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Now that you understand the Russian letters and numbers, we will begin to learn some basic Russian phrases that you will commonly use as part of everyday communication. We will not attempt to introduce any grammar in this lesson. It is more important to learn some basic communication skills in Russian. Once you have a 'feel' for the language, you will find it easier to understand how the grammar works. When you were young, you learnt to speak before you learnt the grammar. We feel it is easier to learn Russian the same way, however don’t worry, we will cover grammar in later lessons. In this lesson you will learn the Russian language basics.
When you are in Russia it is important to realise that Russians have two manners of speaking, formal or friendly. It would be considered slightly rude to use the wrong form in the wrong situation. Use the friendly (or familiar) form when you are speaking to someone you consider a friend. In situations where you have never met the person before you would use the formal form, for example in shops or with taxi drivers. You would also use the formal form as a sign of respect to teachers, or in places like business meetings. Keep this in mind as you work through these Russian lessons. This is much easier than it sounds, as there are only a couple of words that change. (Mainly the Russian word for “you”.)
Please and Thank-You.
The two most important words you will learn in Russian are please and thank-you. You can just add these to any sentence to make it more polite.
Спасибо ("spa-see-ba") - Thank-You
Пожалуйста ("pa-zhal-sta") - Please (and You're Welcome)
The word Пожалуйста is also used to mean "You're Welcome", after somebody says thank-you. You should always say this after someone thanks you. Пожалуйста is pronounced a little different than it is written, you can basically forget the "уй".
Yes and No.
Two other very important Russian words are "Yes" and "No".
Да ("da") - Yes
Нет ("nyet") - No
When you are in Russia and you meet somebody, the first thing you will want to do is to say "hello". There are two forms of this word.
Здравствуйте ("zdra-stvooy-tye") - Hello (Formal)
Привет ("pree-vyet") - Hi (Informal)
Здравствуйте may be a little difficult for you to pronounce at first, but it is the most common Russian greeting so you should try to practice it. Привет is also commonly used with friends. However, keep in mind that Привет is informal (much like "hi" in English), and should only be used with friends. If somebody says Привет to you, then it is normally safe to proceed in the friendly tone.
In order to introduce yourself, you may need the following phrases.
Меня зовут ... ("men-ya za-voot") - My name is ...
Как вас зовут? ("kak vas za-voot") - What is your name?
Очень приятно ("och-en pree-yat-na") - Pleased to meet you.
Note: The above 3 phrases are gramatically unusual. You should just learn the whole phrase, not the individual words.
How are you?
The most natural way to ask someone how they are in Russian is to ask: "how are things?"
Как дела? - How are things?
Хорошо спасибо - Good/Well thank-you
Плохо - Bad
There are also two words for saying good-bye.
До свидания ("da-svee-da-nee-ye") - Good-bye. (The до is pronounced as if it is part of the next word)
Пока ("pa-ka") - Bye (Informal, slang)
You should generally use до свидания, which is appropriate in formal or informal situations. You may also hear people say Пока, but we suggest you only use it with friends.
Asking about languages
When you are asking a yes/no question in Russian, there is no difference between the question and the statement, except for the question mark. When you are speaking Russian you should ask questions in a different tone. The tone of your voice should rise if you are asking a question. If you are making a statement your tone will naturally fall. You may find that you actually do this in English without meaning to. If all else fails, put a real questioning expression on your face.
Вы говорите по-английски? - Do you (formal) speak English?
Вы говорите по-русски? - Do you (formal) speak Russian?
Я говорю по-английски - I speak English
Я говорю по-русски - I speak Russian
Я понимаю - I understand
Я не понимаю - I don't understand
You may have noticed that the ending of the verb говорю (speak) changes depending on who the subject is. Don't worry too much about this yet. It will be covered in another lesson very soon. (lesson 5).
Use this video to help you learn some Russian greetings. Try saying each phrase after you hear it. Then try reading the words with the sounds off. Take me to YouTube.
You have now reached the end of your first lesson that involves useful Russian phrases. After some practice you should be comfortable introducing yourself.
Recommended Books For Learning Russian
The New Penguin Russian Course: A Complete Course for Beginners - Probably the best course in a book.
Russian-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary - A visual dictionary with lots of illustrated examples.
A Comprehensive Russian Grammar - A great reference on Russian grammar.
The Big Silver Book of Russian Verbs - A great reference book of conjugated Russian verbs.
Russian Learners' Dictionary: 10,000 Russian Words in Frequency Order - A simple but powerful concept. Expand your vocabulary by learning the most used words first.