russians who acquired surnames were the citizens of the great city of Novgorod in the middle ages, the first Russian democratic city-state, later destroyed by the Tartar Mongolian invasion. Moscow aristocracy acquired surnames around the 14th-15th century. The origins and the derivation of Russian surnames Most surnames were derived from patronymics or nicknames related to a person’s occupation, place of dwelling or a physical peculiarity. Kuznetsov (from the word кузнец) is a smith, for example, and Sapozhkikov (from the word сапог) is a boot maker. Very often family names are derived from Christian names. Grammatically, they are possessive adjectives with the suffixes “ov”, “ev” and “in”. Which suffix to use is determined by a phonetic rule, depending on whether the name it is derived from ends in a vowel or consonant. Hence, there are a lot of Mikhailovs, Ivanovs and Nikolaevs in Russia (meaning, the son, or the descendant of Mikhail, Ivan or Nikolay). To form a female surname, we add the ending A, so you always know (in writing, for example) whether you are dealing with a man or a woman. In the Russian tradition, married women usually take the surname of their husband. However, this has not been a legal requirement since 1918. Nowadays, more and more women get married later in life and keep their original surname, simply because it is too much of a hassle to change it. Russia being a land of forests and rich wildlife, you will find a lot of surnames derived from names of plants, animals and various weather conditions. We have countless Volkovs (wolf), Zaitsevs (hare), Morozovs (frost), Sinitsins (blue tit), Medvedevs (bear), Kozlovs (goat), Korovyevs (cow) and so on and so forth. There even some Svinyins (pig)! Amusingly, there are rather unpleasant sounding surnames around, sometimes even derived from swear words, which always made me wonder – why don’t those people change them? It is easily done, after all – you go to the register office/passport authority, pay a fee and choose any surname you like! “Geographical” Russian surnames Another group of Russian surnames came from geographical names, church holidays and saints’ names, with the help of the suffix “ский – skyi”. This suffix is normally used to form adjectives from place names, e.g. Moskva – moskovsky (московский). Some examples of such names are Rozhdestvensky, Smolensky, Nikolsky. Historically, such names are related to clergymen, or western Russian Lithuanian aristocracy (from the great Lithuanian Principality). They sound pretty and “posh” to a Russian ear. Surnames coming from pre-Christian Russia Yet another group of surnames is derived from old pagan Slavic names that came about before the introduction of Christianity in the 10th century: Zhdan (waited for) – hence, Zhdanov; Liubim (beloved) – hence Liubimov. Interestingly, some of those names are “negative” – “Nekrasov” (not pretty), Durov (stupid), Chertanov (devil). It can be explained by the fact that in the old times people were given names describing negative characteristics in order not to tempt fate, to keep away evil spirits. Negative names were supposed to fulfil their meaning in the opposite way – A Dur (Дур – studid) will grow up smart, and a Nekras (Некрас – not pretty) – will be handsome. Surnames in the ex-Soviet countries Most surnames in the ex-Soviet republics, the Caucasus and Central Asia (they all used to be part of the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union) have Russian endings because Russian civil servants in the 19th and the 20th century created and wrote down people’s surnames, forming them according to the Russian system. 10 most common surnames in Russia 1. Smirnov (peaceful, quiet)2. Ivanov (from Ivan’s family)3. Kuznetsov (smith)4. Sokolov (falcon)5. Popov (priest)6. Lebedev (swan)7. Kozlov (goat)8. Novikov (new)9. Morozov (frost)10. Solovyov (nightingale) Translations of some famous Russian surnames:  This is rather amusing: Tolstoy – derived from the word “fat” – толстыйPushkin – derived from “пушка – pushka” – a cannonPutin – from the word “путь – Put” – a way or a road. Medvedev – a typical Russian surname meaning “bear” (Medved’ is a bear)Stalin – a man of steel. It is a revolutionary pseudonym, his real surname is…

How to learn the Russian Cyrillic script: 10 tips

The first question that students ask in the very first lesson is – what do you know about the Russian Cyrillic script? The usual answer is – all we know is that it’s different, and we have to learn it! So, are there any tricks that would help learning it? What do we know about the Cyrillic alphabet? It was created in the 9th century AD by 2 brothers – Cyril and Methodius, who were learned monks and Christian missionaries, striving to introduce the Christian faith to Eastern Slavs who, at that time, were pagans. The brothers were Greek by birth and knew several languages. They based the new Cyrillic alphabet on the Greek one, with some elements of Latin, Hebrew and a couple of completely new letters. The modern Russian alphabet (which is a simplified version of the original one) has 33 letters. Two of them are silent: Ь – the “soft sign” and Ъ – the “hard sign” that only modify the pronunciation of other letters.  The good news about the Russian alphabet is that it’s based on the phonetic principle: one letter corresponds to one sound (with the exception of the two silent letters). So once you have learned the letters, you will be able to read a text in Russian correctly, even if you don’t have a clue about what it means! Types of letters in the Russian alphabet When we teach the alphabet to complete beginners, we usually do not do it in alphabetical order, but divide it into sections: the same letters as in English (the simplest portion!); the so-called “false friends” – the letters that look the same as the English ones, but represent completely different sounds; the Greek letters; and everything else – that is, the letters that are unique to Russian. The most difficult letters are the “false friends”. Old habits die hard, so when you see the letter P, you automatically pronounce it as the English P, but it is, in fact, the Russian R! Not to worry – with time, your brain will get round that problem. So what is the best way to learn the new alphabet? 10 tips for learning the alphabet Here are a few tips for beginner students: 1. Listen to the letters as they are read out (there are a lot of websites and You Tube videos teaching the pronunciation of the Russian letters), repeat them after the speaker, trying to associate the image of the letter with its sound. 2. Make a “cheat sheet”: one small page with the Russian letters and their equivalents in English (or any other language that you know!), with examples or illustrations. Use this sheet every time you read. There is nothing wrong in looking up the letters as you read. If you do it long enough, there will come a time when you will not need your cheat-sheet anymore! 3. Visualise the letters, using your imagination. For example, the letter Ч looks like the chair upside down, and represents the same sound: CH. The letter Г looks like gallows and represents the sound G. Д looks like a house and the Russian word for a house is ДОМ. 4. Associate letters with familiar words and geographic names. For example, Лондон (London) or ЛАМПА (lamp) should be associated with Л. The letter C goes with СПУТНИК (Sputnik) etc. 5. Make flash cards with a Russian letter on one side and its English (or your language) equivalent and an illustration on the other side, and look at them when you have a spare minute – on public transport, before going to bed, while doing house chores. 6. Read a lot of international words and geographic names written in Russian letters. Any textbook of Russian for beginners should have those. The point is – you don’t have to learn the new words plus the new alphabet at the same time. There are plenty of Russian words that you know already (банк, лифт, футбол, интернет, Америка etc), you just need to read them! 7. Write international words in Russian. Even if writing is not your priority and you are interested in spoken Russian only, you still need to be able to read! Writing down words will help you remember the letters better. 8. Write down in Russian your name, names of your family members, pets, the place where you were born, and see if your teacher/fellow students/Russian speaking friends can figure out what they are. 9. If you have a chance to visit any Russian speaking countries, it will help to read all the announcements, ads and street signs. See if you can recognize any familiar brand names (Mакдональдс for example) and familiar words. 10. Repeat the letters as often as you can. After all, repetition is the mother of learning!  The new letters will gradually settle in your memory if you repeat them every day. Take your time doing it: learning a language is a long and, ideally, a slow journey that you should enjoy.