Learn Useful Russian Travel Phrases

February 13th, 2010 by Mark 1 comment »

Here are some useful Russian phrases for traveling. Print out this article, or jot them onto a note-card. Let’s start with the airport. The phrase you’ll need there is:

Here’s my passport.

vote moi PASSpurt.

The word “passpurt” looks weird, but it’s the best way to write it. The accent goes on the capital letters, PASS, but rhymes with the “pas” part of “pasta”.

Out of the airport, you’ll want a taxi to your hotel. Luckily, the word taxi is virtually the same in Russian as in English, except the accent is on the second syllable: “takSEE.” There are all sorts of questions the drive might ask you, but they’re all bound to be variations on, “Where to, pal?” Since most travelers stay in hotels. Let’s learn that word:

Hotel = gosteenitsa.

As with the first syllable of “passpurt”, “gos” also rhymes with the vowel sound of “pasta.” Then, sounding out the rest of the word, we have: “TEE – neets – uh” with the stress going on the TEE. So one more time, it’s: “gosteenitsa.” Then follow it with the name of your particular hotel.

Before getting in the cab, it’s good to know how much the driver wants. We can ask this with one word:

How much = skoilko

Let’s sound it out: skOIL – kuh

Imagine a company called RISK OIL COMPANY. Watch as we cut out the middle of that name:


This will help you learn and pronounce the word in Russian accurately.

Of course, if you don’t know much Russian, you probably won’t understand his answer. So I recommend just taking out a notepad and handing it to him. Numbers are written the same way in Russian, so you’ll be able to understand. Though clarify that the number is rubles (or grivna, if you’re in Ukraine) and not dollars.

Rubles? = rublei?

roo (As in, “Kangaroo”) + blei (rhymes with “play”). The emphasis goes on the “blei” part.
Hopefully, the driver will nod and say, “Da, da” which means, “Yes, yes.”

So, toss your suitcase in the trunk and thank him as you get in the cab:


Sounds like this: “spa – SEE – buh”

Once you arrive to the hotel, be sure to tell the driver, “Here, this is for you,” as you hand him the money. (A small tip is usually appreciated, but not mandatory as it seems to be in the US). Tell him:
vote vam

We saw, “Vote” already, when we were handing our passport to the officer in the airport. The “vam” part means, “for you” and rhymes with “mom”. Of course, he’ll then say, “Thank you.” Do you remember the word?


Grab your bag and head to the hotel.

Welcome to Russia!

Travel by Train in Ukraine

February 9th, 2010 by Mark 1 comment »

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

The most practical way to travel throughout much of Ukraine and Russia is by train. I live in Sevastopol, and the train — while slow — is reliable, cheap and for the most part very comfortable. The only barbaric part of train travel is the bathrooms which would flunk even the most lenient bathroom inspection in the west.

When I say the trains are slow, I suspect they’re top speeds are probably 40 MPH or so. Add to that frequent stops, some of them for 30 minutes in the biggest cities, and it ends up taking a full 24 hours to cross Ukraine. But for $25 or so one way, you can get your own bed in a four-person sleeper car. So bring a book or your laptop, and make use of the downtime. If you’re really trying to save, you can do the dorm-style “plasskart”. Plasskart is an entire car unto itself, with room for a hundred or more. There are only benches and seats, often not even padded. It’susually hot, stuffy and loud. In a word, spend the extra $15 and get the sleep car.

The trains also have restaurant cars which serve good Ukrainian food for a fair price. If you can speak some Russian, or are learning Russian, it’s the place to hang out and mingle, too. Even if you know only English, people will be still try to talk to you. They rarely see foreigners on their trains and will be interested to hear your story. Buy a round of beers and you’ll make friends for life.

The trains are all non-smoking, by the way, which is a relief. Smokers have to go to certain open-winder areas between the cars. Or they just wait for the next stop to shuffle off the train and get their fix. Either way, you’ll never see someone smoking on the train itself; there’s a serious fine.

Besides the unpleasant bathrooms, the only other hard part of train travel for some people is the rattling of the train itself as you’re trying to sleep. My girlfriend loves it and sleeps like a baby, but the train often shakes me awake. The trick is to go to bed earlier than normal to account for the herky-jerky sleep pattern. The beds themselves are very narrow, but sufficient. I prefer the lower bunk, but that’s just a preference. A bonus is that if you lift up the bed itself, there’s a compartment for a carry-on-sized suitcase. It’s the best spot to stash your valuables at night.

There you have it. Train travel in Russia and Ukraine. Watch this video to see it for yourself…

Trip to Turkey Part II

February 7th, 2010 by Mark No comments »

shoesAfter buying a few things in the bazaar, you try to find an exit. The bazaar is indoors, but it feels outdoors. No air-conditioning, for example, and no doors, so there’s a strong natural flow of air. When you find an exit, you then must wind your way through narrow streets lined with slightly larger shops, and slightly less aggressive sellers. You weave your way around men transporting merchandise on handcarts, and tea-delivery guys who carry these specialized trays with cups of tea. The Grand Bazaar is at the top of Istanbul’s main hill, so any street that goes down will eventually take you to the river, which was our destination.

Along the way, you pop into whatever cafe hits your fancy. As with the shops in the bazaar, the cafes have a narrow range of themes: Sultan’s Kebab Cafe; Akmet’s House of Cheese; Sultan Akmet’s House of Kebab & Cheese; and so on. I wasn’t blown away by the food. We went to a place called House of Kebab but the shish-kebab was run-of-the-mill. For my lira, the best of Istanbul cuisine is their Turkish baklava, which differs from Greek baklava in that they don’t use honey, only sugar, and they have a double-whammy pistachio baklava which was awesome.

If you ever travel to Istanbul, here’s a useful tip:

Never accept any help from any man on any of Istanbul’s streets. Why? Because you will end up in his leather jacket store drinking warm apple juice as he explains all the reasons why you need to be buying one of his leather coats even as you sit there bundled in your own leather coat.

But the jacket store is only a warm up. The leather salesman — the guy you originally asked directions from on the street — will somehow bring up the topic of carpets. When you ignore it, he takes this as a sign of great interest on your part, and insists on leading you across town to his friend’s carpet store. Here, as you politely gulp down more little cups of warmish apple juice, you will learn the sum total of human knowledge on the topic of Turkish rugs. Such interesting facts as why a mere 450 knots per square inch makes for a terrible rug, and how Turkish double-looped knots are superior to any other form of knot. You will be able to write a doctoral thesis on tassle quality, the benefits of mixed cotton versus pure wool carpets, and the meaning of each abstract symbol woven into the rugs.

I repeat: Do not accept help from any man at any time in Istanbul. Believe me, he wants you to buy something.

quick update… not related to Turkey, but the far east… This is a quick heads up. I may be starting a learn Russian site in Japanese language, for Japanese people who want to learn Russian. Will be putting it here ロシア語

My Trip to Istanbul Part 1

February 5th, 2010 by Mark 1 comment »
Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

I live here in Sevastopol, Ukraine. I moved here in 2008 to continue to learn and master the beautiful Russian language. Due to Ukrainian law, foreigners have to cross the border every few months, so my latest trip took my and my girlfriend Dasha on a boat, across the Black Sea, to Istanbul.

Here’s what happened…

The center of Istanbul is its Grand Bazaar — a labyrinth of tiny shops, all selling variations on a few main themes: Jeans, jackets, jewelry, rugs, lamps, scarfs, ceramics and handbags. When I say tiny shops, I mean tiny. Ten feet long and ten feet wide, at most. Some bigger, some even smaller. And virtually all the salesmen stand outside their little shop and — to be blunt — they accost you. Here are their standard openers, and my usual response:

SELLER: Yes, please!

ME: Fine, thanks!

I still don’t get why they open with “Yes, please.” I actually took a moment and gathered a few of the sellers around to explain to them that it’s the wrong way to open. A simple Hello is much better. Anyway…

SELLER: My friend, we have carpets.

ME: If I’m your friend, then what’s my name?

It’s a good comeback and they never follow up after that.

SELLER: (re; Dasha) How about some jewelry for your wife?

ME: My wife?!

SELLER: Your second wife?

I love that one. He’s not even joking. Remember, Turkey is the land of harems and multiple wives.

SELLER: Hello, can I help you spend your money?

ME: Yes, I have three Turkish lira (about $2 US)…show me your Rolexes.

The two shops we bought from were the two that didn’t accost us and didn’t give a hard sell in the least. We bought a nice handmade Turkish lamp, and a pair of jeans for Dasha. As for the bargaining process, let the seller tell you the price. Then, offer half. He will moan about it being less than his cost, etc, etc. Prepare to settle on the halfway point between his first price and your 50% offer. So, I asked how much were the jeans Dasha wanted…

“Ninety Turkish lira.”

“Fifty,” I said.

“Fifty? My friend, that is less than the 24 Euro’s I buy them for. Usually I only take off five lira, but you’ve been nice today, trying to get her to buy a pair. How about 75?”

“That’s more money than I actually even brought with me today. I can go to 55.”

“Fifty-five? You see how we’ve been here thirty minutes and no one has come in. If I sell them for 55, I make such small profit, this is very difficult. Did I mention my wife and our newborn baby, Little Akmet? How about 60, so I can at least make a small profit?”

Bear in mind 60 lira — about $40 US — is what we were originally prepared to pay. Maybe still a bit pricey, but they were good quality jeans. I hem and haw, looking as dour as possible. “Hmm, 60. I suppose that will do.”

Our first day here, I thought I was being very clever when — as the first few sellers accosted us in English, “Yes, please! You want to buy my rugs?” — I answered in Russian, “Ya ni ponimaiyu!” (Which is Russian for, “I don’t understand.”) But they would immediately switch to Russian! Dasha explained that Turkey is a prime getaway for Russians because it’s no problem to get a visa. And thus, it’s very profitable for these shop owners in the grand Bazaar to speak good Russian. I’d say 90% of the salesmen speak English AND Russian. Pretty impressive, when you consider that both English and Russian are totally unrelated to Turkish. And these guys probably have functional Arabic as well.

Read Part 2 here and… I wonder what Nike shoe co. will have to say about these knock offs…

How to Learn Russian: Contextual Learning Part 1

February 4th, 2010 by Mark 3 comments »

This is the first in a series of articles intended to drill in the meaning of Russian words via the potent technique known as Contextual Learning. Contextual Learning is an effective method for drilling the meaning of new words and phrases deep into your language centers, and takes advantage of your own natural ability to learn language. Yes, your own natural ability. You learned one language really well, didn’t you? English? If you did it once, you can do it again. So, get ready to learn….fast!

The words we’ll be learning today:

дождь (Pronounced “dozht”…Sounds like the word “dough” + the end of the word “washed”…the “sht” sound at the end. So, you could spell it: dough-sht…dozht.)

снег (Pronounced “sneg”.)

What we’re going to do is put these Russian words into English sentences so that the meaning is totally clear from context. This is how you learn new words in English, isn’t it? And guess what? There’s no difference! A word is a word. If you can learn a new English word form context, then why not a new Russian word.

Watch how simple this is:

“Don’t forget to take your umbrella,” my mom called out to me. “All those dark clouds, looks like we’re in for some dozht.”

Here’s the other word:

I grew up in Phoenix, and didn’t see sneg until the time my Dad took me skiing when I was eight.

Let’s try them both again, in new sentences:

I left my car window open for ten minutes while I popped into the grocery store, and sure enough my whole front seat got soaked when it suddenly started to dozht.

I loved it as a kid, waking up in the morning on a weekday in winter and seeing a drifts of sneg on the ground…you just knew school was going to be cancelled.

So, obviously, “dozht” is the Russian word for “rain” and “sneg” is the word for “snow.” Try to make your own, and incorporate the words into your vocabulary. I like to insert them into idioms, like: “The outdoor event will be held, dozht or shine.” Or, “Frosty the Snegman.”

Resources: contextual learning

Russian Pronunciation With Sound Files Part II

January 22nd, 2010 by markw No comments »


This is a continuation of an article I wrote on Russian Pronunciation. (If you haven’t read the first article, RUSSIAN PRONUNCIATION, do so now, and then come back to this.) In this follow-up, I want to improve how you pronounce Russian letters by having YOU write out various English words using the Cyrillic alphabet. This is a very effective technique, with the added benefit that it makes you feel like a spy writing in secret code.

Don’t worry about perfect handwriting. Just do your best on the few tricky letters. As with the other article, the answers will be at the end. Remember, I want it so that when someone sounds out the Russian letters, they HEAR the sound of the English words. Does that make sense?

So, let’s start by writing out some group names.
1. U2
2. AC/DC
3. Led Zeppelin
4. Metallica
5. Deep Purple

How would you write out these words:
6. Couch
7. Table
8. Shorts
9. Frog
10. Yodel

Remember, it’s hard to line up sounds exactly between the two languages, especially when it comes to vowels. The “ih” sound in words like “big” and “ship” doesn’t exist in Russian, and they usually write it with their letter И (which sounds like “ee”). This explains why Russians pronounce these words as “A beeg sheep came into harbor.” In any case, there is often more than one way to sound out these words. The “uh” sound of “hug” is also missing from Russian, as are many other vowel sounds. Plus, they have nothing even close to our “th” sound, so that usually gets glossed over with a Z. As in, “Zees eez zee best pizza!”

Moving on, let’s try writing out names. There might be “official” Russian ways to spell these names, and my answers might conflict with those. I’m simply going to write the names out as accurately as I can with the Cyrillic letters, despite any differences there might be with the official versions.

11. Joan Rivers
12. Charlie Chaplin
13. Steven Spielberg
14. Bill Gates
15. Zha-zha Gabor

Finally, let’s try to write out a whole sentence:

My name is Steve. I live in Phoenix. I have a house and two cars. My favorite movie is Star Wars, and my favorite food is spaghetti.
Ok, I hope you had fun with that. Here’s the answers:

1. U2 = ю ту
2. AC/DC = эй си ди си
3. Led Zeppelin = Лэд Зэпэлин
4. Metallica = Мэталика
5. Deep Purple = Жип Пэрпл (That’s a tough call on the ‘ur’ sound of Purple!)

How would you write out these words:

6. Couch = Кауч
7. Table = Тэйбл
8. Shorts = Шортс
9. Frog = Фраг
10. Yodel = Ёдл
11. Joan Rivers = Джон Ривэрз
12. Charlie Chaplin = Чарли Чаплин
13. Steven Spielberg = Стивэн Спилбэрг
14. Bill Gates = Бил Гэйтс
15. Zha-zha Gabor = Жа Жа Габор

Finally, let’s try to write out a whole sentence:

My name is Steve. I live in Phoenix. I have a house and two cars. My favorite movie is Star Wars, and my favorite food is spaghetti.
Май нэйм ис Стив. Ай лив ин Финэкс. Ай хав эй хаус анд ту карс. Май фэйворит муви ис Стар Уарз, анд май фэйворит фуд ис спагэти.

So remember, a few minutes each day to practice writing and sounding out English words using Cyrillic will do wonders for your Russian pronunciation!

Good luck!

Russian Pronunciation With Sound Files Part 1

January 12th, 2010 by markw 1 comment »


Compared to some languages, Russian pronunciation is a breeze.  Sure, if your goal is to master pronunciation to the point where you can pass yourself off as a native speaker, then – true – you’ve got a lot of work ahead. But if you don’t mind speaking with an accent – as I have for six years, now – and instead just want to speak well enough so that Russian people understand you, then Russian pronunciation is no big deal.

If you prefer video instruction, then watch this video on how to pronounce each letter in Russian’s Cyrillic alphabet. Otherwise, read on, as we go through each letter and you`ll eventually learn Russian step by step.

As I often do, I want to employ contextual learning to imbed the sounds on a deeper level. The great thing about this method is it’s easy, natual, and the most effective.

All BIG BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS are Russian letters. The first round is easy because they look the same and sound the same as their English counterparts.



Оpen wide, said the doctor, and say…

Аhhh .


So, the English word TAKOMA would be spelled: TAKOMA in Russian, as well.

Let’s note right here that the Russian versions of these letters have few if any variations in pronunciation. The same absolutely CANNOT be said of the English versions. How many sounds can you make with the English ‘O’ for example? Women? So and ‘o’ in English can be pronounced ‘ihh’? There’s only two variations in Russian for an ‘O’. Either the ‘Oh’ sound of ‘Open” or an ‘Ah’ sound, as in “Say ahh.”

Here’s the next batch for learning Russian

БaseБall is perhaps the most popular sport in America.

Сeptember is my birth month, but…

Нovember is my favorite month.

Лaugh out Лoud!

Пretty Пlease, with sugar on top?

Рonald Peagan was the 40th President of the United States.

Вampires are scary!

Фotoshop is a great program.

Let’s play with these a bit before going on. The following will be English words sound out using the Russian alphabet. The answers are at the end:








How’d you do? Ok, let’s the next set…

Дavid and Гoliath

Гarden of Eden.

Хa Xa, very funny.

The MiraЖ in Las Vegas is my favorite hotel.

Зippidee do dah!

Шotgun wedding.

Чinese Фood is delicious!

Яtzee is a game played with dice.

Уps, I Did It Again is Brittney’s best song!

Еsterday is the Beatle’s best song!

We’re almost done. One more round after this. Let’s play with our new letters. The answers, again, will be at the bottom:








Here’s the final batch of Russian letters for you:

Ё dude, whassup! Or: My favorite toy is a Ё Ё .

Иk, a mouse! Or: Иster egg!

OЙ vei, what a headache! Or: G.I. Joe is my favorite toЙ.

Эpcot Center is better than Disney World.

Ю2 is a great group, but I’m not a big fan of Bono.

WhaЦ up, dude?

Ыk, another mouse!


Let’s play with these newest ones, and then get to the answers:




Ok, here’s the answers to all the words I wrote out:

СНО = Snow

БОН = Bone

ФАР = Far

БАР = Bar

ПРО = Pro

ЛАМП = Lamp

МАРС = Mars

ГАД = God

ЕС ОР НО? = Yes or no?

ЧУ СЛО = Chew slow.

ГАРАЖ = Garage

ФЛАШ = Flash.

ЯДА ЯДА = Yada yada.

ХОТ ДОГ = Hot dog.

ЭГ ЁЛК. = Egg yolk.

ЭКСКЮЗ МИ! = Excuse me!

ТОЙ СТОРИ. = Toy Story.


Finally, here’s a few sentences written in English, but using Cyrillic letters to spell out the words. Think of it as a final exam. Give it a try:

Хай! Май нэйм ис Марк. Ай рили лайк стадиинг рашен. Рашен ис сач эй кул лангуэдж, донт ю агри? Уэл, ай хоп зис артикл хэлпд ю!

I hope you learn`t a bit about learning Russian online with  pronunciation!

Go here for part 2 Pronounce Russian