Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taste of Russian Podcast

I'm going to be traveling away from my home base of Prishtina for the next week or so, so I may be slow with the posts. In the meantime, here's a great podcast, recommended to me by Craig Laurie, that has the same goals as our humble blog. It's called A Taste of Russian and it is made by two native speakers from Russia. Unfortunately, they don't seem to update their website anymore, but you can still download everything from iTunes or the website for free.

What makes this podcast stand out from the pack is that everything is in Russian—slow Russian—and they never translate anything into English. Instead, they define new words through Russian, since that is how you will likely be learning new words if you travel to the former USSR anyways. They don't shy away from conversational language, slang or idioms, either.

Plus, the topics are great. For starters I highly recommend podcast #20 "Наглость—второе счастье?" (Impudence/Rudeness—the second happiness?) if you want to learn about a truly Russian concept. Podcasts #18 and #16 are also must-listen for any new English teacher/Fulbright English Teaching Assistant/Peace Corps English Education Volunteer in the former USSR. Each episode comes with a PDF guide if you miss anything.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Don't Care!

Speaking the Russian language often requires rewiring your brain in order to stop yourself from just translating phrases from English into incomprehensible Russian. As an intermediate Russian student, I had difficulty figuring out how to say that essential phrase: “I don’t care.” The problem is that the verb to care in Russian (заботиться) has the meaning of “I care for my elderly parents,” not “I don’t care if we eat Thai food or not.” Thus, I offer you many ways to say “I don’t care” for your many moods.

Мне не важно.

Мне не интересно.

The most basic ways to say “I don’t care.” I shows that you’re indifferent because the issue in question doesn’t matter to you.

Мне всё равно.

This phrase literally means “It’s all equal to me.” This is what you say when your friends are debating whether to eat at a pizzeria or a столовая (cafeteria), and you really don’t care either way.

Мне пофиг.

This one is жаргон (slang) and thus very conversational. It expresses indifference with a high degree of flippancy. “Я признался ей в любви, но ей пофиг! Как обидно!” (I declared my love but she couldn’t care less! How offensive!”) If in the Autonomous Territory of Gagauzia in Moldova, one can substitute the phrase “Bana hepo”...but only in Gagauzia.

Мне по барабану.

This one is more idiomatic. It basically means that the issue in question is like meaningless pounding on a drum to you.

Меня это не заботит.

This one actually does incorporate the verb заботиться, and should be used in cases when you disdain something or prefer to ignore it entirely. It sounds quite arrogant and rude, so use with caution!

Не моё дело.

This one has a dismissive connotation. For example, if you’re trying to explain the reason why you left work early, your boss may say this, meaning “I don’t care about your lame excuse.”

До одного места.

This one is not exactly for mixed company as it means “to a certain place,” a euphemism for one’s derrière. So, use with discretion.

Remember, it all depends on the context! If you know any other way to express your disdain or indifference, please add it in a comment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Russian Case Names Made Easier

Russian grammar is famously difficult. Most teachers think it is hard enough without learning all those grammar terms in Russian. After all, who needs to know how to say “dative case” as long as you know how to use the dative case, right?

Unfortunately, if you head out into the former USSR, you will probably have a hard time finding a tutor who speaks English fluently AND knows Russian language pedagogy. Most likely you will have a teacher with limited or no English. This is actually a great boon to your Russian skills, since it forces you to communicate in Russian with that person as much as possible. The only trick is learning those grammar terms in Russian.

So, without further ado, I present Russian case names and morphological mnemonic devices. (Try saying that 10 times fast!)

Note: Russians always use this specific order for cases. My Russian teacher in Armenia taught us this and I have always been grateful to her. In a pinch, you can just say the number of the case if you forget the name.

I. Именительный падеж

Nominative Case

This case name is pretty easy to remember. Именительный sounds like имя (name). What is it called when you name someone to the Supreme Court? You nominate them.

II. Родительный падеж

Genitive Case

The root род- is in lots of familiar words, like родина (homeland) or the phrase “Я родилась в ...” (I was born in...). Obviously it has to do with birth and origin, just like the root gen- in English. Think generation, genital, etc.

III. Дательный падеж

Dative Case

This one actually sounds like a cognate. Also, the verb дать means “to give,” and this is the case you use with that verb. What a cinch.

IV. Винительный падеж

Accusative Case

The root вин- is connected with guilt, as in the phrase “Я не виновата!” (I am not guilty!). What does a lawyer do to a guilty person in court? Accuse them of a crime.

V. Творительный падеж

Instrumental Case

The root твор- is probably not as familiar as the other ones, but it is used in one common word, творчество (creation or works). What do you use when you work? An instrument.

VI. Предложный падеж

Prepositional Case

I find this one slightly tricky to remember. The word for preposition is предлог. Пред- (or перед-) has the same meaning as the English prefix pre-, as in prepositional.

I hope that helps! And thanks to Dr. Ari Stern-Gottschalk for teaching me Russian morphology.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Traveling by Bus

If you are traveling around the region on a budget, you will definitely find yourself on an intercity автобус (bus) or маршрутка (minibus) at some point in time. These buses are cheap and convenient, but the Russian language protocol can be bewildering at first. I based this post on my experiences in Moldova, but most of this should be applicable to any Russian-speaking place.

So you’ve entered the автостанция (bus station) with your big old рюкзак (backpack). When you approach the ticket window and you don’t quite know when the next bus is leaving, a useful phrase is “Когда следующий рейс в ... ?” (When is the next trip to ...?) This is my go-to phrase since I find that posted schedules aren’t always the most reliable.

Alternately, you may be in a place where a number of buses have gathered. Drivers fishing for customers may ask you “Вы куда?” or “Куда едете?” Note that Russian speakers often drop the verbs of motion and just use куда or a place with a preposition. The proper response to this is “Я—в Комрат.” (I’m going to Comrat, for example.)

Sometimes the driver is distracted and talking to his other bus driver buddies! The proper way to get a driver’s attention is to say “Водитель!” (Driver!) This might seem rude in America, but it is usually fine in the former USSR.

Once you have his attention, you can ask “Куда едете?” (Where are you going?) or “Когда уежайете?” (When are you leaving?). In Moldova, bus drivers usually make long trips passing through several towns on the way. If you want to know if the bus driver is going through your town, you can ask “Вы едете через ... ?”

If you don’t want to get in without knowing how much it is going to cost (always a good policy), then ask “Сколько до ... ?” (How much to ...?)

Once you’ve secured your ticket, it’s time to get in the bus. Oops, where are you going to put that backpack? The appropriate question to the driver is “Можно в багажник?” (Can I put it in the trunk?). Once you’ve got that settled, you need a seat. This can be tricky. People can be very territorial! If you’re not sure if a seat is taken, ask “Это занято?” (Is it occupied?).

Once you’re on the bus, you can zone out or watch cheesy music videos on the TV (if you’re lucky). But hey, sometimes you want to sleep. If you fall asleep and don’t know if you’ve passed your stop when you wake up, you can ask “Мы проехали ... ?” (Did we pass ...?)

The driver may stop for a bathroom or snack break. When he does, he’ll usually say something like “Мы стоим (на) пять минут.” (We are “standing” for 5 minutes.)

Finally, you’ve reached your destination! If you need to get out and people are standing in your way, the best phrases are “Разрешите, пожалуйста” or “Извините, ухожу.” A third option is “Будьте любезны.” The first phrase is also key if a smelly drunk guy with bad teeth has fallen asleep on you and you desperately need to escape to another seat. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

With these phrases, you can brave any long-distance bus trip.

Счастливого пути! (Have a nice trip!)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ordering a Beer

If you are in a Russian-speaking country, chances are you will order a beer (or three) while you are there. There are some basic beer-ordering words that will help you out in this department.

First, what kind of beer do you want? Russian beer is grouped by color. Светлое пиво is light in color, although not necessarily light in calories as in the U.S. Тёмное пиво is dark, and красное пиво is red. I once had красное пиво at a microbrewery in Nizhniy Novgorod and it was quite good--something like a Killian’s Red. Make sure to use the neuter ending when using adjectives referring to beer in order to be understood by your официант(ка).

What size of beer do you want? Like in America, you can usually get beer in 0.33 L or 0.5 L sizes. To order a smaller beer, ask for ноль три (literally “zero three”); to get a pint, ask for ноль пять (“zero five”).

Do you want your beer on draft? In that case, ask for разливное пиво, or пиво на разлив. You also may be able to find fresh, unpasteurized beer, so if you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the живое пиво.

Finally, as a fan of the Pyramid beers in the U.S., I like to have a wheat beer every once and a while. If you’re at a place with a decent selection, you may be able to find пшеничное пиво. Or, you can just order Балтика восмёрка.

Speaking of Балтика, a post on the various types and how to order them will be forthcoming!

Happy drinking!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Introduction to our Blog

Welcome to our new blog! The point of this blog is to help fill in the gaps for those who have studied Russian outside of the Russian-speaking world and are preparing to move to the Russian-speaking world.

Within your first few hours in Russia, someone is likely ask you “чай будешь?” (the colloquial way to offer tea), advise you on the best маршрутка (minibus) to take, or warn you to stay away from гопники (track suit-wearing hooligans). Unfortunately, many Russian majors would be completely stumped by these incredibly common words and phrases. For various reasons almost none of the frequently used textbooks in the US cover basic, actual spoken Russian. Part of this stems from the fact that an artificially academic and high form of the language is presented, in other cases there are no cultural equivalents for many words and there is also a great deal of common slang that hasn’t yet made it into textbooks. As our project gets going, we hope it will form a useful supplement to other Russian courses for people planning to move to the former USSR. With just a little linguistic knowhow, you can really open up this wonderful part of the world!

Erin and Derek are starting this project but welcome the contributions of others. Please contact us if you have something to contribute!

About us:

I started learned Russian at Yerevan State University in Armenia, then continued studying it in the U.S. I really started speaking Russian on a daily basis while on the Critical Language Scholarship program in Nizhniy Novgorod. I learned colloquial Russian from teaching English in a Russophone region of Moldova in 2009-2010. I currently live outside the Russophone world in Prishtina, Kosovo.


I first began to use Russian on a day-to-day basis while living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I’m currently making my way around the world as an English teacher. At the moment I live in Ukraine.