Category Archives: Learn Russian

Lesson 2: Greetings and Communication Formulas

Greetings and introduction are the first step in every new act of communication. It goes without saying that if you address someone correctly in a strict accordance with norms and standards of their language, you will make a good first impression. And that is something we all strive for, isn’t it? After all, all we want is to make contacts, be it professional or otherwise.

What you should know about Russian greetings is that they follow a little bit stricter code than in English. You have to distinguish between formal and informal greetings.

  1. Formal vs. Informal

    Depending on who you are talking to there are 2 different words in Russian that you might need rto use to address a person. There is an informal you (“ty“, Ты) and a formal you (“Vy“, Вы). In a written speech the formal you (“Vy“) will always be written with a capital letter.

    Please not to confuse with “vy” (вы) written with a small letter which stands for you in plural, as in addressing 2 or more people.

    So, when you talk to your close friend or family members you use “ty“, in case you talk to your boss, acquaintances, senior persons or anyone you would like to show some special respect, you use “Vy“.

    It is possible to address a person of your age “ty” even if he/she is not a close friend of yours. But you can do so only if that person asks you to. Many young people do not like being too formal or feel that being addressed “Vy” makes them look older than they are.

    In Russian families you can often see that even adult young people will address their aunts and uncles “Vy“. At the same time you might notice that many kids address their aunts and uncles less formal. It can be explained by the difference in the upbringing. The Soviet tradition was rather more formal than the currently developing one.

  2. Hello and Goodbye

    Each language has its own ways of greetings. They might depend on the time of the day, on how well you actually know the person, on the situation, social status of people, etc. Russian is not an exception here.

    The most common way to greet a person who you are informal with is to use the word ‘Privet’ (Привет, pronounced as Pree-vet). It means ‘hello’. Another word for greeting in an informal act of communication is ‘Zdravstvuj’ (Здравствуй, zdrah-stvooy; literally: Be well).

    If you have to greet a person with whom you are on formal terms you should use the word ‘Zdravstvujtye’ (Здравствуйте, pronounced as zdrah-stvooytee). The same word can be used if you have to greet a group of people.

    Till recently ‘Zdravstvujtye’ was the most common way of greeting. It was used when addressed family members, close friends, kids. Now it is okay to use ‘Privet’ in most of situations.

  3. Other Greetings

    Depending on the time of the day you can also use the following greetings:

    Dobroye utro! (Доброе утро, pronounced as Dohb-ruh-ee oo-truh) ‑ Good morning!

    Dobryj dyen’! (Добрый день, pronounced as dohb-rihy dyen’) Good afternoon! You can use it pretty much all the time when you are not sure what greeting to use. It only does not work for early mornings or late night)

    Dobryj vyechyer! (Добрый вечер, pronounced as dohb–rihy vye-cheer) Good evening!

  4. How are you?

    Interestingly, ‘how are you?’ phrase is mostly used for informal communication. It is not common usually to ask that question in a formal communication act. However, if you absolutely have to ask this stick to Kak Vy pozhivayetye? (Как Вы поживаете, kahk vih puh-zhih-vah-ee-tee, literally: how is life treating you?).

    However, the expression you will hear most often is Kak dyela? (Как дела?, pronounced as kahk dee-lah).

    As you might have already figured out, asking ‘how are you?’ in Russian is not some standard formula which people respond with “fine, thank you!”. If you ask someone Kak dyela, be prepared to listen. Russians ask this question when they genuinely want to know how things are going with the person they talk to.

Responses to How are you (Kak dyela?)

Standard responses to that question would be:

  • Khorosho (Хорошо, pronounced as khuh-rah-shoh) – Good
  • Normal’no (Нормально, pronounced as nahr-mahl’-nuh) ‑ normal or okay
  • Nichyego (Ничего, nee-chee-voh) ‑ so-so
  • Nyeplokho (Неплохо, nee-ploh-khuh) ‑ not bad
  • Pryekrasno (Прекрасно, pree-krahsnuh) – wonderful
  • Otlichno (Отлично, ot-leech-nuh) ‑ fine

Do not forget to ask the person how she/he is doing. After you responded to that question and said how splendid, terrific or otlichno you are, ask them:

A u vas? (A у Вас? pronounced as ah oo vahs) ‑ And you? (formal) or

A u tyebya? (А у тебя? pronounced as ah oo tee-bya) ‑ And you? (informal)

  1. 5. Goodbye

The usual way to say goodbye in almost any situation is to use the word ‘Do svidaniya! (до свидания, pronounced as duh-svee-dah-nee-ye).

Informal way of saying goodbye is to use the word ‘Poka’ (Пока, pronounced as pah-kah) – something close to English ‘bye’ or ‘see you later’).

If you say goodbye in the late evening before bed time it is okay to use ‘Spokojnoj Nochi’ (Спокойной ночи, pronounced as spah-kohy-nuhy noh-chee) ‑ Good night. You can use this one for both formal and informal situations.

Dialog

1.           Please read the following dialog and translate it into English.

2.           Is the conversation formal or informal? How do you know?

Olya and Masha accidentally met in the bus.

Оля: Маша, привет!

Маша: Ой, Маш, привет! Как дела?

Оля: Ничего. А у тебя?

Маша: Неплохо. Ой, это моя остановка. До свидания, Оля.

Оля: Пока!

Vocabulary:

остановка – bus stop

моя ‑ my

 

3. Make a dialog of your own, using formal greetings.

 

In our next lessons we will learn to introduce ourselves and some basic Russian grammar. Till then practice reading and learn vocabulary from our first and second lessons.

Lesson 1: Russian Alphabet and Pronunciation

Many people find learning Russian especially challenging because of all those letters that do not look anything like people are used to seeing. The Russian alphabet is based on Cyrillic alphabet which initially had 43 letters. You are lucky ‑ now Russian has only 33 letters in its alphabet. Which can be still pretty much for anyone considering that there are only 26 letters in English. Yet, there is no reason for panic. It is not as scary as you might have pictured.

 

Let’s start with introduction of Russian letters. There are 10 vowels, 21 consonants and 2 signs in Russian. In the table we have presented the letters as they are written and pronounced.

 

The Letter in Cyrillic Transliteration Pronunciation Examples Translation
А, а A If stressed – ah as in father Мама Mother
Б, б B B as in big Банан Banana
В, в V V as in victory Вор Thief
Г, г G G as in god Гусь Goose
Д, д D D as in dog Дом House
Е, е Ye Ye as in yes Ель Fir
Ё, ё Yo Yo as in yoke Ёж Hedhehog
Ж, ж Zh Zh as in treasure Жук Beetle, bug
З, з Z Z as in zebra Зебра Zebra
И, и I Ee as in feet Игла Needle
Й, и J Y as in may Май May
К, к K C as in cat Кот Cat
Л, л L L as in love Лес Forest
М, м M M as in mother Мир World
Н, н N N as in no Нет No
О, о O O as in walk Он He
П, п P P as in plan План Plan
Р, р R R – flap r, close to a Spanish ‘r’ in padre Река River
С, с S S as in sit Стол Table
Т, т T T as in take Тигр Tiger
У, у U Oo as in took Утка Duck
Ф, ф F F as in fat Факт Fact
Х, х Kh As in the name of German composer Bach Хобби Hobby
Ц, ц Ts Ts as in cats Цирк Circus
Ч, ч Ch Ch as in check Чашка Cup
Ш, ш Sh Sh as in English Шар Sphere
Щ, щ Sh’ Soft sh as in sheep Щенок Puppy
ъ Hard sign Съел Ate
ы Y ih (not present in English) Дым Smoke
ь Soft sign Пить To drink
Э, э E E as in end Эмоция Emotion
Ю, ю Yu Yu as in use Юла Pegtop
Я, я Ya Ya as in yam Яблоко Apple

 

Of course, there are special cases of pronunciation but in general the letters are pronounced as they are written (according to their transliteration).

The vowels are highlighted in green.  They are pronounced the way it is shown in the table when they are stressed, when they are positioned in the beginning of the word or after another vowel.

 

Vowels in unstressed positions

 

 

  • О will be read as А

О stressed А stressed О→ [А]
Он (he) 

Сок (juice)

Мама (Mother) 

Папа (Father)

Карта (Map)

Она (she) 

Собака (dog)

Молоко (milk)

Корова (cow)

Хорошо (good)

  • Е will be read as И

Е Ε→ [И]
Лес (forest) 

Реки (rivers)

Леса (forests) 

Река (a river)

 

Consonants in different positions

  • Consonants can be pronounced soft and hard depending on the vowel that follows the consonant

 

Consonants become soft if the following letters come after them ‑ Е, Ё, И, Ю, Я and Ь:

paired (15 pairs of consonants) Not paired
hard б в г д з к л м н п р с т ф х ж ш ц – always hard
soft + 

Е, Ё, И, Ю, Я, Ь

б’ в’ г’ д’ з’ к’ л’ м’ н’ п’ р’ с’ т’ ф’ х’ ч’ щ’ й’ – always soft

Some examples:

hard Translation soft Translation
бар 

вор

гора

дом

замок

кот

лук

мама

нога

папа

рука

это

сад

флаг

хор

Bar 

Thief

Mountain

House

Castle

Cat

Onion

Mother

Leg

Father

Hand

This

Garden

Flag

Choir

берег 

виза

герой

дядя

зима

кит

люк

мята

небо

пепел

брюки

новость

село

кофе

химия

Shore 

Visa

Hero

Uncle

Winter

Whale

Hatch

Mint

Sky

Ash

Pants

News

Village

Coffee

Chemistry

 

 

  • There are voiced and voiceless consonants. Voiced consonants can be pronounced as an according voiceless one depending on their position in the word

As a rule, voiced consonants in the end of the word or before a voiceless consonant are pronounced as their voiceless opposite.

 

PAIRS 

б — [п]

в — [ф]

г — [к]

д — [т]

з — [с]

ж — [ш]

EXAMPLES  

зуб – зубы

автобус – аванс

друг – другой

город – города

мороз – морозы

нож – ножи

 

This short guide to pronunciation of Russian letters in different positions should be enough for now. It can be overwhelming at first but it gets better the more you practice.

Let’s start with practice right now.

 

Read the following Russian words and try to guess their meaning based on their similarity with English words:

 

 

Аэропорт

Алгебра

Астрономия

Доктор

Футбол

Гимнастика

Космос

Кредит

Музыка

Нос

Стадион

Водка

Жираф

Журнал

 

 

 

The following table of syllables will help you to practice reading in Russian

 

А Е Ё И О У Ы Э Ю Я
Б БА БЕ БЁ БИ БО БУ БЫ БЮ БЯ
В ВА ВЕ ВЁ ВИ ВО ВУ ВЫ ВЮ ВЯ
Г ГА ГЕ ГИ ГО ГУ ГЮ
Д ДА ДЕ ДЁ ДИ ДО ДУ ДЫ ДЮ ДЯ
Ж ЖА ЖЕ ЖЁ ЖИ ЖО ЖУ !
З ЗА ЗЕ ЗЁ ЗИ ЗО ЗУ ЗЫ ЗЮ ЗЯ
Й АЙ ЕЙ ЁЙ ИЙ ОЙ УЙ ЫЙ ЭЙ ЯЙ
К КА КЕ КИ КО КУ
Л ЛА ЛЕ ЛЁ ЛИ ЛО ЛУ ЛЫ ЛЮ ЛЯ
М МА МЕ МЁ МИ МО МУ МЫ МЭ МЮ МЯ
Н НА НЕ НЁ НИ НО НУ НЫ НЮ НЯ
П ПА ПЕ ПЁ ПИ ПО ПУ ПЫ ПЭ ПЮ ПЯ
Р РА РЕ РЁ РИ РО РУ РЫ РЮ РЯ
С СА СЕ СЁ СИ СО СУ СЫ СЭ СЮ СЯ
Т ТА ТЕ ТЁ ТИ ТО ТУ ТЫ ТЮ ТЯ
Ф ФА ФЕ ФЁ ФИ ФО ФУ ФЫ ФЮ ФЯ
Х ХА ХЕ ХИ ХО ХУ
Ц ЦА ЦЕ ЦИ ЦО ЦУ ЦЫ
Ч ЧА ЧЕ ЧЁ ЧИ ЧО ЧУ !
Ш ША ШЕ ШЁ ШИ ШО ШУ !
Щ ЩА ЩЕ ЩЁ ЩИ ЩО ЩУ !

 

Legend:

 

БА – syllables with hard consonants

БЕ – syllables with soft consonants

Ц – consonants without a soft/hard pair

ШИ – pay special attention to spelling (we will need it at later stage)

 

It is interesting

  • Most of words that start with an “A” or have an “Ф” do not have a Russian origin
  • The letter “Ы” will never be positioned in the beginning of the word
  • There are only few words that start with an “Й”. Most of them are borrowed words.
  • Russian language has 33 letters but it is in no way a record. The most number of letters is there in Khmer language – 72!
  • 2 most complicated for pronunciation for foreigners Russian words are здравствуйте (hello) and достопримечательность (sightseeing attraction). Try to read them using the information in our lesson.

 

Vocabulary

Please write down all the Russian words that are used in this lesson, practice their reading and learn their meanings. We will use them in our future lessons.