March 2, 2013

Why it is Difficult to Start Learning Russian and Easy to Go on

I guess, all language learners know how difficult it is at the beginning. It may be especially relevant when we talk about Russian with its different alphabet, grammar concepts and everyday vocabulary. However, all who sustained the stress of the first steps and survived, know that after a while it feels much better and it is much easier to learn Russian.

This article explains why we have so much stress at the beginning and why later it gets better. Speaking, listening, reading or writing in Russian are skills. And skills consist of simple habits – “your brain’s way of going on autopilot”. And habits are something we can form.

There is much more brain activity when someone is just starting creating a new habit than when the habit is already formed. Check out the images from a scientific experiment in the article mentioned above – this is just amazing!

To my mind, this idea is such a wonderful source of optimism for beginners. Yes, it can be tough when you start. Once you accept it, relax, go on and after a while it will definitely get easier.

February 17, 2013

What’s the word for “privacy” in Russian?


[image: Sean MacEntee]

Find out here (up to 12:00:10)!

This audio is quite challenging. Listen to it if your Russian level is advanced.

You will learn how to say “privacy” in Russian, how to spell it correctly and what the concept itself means for Russians.

February 12, 2013

4 Facts about Using the Word “ЭТО” That not All Russian Learners Know

“Это” is one of the simplest words, one of the words you learn at your first lesson of Russian and use every day. Yet it’s trickier than it seems.

Fact 1

Unlike English, “это” in the Russian language is not just a technical word. It is full of meaning and it’s strongly connected to the object (or concept) you are pointing at or referring to.

Example 1:

- Что это? (you are pointing at it)

- Это ручка.

- Хм, интересный дизайн.

Example 2:

История – это интересно. (You’re figuratively pointing at “история”. And if I ask you what exactly you mean with “это”, “история” will be your answer.)

Literally this phrase means: History – this is interesting. In fact, because of this strange (to a non-Russian ear), but common structure we use интересно here and not интересная.

The fact number 1 explains the following: if somebody is wondering about the weather in your city, you don’t say “Это холодно” or “Это жарко” – because “это” here would not refer to anything specific. We just say: “Холодно!” or “Жарко”.

Fact 2

In order to refer to the things you mentioned before in a sentence, a speech or a text, use он, она, оно, они in the appropriate form instead of этот, эта, это, эти.

Example 1:

- Вот, я приготовила борщ!

- Отлично, я очень люблю его!

Not “это”, because if you say это, then for Russians there is no clear reference to борщ, and it may take your partner a while to understand what exactly you mean.


О-о-о, очень вкусно, мне это нравится. Как это называется? (you are pointing at something specific)

Example 2:

- Вот очень полезные сайты, посмотри.

- Да, я иногда читаю их. (not “эти”)

Fact 3

Feel free to use the pattern этот / эта / это / эти (in all the cases) + Noun whenever you like.

Я не помню это слово. Кажется, я знаю этого человека. Мне нравятся эти цветы.

Fact 4

“Like this” in Russian is NOT “как это”! 

Whenever you want to say something similar to: “Let’s do it like this” or “I prefer books like this”, use так (with verbs) or такой (with nouns) in the appropriate form. So, in Russian these 2 phrases would sound like this (так!):

Example 1:

Let’s do it like this. – Давай(те) сделаем это так.

Example 2:

Мне больше нравятся такие книги.

February 9, 2013

A Tiny Russian Listening Exercise for Beginners and Others

One of the great ways to practice Russian listening if you are a beginner or have little experience with Russian listening is watching TV ads. Although most people are not very enthusiastic about watching ads in their native language, it works just perfectly for learning purposes.

Why are TV ads good for listening practice?

  1. They are short.
  2. Many of them are about everyday situations.
  3. The language is simple.
  4. Well, except a few fancy adjectives… ;) But there’s a good thing about it too – you will be a virtuoso of praise in Russian! ;)
  5. Local TV ads not only teach you Russian, but also introduce you to the culture, traditions, Russian humor.
  6. If you are a lucky Russian resident who has a TV you will hear the same dialogues and stories again and again until they are stuck in your head. :)
  7. TV ads are easily accessible online.

How do you find a good ad to practice listening?

First of all, the Russian word for an ad is “реклама“. Try entering this word in YouTube search or any video search. You might want to add another keyword to narrow your search depending on what you want to learn or practice at the moment, e.g. реклама + сок.

Be prepared that you may not understand everything word by word – and it is perfectly fine. Your main goals at this point are:

  1. getting used to how Russian language sounds,
  2. learning to hear separate words in the flow of speech,
  3. recognizing the words you already know.

The video will help you understand what is going on and/or what people are talking about.

If they talk too much and you understand too little, don’t give up. Things you can do: 1) listen to it a few times, 2) just enjoy how the language sounds, 3) guess what is going on or just make it up, 4) if it’s frustrating – try looking for a shorter or just a different ad.

Here are a few examples of ads you can find and some tasks to practice your Russian (click “read more” below to see the tasks).

Реклама сока (Beginner):

Реклама специй для супа (Pre-Intermediate):

Finished? I’m really curious: so how was it? Did you enjoy the experience? Did you find other ads? Which ones did you like most?

Continue reading

September 17, 2012

Learn Russian with Posters

When learning Russian, you can also benefit from going to rallies (or from studying photos made at the rallies). No matter if you are interested in politics or not, you can find a lot of general vocabulary there. One such rally (in Russian: митинг) took place last Saturday in Moscow.

By the way, the word митинг is almost always used in Russian for a political meeting. An exception is when they use the word for a work meeting in corporate slang (people who don’t work in the office may not understand this usage or find it weird).

I selected some pictures and wrote comments for you so that you can learn some Russian.

Have a look!

Continue reading

September 14, 2012

Read Russian Jokes: a Hairdresser and a Dietitian

Can you read Russian in the original?

Even beginners canWith these 2 jokes adapted especially for you, you will increase your vocabulary without a dictionary. (If you are not familiar with Ilya Frank’s method, read about it and get the instructions here.)

Today’s topic is professions. Do you like visiting a hairdresser? What about a dietitian? ;)


Приходит мужчина к врачу-диетологу (a man comes to a dietitian; врач – doctor).
Тот спрашивает (he  asks; тот – that one, the latter): Continue reading

September 12, 2012

Russian Song about Kalina

Русский: Калина красная

Калина [Image: Wikipedia]

Many of you have seen the film “Калина красная” (The Red Snowball Tree) which I wrote about a while ago.

But did you know what this калина or snowball tree actually is?

It’s a small tree that grows mostly in the Northern hemisphere, including Russia. It has beautiful white flowers which resemble snowballs. Its berries are red and bitter. In Russia they become sweet only in December when it gets really cold. You can best eat them when they start falling down and it’s very beautiful when you see them on the snow.

In Slavic traditional culture the bitter berries of the snowball tree symbolize sadness, it’s a symbol of first unanswered love. At the same time the beautiful and tender flowers and the tree itself represent the beauty of a young woman. It is considered an unofficial symbol of Ukraine. Kalina is also the name of a Russian car!

Here is a song about калина for you!

Continue reading

September 5, 2012

Discussion in Russian: Нужно ли Pussy Riot извиниться на ТВ?

Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin

Pussy Riot. Image: Igor Mukhin,

I guess, there is hardly anyone who hasn’t heard about Pussy Riot. Their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow and especially the trial and the conviction that followed (2 years prison sentence), have drawn a wide response in Russia and abroad.

Recently, the editors of the TV program ‘Man and Law’ (“Человек и закон”, Первый канал)  suggested that the convicted members of Pussy Riot publicly apologize in the coming ‘Man and Law’s airing dedicated to the band’s case. If this happens, the program’s editors promise to do their best to stop the attacks on the band.

Watch the video below and find out more details, read the text of the address and express your opinion by voting in the poll and/or leaving a comment at the bottom.

Ваше мнение!

Continue reading

September 1, 2012

Happy Knowledge Day!

Knowledge Day

Первое сентября! Image:

Dear friends!

Today is a special day in Russia and many other countries - первое сентября – the Day of Knowledge. For kids, it’s the first day of the school year, the day of re-union after the summer holidays. For grown-ups, it is a day to remember school.  For some people, it is like a little New Year when we think about the opportunities and discoveries that are waiting for us, fascinating new things and skills that we can learn, new ideas and daring experiments.

I wish you lots of success and joy in your Russian learning this coming year! :)

..And remember what Lenin said: “Учиться, учиться и учиться”! ;)

August 20, 2012

Lenin was a Mushroom

Ленин - гриб

Ленин – гриб. Image: from the show

…Back in the USSR, our television was different from now. There were no реклама (ads) and very few entertaining programs. Television mainly served the goals of public education and, of course, political propaganda. Most beloved were films – they were often very good (but that’s a different story). What’s interesting, thanks to the strict and formal approach of the Soviet television, all the information coming from the screen was considered to be “official” and thus trustworthy by many people.

One day in 1991, a political activist and scientist Sergey Kuryokhin appeared in the “5th Wheel” TV show. He was doing a research trying to understand the profound reasons of the October revolution. He had gathered and analyzed many facts and documents, his research even led him to Mexico. Finally he was there in the studio of the “5th Wheel” presenting the results of his investigation which showed that Lenin was taking psilocybe mushrooms and actually was a mushroom himself.

Check for yourself:

Could you follow the logic?

What can seem a total nonsense to an educated person, especially now that there are tons of sensations and mysteries of the sort around, turned out to be a little historical moment in the USSR era. It caused sensation in the society. Some of the people believed the facts presented by Kuryokhin. Many started searching for other documentary evidence that proved Lenin being a mushroom. It was unbelievable what power television had over the average Soviet man.

Sergey Kuryokhin was in fact a Russian avant-garde musician. His goal was to demonstrate that even the most absurd or weird ideas can be ‘proved’ on TV.

Do you think it is possible now?


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