Why You Should Learn… Russian
No. 8: Russian
144 million native speakers, 250 million total speakers. Official language of Russia and many of the countries in the former Soviet Union, and 1 of the 6 official languages of the United Nations.
I personally find the Russian language extremely appealing and impressive. Perhaps it’s the stereotype of Russians dressed up in furs and parading around their opulent palaces in mid-winter that caught my imagination, or perhaps that image of Russian spies that always seem so glamourous. I decided on my Gap Year that I wanted to learn Russian and I spent the next two years striving to master the language. I started with a weekly evening class and the following year I took an intensive Russian module at university for 4 hours a week, but without the exams or the credits. And I did actually enjoy the language, and I adored learning about the culture from my amazing teacher Julia. But you need many more than two years, and at that point I was learning another three languages for my actual degree and I just couldn’t dedicate enough time to Russian. So I sadly dropped it, but never with the intention of giving up forever and I will get my Russian back up to a decent level.
Having never been to Russia I can’t claim to know it first-hand. But from my classes with Julia, from talking to Russian family friends and friends who have visited and lived there, I’ve built up an image of a deeply split country. Immense poverty and poor quality of life in the great rural swathes of central and eastern Russia is contrasted with unimaginable wealth and privelage in the bigger cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. However it’s this wealth that’s making Russian such a valuable language to learn, and also as it’s considered one of the “hard” languages to learn, it’s quite rare among Westerners. The Russian language was imposed upon the members of the Soviet Union for years, so much of Eastern Europe still speaks Russian, even if not as a first language.
As one of the family of Slavic languages, understanding Russian apparently helps with its close relations such as Polish & Bulgarian, although Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet (see the phrases below). Cyrillic has 33 different characters, but very confusingly, the letters you see typed in a textbook or online are invariably handwritten in a completely different way! I quite quickly picked up the alphabet and can still read it phonetically (although I wouldn’t necessarily remember the translation), but learning to handwrite really tested me… I’m very impressed by anyone who has persevered with Russian long enough to master it and I’d appreciate your thoughts on the language! Why did you want to learn Russian?
Top 5 Survival Phrases:
- привет ‘Privyet’ – Hello
- спасибо ‘Spasiba’ – Thank you
- Как поживаешь? ‘Kak pozhivayesh?’ – How are you?
- Я не понимаю русский язык ‘Ya ne ponimayu russkiy yazyk’ – I don’t understand Russian.
- до свидания ‘Da svidaniya’ – Goodbye
Throughout my two years of Russian we used two books, both of which I’d recommend: Oxford Take Off in Russian and The New Penguin Russian Course. But I’m warning you now – Russian is not a language to teach yourself at home! Find a local class taught by a native and prepare yourself for an uphill slog with the grammar as I’m sorry to say that Russian uses the dreaded declensions. Anyone who’s learnt German or Latin will know what I’m talking about…
Next week I’ll be profiling the No.9 most spoken language: Japanese.
[You can still vote below for the languages you’d most like to learn]