5 Phrases Russian Learners Must Know

July 14th, 2009 by Mark Leave a reply »

Thinking back to when I was just getting started, I thought it might be helpful for those who are wondering what Russian phrases to study first to have some guidance. Phrases Russian learners should know are listed below. Of course there are a bunch, but lets start with some phrases you can put to use right away.

1) MOZHnuh = May I?

Think of all the situations in life where you need to ask permission. Let’s say you’re in Moscow’s Sheremtevo airport, and you’re not sure if it’s your turn to go through security. You look at the guard, “MOZHnuh?” (”May I?”) and he’ll either wave you through or have you wait a moment. Past security, at the food stand, you point to a sandwich and ask, “MOZHnuh?” and the server will hand you a sandwich and ask you to pay. Then you point to an empty seat and and ask the person sitting adjacent, MOZHnuh?, and the person will either gesture for you to sit down, or wave you away. MOZHnuh is #1 on my list of must-know Russian phrases.

2) EezvihNEETyeh, vwee nee mozhetyeh minyeh poMOCH? = Excuse me, can you help me?

Though quite a mouthful, this is the best way to open a conversation if you’re seeking help or advice. If you are in a bind, this is a phrase Russian language enthusiasts really must know.

3) Da eelee nyet = Yes or no

This phrase should be used as a preface to most questions you’ll be asking during your first year or two of study. It must be asked apologetically and gently because it can be as rude in Russian as it is in English. Nevertheless, “Da eelee nyet” is vital because until you have all the appropriate vocabularly in place, you’re not likely to understand the answers you get to the questions you ask.

Imagine, for example, that you’re riding the Kiev subway. You ask someone, “Excuse me, can you help me? Is this Kreshatik Street?”

And here’s a typical response: “Oh, you’re looking for Kreshatik? That depends because there’s two exits on Kreshatik…Are you looking for the one near the central square, or…”

Believe me, this is a very handy Russian phrase you should study first.

This leads to…

4) Ya PLOkha paniMAIyu po-russki = I poorly understand Russian.

When the person you’re speaking with finishes their response — a long one which probably won’t be understood — you smile and tell them, “Ya PLOkha poniMAIyu po-russki.”

The person might respond by asking where you’re from, and here’s where you say, “Da eelee nyet…is this Kreshatik?” and hopefully the person (or someone standing nearby, listening in) will say, “Da, Kreshatik,” and you hop off the subway.

5) (location, building) Ftu storonu? = In this direction? [Pointing in the direction you're facing or walking.]

For example, “Hermitage ftu storonu?” = Is the Hermitage in this direction?

Hopefully they’ll answer Yes (Da) and you’ll continue on your way. If the answer is longer and you don’t understand, tell them “Ya PLOkha poniMAIyu po-russki.” (Phrase #4). Then gently say, “Da eelee nyet…Hermitage ftu storonu?”

Here’s a new conversation using these phrases. It is *very* typical of what happens in real life:

“EezvihNEETyeh, vwee nee mozhetyeh minyeh poMOCH? Metro (subway) ftu storonu?” = Excuse me, can you help me? Is the subway in this direction?

“Yes, although there’s one a bit closer if you go down that street two blocks and cross over to–”

(Interupting) “Eezvihneetyeh, ya PLOkha paniMAIyu po-russki. Da eelee nyet, metro ftu storonu?” = “I’m sorry, I poorly speak Russian. Yes or no, is the subway in this direction?” Since you opened very politely, you won’t offend by interupting and insisting on a yes or no answer.

“Da,” they’ll respond.

And you finish with “Spasiba!” (Thank you!)

Got it! Great. Hope you enjoyed the 5 phrases Russian language students should know! Maybe another video is in order.. Da?

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1 comment

  1. John Pearlman says:

    The ease of learning Russian on your blog is really handy. I have a girlriend in Ukraine and hopefully this will help us communicate easier. Are you still living in Ukraine?

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