Is it too obvious to say: learn a little Russian? On a weekly basis I keep being reminded that there’s no such thing as ‘obvious’. When travelling abroad; surely there’s a basic level of politeness that obligates you to know at least:- “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Please” and “Thank You” in whatever language surrounds you?
We’ve touched on this before, but the Russian equivalents of the above (in non-simplified form) are as follows:-
|Goodbye||до свидания||da svid-an-i-ya|
Transliterations vary slightly depending on who you ask, but whatever the deviation; you really are going to have to hear the words in order to have a chance of speaking – or even recognising them – in conversation.
Fortunately, audio examples are readily available after a quick web search. While you are about it, you may also want to familiarise yourself with the Russian equivalents of “help!”, “emergency”, “doctor”, “police”, “hospital”, “danger” and more – to the point where you can at least recognise the shape of the words on a signpost, even if you can’t actually read the Cyrillic. To be honest though, grasping this semi-alien alphabet isn’t as hard as you may think, if you are prepared to put in a little practice.
Here’s a cautionary tale, directly from personal experience: practising Russian at home with your phrasebook or audio course is a whole world away from attempting a real conversation. For one, you are going to find that they speak so damn fast, rattling out their jagged streams of consonants with ease whilst your mind lags at the first few phonetic hurdles. So naturally, the Russian equivalents of “I don’t understand” and “please repeat/speak slowly” are invaluable. OK I’ll give you these, but you (and I) are really going to have to go out and dig. It’s the only way.
English: I don’t understand
Russian/Cyrillic: Я не понимаю
English transliteration: YA ne pan-i-ma-yu
English: Please speak slowly
Russian/Cyrillic: Пожалуйста говорите помедленее
English transliteration: pa-zhal-uys-ta ga-va-rit-ye pa-mid-lin-ye-ye
English: Please repeat
Russian/Cyrillic: Пожалуйста повторите
English transliteration: pa-zhal-uys-ta paf-ta-rit-ye
Although the English language is (fortunately) becoming ubiquitous – even aspirational, as various indigenous cultures jettison their heritage and misguidedly (?) gaze westwards – we can’t expect to wing-it and get by. You’ll likely find that those working within tourist-related trades will speak relatively good English (at least). As you would expect, English is also relatively common in the more cosmopolitan Russian cities located to the west of the country; Moscow and St. Petersburg being the prime examples.
Outside of this relatively limited bubble, you’ll find that English drops off as you progress further east and you move into rural Siberia. So, you’d better get practicing.
[Photo by clarita]