Introduction to the Russian Language


Russian language in Russia

Russian is one of the most widely spoken native languages in Europe. It belongs to the Slavic group of the Indo-European language family. The Slavic group of languages is divided into West Slavic (Czech, Slovak, Polish, and Sorbian), South Slavic (Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Slovenian), and East Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian).

Russian is one of the five official languages of the United Nations, and ranks as the major world language along with Chinese, English, Spanish and Hindi. It is the native language of 142 million citizens of the Russian Federation, the world's largest country.

The geographical spread of the Russian language goes far beyond Russia, as it is spoken (or at least understood) in many countries of the former USSR and it remains the key language across all of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The total number of Russian language speakers around the world is estimated to be from 255 to 285 million.

Russian has proven to be a popular language of study both because of its international prominence and its famous literature works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, and other famous writers.

Where is Russian spoken in?

The majority of Russian language speakers live in the Russian Federation. Russian is also spoken in the countries of the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine).

Russian is presently spoken by emigrant communities from around the world speak Russian, including the immigrants living in Israel, United States, Canada, and other countries. Besides that, Russian was historically taught to some people in Eastern Europe under the Warsaw Pact, including Bulgaria, Hungary, German Democratic Republic, Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia.

Is Russian language difficult to learn?

Russian has the reputation of being a very difficult language to learn, and it is indeed somewhat more difficult for native English speakers than the Western European languages. Nevertheless, Russian is still easier to learn than Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic. You can either learn Russian in Russia or study individually with textbooks and free Russian lessons.

The Russian alphabet may initially seem intimidating because of the Cyrillic characters it contains. The alphabet originated from the 9th century. Its creators were two missionaries from Greece, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who based it largely on the Greek.

Apprehension about the Cyrillic alphabet is, in fact, one of the most frequently given reasons for not studying Russian. Of course, the Russian alphabet differs from the English one a lot, but it is not at all difficult to learn. By the way, a number of letters are written and pronounced approximately the same as in English. The alphabet can be mastered in under a week or less. Besides that, Russian spelling system is far more straightforward and simple as compared to English.

As an Indo-European language, Russian has many Greek and Latin bases, it's easy to recognize them behind the Cyrillic disguise:

Russian word     English translation    
школа school
студент student
атмосфера atmosphere
факт fact
космос cosmos

There are also hundreds of modern words that are borrowed directly from English, the majority of them are connected with computing as you can see in the table below.

Russian word     English translation    
компьютер computer
интернет Internet
вебсайт website
провайдер provider
чат chat

You may already know a great deal English words of Russian origin, such as sputnik, balalaika, vodka, tsar, samovar, troika, dacha, and many others.

Russian grammar is not simple because Russian uses a lot of prefixes, suffixes, endings, and vowel alternations. On the other hand, thanks to its synthetic nature, Russian has a huge number of rhymes which are impossible in other languages; it has an astonishing flexibility and variety. It is no wonder that translations of Shakespeare, Goethe, Moliere or Boccaccio sound so good in Russian.

Inflection has persisted as the main method of differentiating grammatical meanings in Russian. Most words change with their function, gender, number, etc. The relations between words are clear from the words themselves, so you get a lot of freedom with syntax. Nice, but on the other hand, if your knowledge of the case system is less than perfect, you can have hard time telling if it is Anton who gave the book to Nina or the other way around. In addition to tenses and mood, Russian verbs possess a feature called aspect. There are two aspects, each represented by a separate infinitive - the imperfective to indicate a continuing action, and the perfective to indicate an action already completed or to be completed.

Word stress is also a matter of some difficulty. The stress is free-form and can be placed on any syllable. Thus, there being no set rules for stress, the accent of each word has to be learned separately.

Yet despite these difficulties, Russian is being mastered by an increasing number of people around the world. They have found it worth the effort for many reasons, not the least of which is the great body of Russian literature which ranks among the most brilliant in the world.

1000 Most Common Russian Words. The frequency list provides an opportunity to focus on Russian vocabulary that is essential in most situations.

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