One of top 5 questions I get in emails from my readers is “How to learn Russian?” Russian is indeed one of the most difficult languages to learn because of grammar, pronunciation and exceptions to the rules. But guess what?! We, Russians, study our language for 10 years in school, yet very few people do not make grammar mistakes when they write or speak.
I am told that my Russian is really good, and I like to agree with those people. :-) I think that is because my mom taught me to how to read when I was 3,5 years old. Reading a lot helps, because you remember how words are spelled on some subconscious level and have a good source to expand your active vocabulary. However, even after so much reading, I still do make punctuation errors every now and then.
Russian is very difficult for even the most deliberate speaker/writer of the language. Yet, it is sometimes painful to hear fellow Russians make “lazy” use of the language (not caring about declension, proper use or spelling of words). We do notice mistakes and, in general, are not tolerant to them. Some time ago one of my friends started a discussion on Facebook about mistakes we hate most and, it became the longest discussion thread I have ever seen.
On the other hand, we are absolutely delighted to see non-native Russian speakers attempt to learn and practice the language. We are not only tolerant and forgive any mistakes in that case, but also try to help our foreign friends in any way we can.
As any other people, we learn to speak from our parents in an early age and build the active vocabulary from books, TV and being immersed in the Russian-speaking environment.
But to write well, we need to study Russian in school for 10 years. First of all – these studies are to learn grammar rules. And to learn how to check your spelling, based on these rules. Secondly – we memorize numerous exceptions. Russian language does have a lot of them. Finally, a good teacher will weed out “parasite words” and, improve pronunciation if needed.
I often get questions about pronunciation and accents. “Can you recognize which part of the country is somebody from?”. I usually cannot, except for understanding whether a person is from Moscow or not (Muscovites reduce most “o” sounds to “a”(sounds like “u” in “under”). So, when I say “moloko” (milk), I actually pronounce it as “malako”. That is considered a correct pronunciation. It is funny that now, learning Spanish, my correct pronunciation in Russian is a big problem – I have a heavy Russian accent when speaking Spanish exactly because I tend to reduce vowels.
Sometimes I can also say that a person is not from Moscow or is not from the same cultural strata as I am, judging by the words they use. It could be just one or two words and, you understand that you have a completely different background. These words serve as codes the other way too – people can recognize “their people”, based on the vocabulary the same way people who are working in the same industry connect when they hear familiar professional slang.
As any language, it evolves. New words are being added. Some of these words are indeed new, such as “selfie”, some have changed their meaning with time. Also some words have become extinct because they are no longer needed. Here is a nice video on that subject.
In general, that is positive. Language is a living being and has to change. Business influences changes in language a lot. Many English words (such as “marketing”) have now become part of the Russian vocabulary. Sometimes though, there is a perfectly good Russian word, but people still use the English word instead. Critics are against that. Some critics even think that all English words should be replaced by Russian words in the language. I do not agree with such extreme, but I also feel that people, who work in both Russian and in English could use less English words when they are speaking Russian. At one of my jobs we even made a point of notifying each other about the usage of English words when it was not necessary.
Many people think that Russian language is deteriorating in general, but that is not true. It is just that with the appearance of social media, more people started to write and their writing is now public. So we do see many more mistakes in written language. These mistakes do not affect middle-aged people, but they can influence young people. When you read a lot of incorrect text, you absorb the mistakes and may start to repeat them. What is also interesting about social media writing – although it is a written text, it is usually a conversation, so it closer to oral speech than to a book text. And that is one of the reasons why people love to use smileys and other emojis. In a face-to-face conversation you smile and use other facial expressions and body language. It is faster and easier to add an emoji to a phrase in social media rather than carefully select words so that they convey the emotion. But that happens in all languages now, not only in Russian.
Pretty much everything. We really admire foreigners, who not only learn Russian, but master speaking fluently. To us it shows that they are interested in our country and our culture and want to better connect with us.
Here are just some things that are difficult in my opinion:
I am sure I did not name all the difficulties. Let me know what was the most difficult for you when you learned Russian. And how you managed to learn that difficult thing. What do you suggest to other people, who are learning Russian? Let’s discuss this topic in comments.
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.