Russian is a complex language and the mother tongue of some of the greatest writers ever known, such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Gogol, Pushkin and Nabokov. Like other foreign languages, translating word by word, from English to Russian, often gives you a clunky translation that loses the heart of what you intended to say. While a good phrasebook could help you a great deal in translating English to Russian, certain guidelines will help you create phrases that make you sound more like a native speaker of Russian.
Learn the words for "I," "you," "he," "she," '"we" and "they" in Russian. It will help you navigate the language as you receive responses in Russian to the phrases that you translate. Also learn the words "please" ("pazhaluista") and "thank you" ("spahceeba"). You can always tack either of those words to the end of a sentence if you feel the situation warrants it.
Learn the phrase "Mmnya zovoot," plus your name, when introducing yourself to others. This phrase gives you a clear context of how differently the Russian language operates. In Russia, people rarely say the phrase, "my name is," which would be "mya imya." Instead, "minya zovoot" translates to "they call me."
Speak without using the verb "to be" in the present tense, as Russian does not use a verb for the present tense of "to be." For example, "I am a lawyer" translates to "Ya advokat," which is literally, "I lawyer."
Speak without using possessive pronouns, as in Russian they feel possessive pronouns are implied and obvious. For example, you would translate the sentence "I'm going to brush my teeth" to "Ya budu cheesteet zoobee." This translates literally to "I'm going to brush teeth."
Learn the word "mozhna." This is an all-purpose word in Russian and will make you seem more like a native speaker of Russian when you use it. It translates roughly to "is it possible?" Use it plus a Russian noun in the accusative case when asking if something is okay. For example, when asking a question like "Can I have some water?" or "May I borrow your pen?" you would use "mozhna" plus "water" and "mozhna" plus "pen." For example, this translates to "mozhna vadoo?" and "mozhna roochkoo?"
Learn the word "narmalna." This is another very commonly used word to describe how you and others feel. It is the equivalent of the English word "fine." For example, to ask someone how they are you could say, "Kak dela?" which means essentially, "How's it going?" Or you could ask, "Ty narmalna?" You could also answer with this word, saying "Ya narmalna," which means, "I'm fine."
Russian is a very direct language. Never attempt to translate English phrases like "I was just wondering" or "Would you mind if I...".
- "The translator in the text: on reading Russian literature in English;" Rachel May; 1994
- "The Russian language in the twentieth century;" Bernard Comrie, Gerald Stone, Maria Polinsky; 1996
- Russian is a very direct language. Never attempt to translate English phrases like "I was just wondering" or "Would you mind if I...".
Lane Cummings is originally from New York City. She attended the High School of Performing Arts in dance before receiving her Bachelor of Arts in literature and her Master of Arts in Russian literature at the University of Chicago. She has lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, where she lectured and studied Russian. She began writing professionally in 2004 for the "St. Petersburg Times."