Every year new people all over the world start an exciting journey of learning Russian. We are really happy about it and want to help as much as we can. That’s why I’ve put together a list of things Russian learners often find surprising or confusing, with explanations.
1) Forget about Soviet stereotypes! Russians almost never call each other товарищ (tovarishch – comrade). The word is used very rarely and has an old-fashioned ring to a modern Russian.
2) Greetings usually are one of the first things you learn. However, it could take more than one lesson to learn the Russian Здравствуйте (zdravstvuite – hello). Compared to the English Hello and Spanish Hola, the Russian version sounds really complicated. There’s, of course, Привет (privet – hi), but it is quite informal. You have to learn Здравствуйте to speak to strangers and those older than you.
3) In Russian, pets are more frequently referred to using feminine nouns: кошка (koshka – cat), собака (sobaka – dog), лошадь (loshad – horse). While in a lot of other languages common gender nouns are used to refer to domestic animals.
4) In Russia, there’s no such thing as the ground floor, floor numbering begins with the 1st, while in Europe and America the 1st floor above the ground is called the ground floor, and what in Russia is the 2nd floor is the 1st floor. Confusing, right? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.
5) Those terrifying letters Ш (sha) and Щ (shcha)! A pain in the neck for anyone who wants to learn the “great and mighty Russian”. First, you need to hear the difference in pronunciation. The next step is trying to write these letters correctly. A colleague who teaches Russian told me that one of her Spanish students used to refer to Щ as the male Ш. I’ll leave you to decide what to make of it.
6) Russian cursive will make you feel real fear. “How is it even possible to learn your language, when you have m for t, n for p, p for r, and in the end it all looks like you are drawing sea waves, not writing!” No, it’s not the enigmatic Russian soul. It is the endless hours every Russian spends practicing cursive at school. Although, the soul might be helping too.
7) “Ыыыы!” I dare you to pronounce this sound at the first try. This mysterious Russian letter sounds as if you have just been punched in the stomach. “My neighbors started avoiding me when I started practicing the Ы sound. Ы is like И’s evil stepsister”, shares one of my foreign friends. But it’s not all that bad: “Even though I am not fluent in Russian yet, I still will be able to defend myself from the muggers, jokes another one of my friends, I’ll just scream ‘Ыыыы!’, it will thoroughly confuse them, and I will use this time to defend myself or get away.”
These are the thoughts and comments of people who study Russian on the surprising things this beautiful language has prepared for them. Share some of the issues you face and I’ll make my best to help you with them.