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Is Russian Hard to Learn?

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If you’re thinking about learning Russian but are hesitant to get started, you may be asking yourself: “Is Russian hard to learn?” 

You’ve read in the language forums that it is, and maybe you’ve even heard this firsthand from someone you know who’s learned the language. But here’s a spoiler: it’s not that bad. And even though I’m a native Russian myself, and learned how to speak Russian at the same time as I learned how to walk (oh, a double struggle!), I can sympathize with the experience of my students and apply my own language-learning observations to help them combat common issues.

So if you still haven’t decided whether you want to include Russian in your daily schedule or not, I might be able to help you decide. In this article, we’ll talk about why you would want to learn Russian in the first place, how easy it is to learn, and what you should start with to get onboard.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Russian Table of Contents
  1. Why Should You Learn Russian?
  2. Is it Hard to Learn Russian?
  3. I Want to Learn Russian. Where Should I Start?
  4. What’s Next?

1. Why Should You Learn Russian?

Let’s start with the most obvious reasons. Just in case you weren’t aware, Russian is one of the most spoken languages in the world. Worldwide, it’s almost as popular as French and Arabic, and even more widespread than German. 

There are around 260 million people speaking Russian around the globe. According to recent statistics, Russian is still widely spoken in Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Estonia, and some other neighboring countries. And that makes learning the language a good investment for travel enthusiasts. You can experience freezing winters, enjoy boiling hot steam baths, try shchi and pelmeni, and see for yourself that there are no bears walking in the streets (if anybody still believes in this stereotype).

Many of my students learn Russian for business or study. Whether you have a business trip to Russia or work with Russian partners, some Russian might help in your working relations and networking. A person working in tourism who has basic Russian language knowledge is a real gem: Russians often travel abroad without knowing any English. 

As for studies, higher education is affordable in Russia, and the vibrant student life will definitely leave a trace in your memory—that is, if you decide to assimilate with locals and not just hang out with your English-speaking friends.

Also, Russia has lots to offer in terms of culture. You might not see lots of Russian movies in theaters or hear Russian songs on every corner, but they exist in abundance. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find Russian movies with subtitles, so this is a good incentive to learn the language. Not to mention the benefits that literature-lovers can experience: you’ll find peace in Tolstoy’s elaborate descriptions, enjoy the witty nature of Krylov’s fables, and relish in the emotional styling of Yesenin’s poems.

Learning Russian is also a good choice for those craving a challenge. English-speakers tend to learn languages similar to their own: Spanish, German, French, etc. But Russian is hard for English-speakers compared to most Germanic and Romance languages. It’s something different and totally unusual, but at the same time, not as drastically “alien” as Japanese, for example. 

But if the motivation comes from inside, no logical reasoning is necessary to convince you to learn the language. Whether you just like the sound of Russian, want to enjoy the Trans-Siberian journey, or understand what Dima Bilan is singing about, if it truly makes you excited, then just go for it!

Russian Pastry

Russian cuisine is definitely worth trying! Guess if it’s savory or sweet.

2. Is it Hard to Learn Russian?

I believe that by now, you’re secretly hoping to hear a strong “no.” I would lie if I said that Russian is the easiest language to learn; it has its own specificities, but it’s still easier than many people say it is. Let’s start with the easy parts.

A- The Good News

1. Cyrillics is not too different from the Latin alphabet. There are even some familiar letters (like е, а, м, с, р, etc.). Yes, some of them are pronounced differently from what you would expect, but they’re easy to write, and you can start reading Russian words in literally one day.

2. Many words are borrowed from English. Yes, they are written with the Russian alphabet, but when you learn to read it, you’ll recognize the words in a heartbeat. Try:

  • футбол (futbol)
  • телефон (telefon)
  • маркетинг (marketing)
  • компания (kompaniya)
  • лампа (lampa)

    ➢ You can check the meanings of these words in a dictionary to see if you were right.

3. Genders are easy to determine. Russian categorizes words into one of three genders: feminine, masculine, and neuter. Usually, you just have to check the ending of the noun to see what gender category it belongs to.

4. There are fewer tenses than in English. We only have three tenses in Russian: past, present, and future. That’s enough; three is a good number.

    ➢ Read more about the tenses and other properties of verbs in our article about Verb Conjugation.

5. Questions are simple. For Yes/No questions, we use intonation. For open questions, we just place the question word at the beginning, and that’s it. No special question structures or word order changes.

  • Сегодня мы смотрим кино. (Segodnya my smotrim kino) — “Today we’re watching a movie.”
  • Сегодня мы смотрим кино? — “Are we watching a movie today?”
  • Где ты был? (Gde ty byl?) — “Where have you been?”
  • Что ты купил? (Chto ty kupil?) — “What did you buy?”
  • Почему торт не купил? (Pochemu tort ne kupil?) — “Why didn’t you buy the cake?” 

6. It’s easy to say “no.” In most cases, to make a negative sentence in Russian, you simply add не (ne) before the word you want to make negative.

  • Я не курю. (Ya ne kuryu) — “I don’t smoke.”
  • Мы не дома. (My ne doma) — “We aren’t home.”
  • Она не такая. (Ona ne takaya) — “She isn’t like that.”

7. Russians appreciate the initiative. It’s rare to hear a foreigner speak Russian, so any attempt to do so will evoke praise and excitement. No need to wait for a pint of beer to untie your tongue; feel free to proudly demonstrate your Russian skills right away. No sarcasm intended.

8. Speakers of other Slavic languages have an (un)fair advantage. If your mother tongue is Polish, Czech, Serbian, or a similar language—congratulations! You have a free upgrade of three times the speed in learning Russian right from the start. These languages come from the same language family, so many words sound similar, and even the grammar can be familiar in some aspects. I believe this is why, in some remote parts of Serbia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, locals prefer foreigners to speak Russian rather than English.

Woman Holding Out Hand to Say Stop

Стой. Торт купил? (Stoy. Tort kupil?)
“Stop. Did you buy the cake?”

B- The (Not So) Bad News

Even taking into account the easier aspects mentioned earlier, the Russian language is hard to learn for many people, particularly English-speakers. Here are some things you can prepare for in advance:

1. Pronunciation. If learning the alphabet takes one evening, mastering the sounds themselves is a bit trickier. Many sounds are similar to those in English, but some are unusual, like [щ], [ы], [р] (and the last one is not an English “p”!).

    ➢ If you want to work on your pronunciation, check out our Ultimate Pronunciation Guide. You’ll learn about the Russian sounds and how to pronounce them without twisting your tongue.

2. Verb conjugations. In Russian, we only have three tenses, but the verb conjugation is also affected by grammatical mood, person, aspect, etc.

Here are some examples:

  • Я пою. (Ya poyu) — “I sing.” (present, 1st person singular)
  • Мы поём. (My poyom) — “We sing.” (present, 1st person plural)
  • Вы бы спели? (Vy by speli?) — “Would you sing?” (conditional, 2nd person plural)

3. Verbal aspects. In Russian, we use verbal aspects to indicate the difference between an action that is complete (perfective aspect) and an action that is habitual or ongoing (imperfective aspect). It’s similar to the English perfect and simple / continuous aspect.

  • Я ужинал. (Ya uzhinal) — “I was dining.” (ongoing > imperfective)
  • Я поужинал. (Ya pouzhinal) — “I’ve had dinner.” (complete > perfective)

Have you spotted the difference?

4. Declensions and cases. Russian has six cases—technically five, if you don’t count the dictionary form (the nominative case). Cases help you see the relationship between words (it’s not just to make you memorize extra endings!):

  • кот (kot) — “a cat” (Nominative singular)
  • У меня нет кота. (U menya net kota) — “I don’t have a cat.” (Genitive singular)
  • Но я люблю котов. (No ya lyublyu kotov) — “But I love cats.” (Accusative plural animate)

The good thing about cases is that each of them has a function and some markers (typical prepositions and verbs they go with). When you learn to distinguish cases by their function, your life becomes easier. Anyway, if you use the wrong case, it won’t be the end of the world. Patience is the key—and practice.

The prospect of learning endings for six cases and three genders might seem intimidating, but you can definitely manage it if you don’t try to swallow the whole cake at once. Instead, slowly savor it piece by piece. 

5. Verbs of motion. You can find countless ways of translating the verb “to go” into Russian. The choice depends on what means of transport you’re talking about:

  • идти (idti) — “to go on foot”
  • ехать (yekhat’) — “to go by car / by bus / by bike / etc.”
  • лететь (letet’) — “to go by plane”
  • плыть (plyt’) — “to go by boat”

Motion verbs with prefixes can seem even more confusing:

  • лететь (letet’) — “to go by plane”
  • прилететь (priletet’) — “to arrive by plane”
  • улететь (uletet’) — “to leave by plane”

“How do I deal with that and not get crazy?”

  • Learn the four basic translations for the verb “to go” listed above. This way, you’ll be able to distinguish between the means of transport.
  • Analyze the prefixes and try to find the logic behind them. For example, the prefix у- usually means “departure” and при- indicates “arrival.”
    ➢ Wikipedia has a nice table of prefixes with their meanings for your verbs of motion.
    ➢ If you don’t know how to say “train” or “bus” in Russian, check out our Vehicles vocabulary list.
Plane Flying Past Clouds

Ехать или лететь?

3. I Want to Learn Russian. Where Should I Start?

The alphabet. A no-brainer. At RussianPod101, we want to support you from the earliest stages, so we provide the English transliteration for almost every word and phrase you see. However, you’ll find no romanization in authentic Russian sources like books or articles. You’ll also need to learn writing (or at least typing) to be able to send messages in Russian, or even to look up words in your dictionary.

    ➢ Start exploring the Russian letters with our series of lessons titled The Russian Alphabet Made Easy. You can even try your hand at writing cursive!

Survival phrases. If you travel to a Russian-speaking place soon, learning some basic phrases would help you immensely. Based on my observations, many young people in the big cities would know enough English to help you find the Red Square or accept your order in a restaurant, but not enough to discuss climate change or politics. However, I wouldn’t have much hope for English while interacting with people of the older generations.

The following series of lessons will be a good start:

Your own sentences. When you master your introductory speech about yourself and your dog, it’s time to combine new chunks of words into meaningful phrases. Analyze how words cooperate with each other, and try to make similar sentences yourself. Start simple. Don’t dive into grammar right away: learning the rules without having the vocabulary to apply them is pointless. 

Send the sentences you make to your RussianPod101 tutor for proofreading (subscribed users only) and receive feedback from a native speaker. Your tutor would also help you find the right path for your further studies if you can’t figure out what to do next.

Russian Calligraphy Handwriting

Russian calligraphy handwriting (created by VectorSR and licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

4. What’s Next?

As a language-learner myself, I have established three important rules that always help me stay on track:

  • Quality over quantity. Make sure you’re comfortable with the topic before moving on to something else. It’s also important to review the material from time to time.

  • Consistency. It’s better to practice ten minutes every day than two hours once a week. Consistency is necessary to create strong neural connections in your brain, and this means repetition. If you skip several days of learning, especially if you’re a beginner, chances are that the connections will already be lost when you’re back, and you’ll have to learn everything again.

  • Patience. Don’t compare yourself to other learners. Don’t judge yourself by the number of words that you’ve learned or the grade you’ve received on your recent language test. Take your time and remember the first two rules.

Like learning any other language, learning Russian isn’t that difficult if you have some discipline and patience. There are plenty of resources for you to get started, and many enthusiastic people ready to help. In our premium service, MyTeacher, you can get personal one-on-one coaching with a tutor. You’ll receive assignments, grammar and vocabulary exercises, and also voice recording tasks to improve your pronunciation. And if you have any questions about Russian, feel free to ask your tutor; they’re there to help you!

Useful links for those who want to learn more:

Before you go, let us know if you have any questions or concerns about learning (or continuing to learn) Russian. We’d be glad to help! 

Happy learning with RussianPod101!

About the author: Dzhuliia Shipina is a Russian linguist and a language teacher. For the past few years, she’s been traveling around the world and sharing her passion for languages with other inquiring minds. She invites you to explore the beauty of Russian and unravel its mysteries together.

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Russian Keyboard: How to Install and Type in Russian

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You asked, so we provided—easy-to-follow instructions on how to set up your electronic devices to write in Russian! We’ll also give you a few excellent tips on how to use this keyboard, as well as some online and app alternatives if you prefer not to set up a Russian keyboard.

Log in to Download Your Free Russian Alphabet Worksheet Table of Contents
  1. Why it’s Important to Learn to Type in Russian
  2. Setting up Your Computer and Mobile Devices for Russian
  3. How to Activate an Onscreen Keyboard on Your Computer
  4. How to Change the Language Settings to Russian on Your Computer
  5. Activating the Russian Keyboard on Your Mobile Phone and Tablet
  6. Russian Keyboard Typing Tips
  7. How to Practice Typing Russian

1. Why it’s Important to Learn to Type in Russian

A keyboard

Learning a new language is made so much easier when you’re able to read and write/type it. This way, you will:

  • Get the most out of any dictionary and Russian language apps on your devices
  • Expand your ability to find Russian websites and use the various search engines
  • Be able to communicate much better online with your Russian teachers and friends, and look super cool in the process! 

2. Setting up Your Computer and Mobile Devices for Russian

A phone charging on a dock

It takes only a few steps to set up any of your devices to read and type in Russian. It’s super-easy on your mobile phone and tablet, and a simple process on your computer.

On your computer, you’ll first activate the onscreen keyboard to work with. You’ll only be using your mouse or touchpad/pointer for this keyboard. Then, you’ll need to change the language setting to Russian, so all text will appear in Russian. You could also opt to use online keyboards instead. Read on for the links!

On your mobile devices, it’s even easier—you only have to change the keyboard. We also provide a few alternatives in the form of online keyboards and downloadable apps.

3. How to Activate an Onscreen Keyboard on Your Computer

1- Mac

1. Go to System Preferences > Keyboard.

2. Check the option “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in Menu Bar.”

3. You’ll see a new icon on the right side of the main bar; click on it and select “Show Keyboard Viewer.”

A screenshot of the keyboard viewer screen

2- Windows

1. Go to Start > Settings > Easy Access > Keyboard.

2. Turn on the option for “Onscreen Keyboard.”

3- Online Keyboards

If you don’t want to activate your computer’s onscreen keyboard, you also have the option to use online keyboards. Here are some good options:

4- Add-ons of Extensions for Browsers

Instead of an online keyboard, you could also choose to download a Google extension to your browser for a language input tool. The Google Input Tools extension allows users to use input tools in Chrome web pages, for example.

4. How to Change the Language Settings to Russian on Your Computer

Man looking at his computer

Now that you’re all set to work with an onscreen keyboard on your computer, it’s time to download the Russian language pack for your operating system of choice:

  • Windows 8 (and higher)
  • Windows 7
  • Mac (OS X and higher)

1- Windows 8 (and higher)

  1. Go to “Settings” > “Change PC Settings” > “Time & Language” > “Region & Language.”
  2. Click on “Add a Language” and select “Russian.” This will add it to your list of languages. It will appear as Русский with the note “language pack available.”
  3. Click on “Русский” > “Options” > “Download.” It’ll take a few minutes to download and install the language pack.
  4. As a keyboard layout, you’ll only need the one marked as “Russian – Русский.” You can ignore other keyboard layouts.

2- Windows 7

1. Go to Start > Control Panel > Clock, Language, and Region.

2. On the “Region and Language” option, click on “Change Keyboards or Other Input Methods.”

3. On the “Keyboards and Languages” tab, click on “Change Keyboards” > “Add” > “Russian.”

4. Expand the option of “Russian” and then expand the option “Keyboard.” Select the keyboard layout marked as “Russian.” You can ignore other keyboard layouts. Click “OK” and then “Apply.”

3- Mac (OS X and higher)

If you can’t see the language listed, please make sure to select the right option from System Preferences > Language and Region

1. From the Apple Menu (top left corner of the screen) go to System Preferences > Keyboard.

2. Click the Input Sources tab and a list of available keyboards and input methods will appear.

3. Click on the plus button, select “Russian,” and add the “Russian – Phonetic” keyboard.

Adding a system language

5. Activating the Russian Keyboard on Your Mobile Phone and Tablet

Texting and searching in Russian will greatly help you master the language! Adding a Russian keyboard on your mobile phone and/or tablet is super-easy.

You could also opt to download an app instead of adding a keyboard. Read on for our suggestions.

Below are the instructions for both iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets.

1- iOS

1. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard.

2. Tap “Keyboards” and then “Add New Keyboard.”

3. Select “Russian” from the list.

4. When typing, you can switch between languages by tapping and holding on the icon to reveal the keyboard language menu.

2- Android

1. Go to Settings > General Management > Language and Input > On-screen Keyboard (or “Virtual Keyboard” on some devices) > Samsung Keyboard.

2. Tap “Language and Types” or “ + Select Input Languages” depending on the device and then “MANAGE INPUT LANGUAGES” if available.

3. Select “Русский” from the list.

4. When typing, you can switch between languages by swiping the space bar.

3- Applications for Mobile Phones

If you don’t want to add a keyboard on your mobile phone or tablet, these are a few good apps to consider:

6. Russian Keyboard Typing Tips

Typing in Russian can be very challenging at first! Therefore, we added here a few useful tips to make it easier to use your Russian keyboard.

A man typing on a computer

There are two main keyboard types:

1.) Standard (ЙЦУКЕН) is what we actually use on Russian laptops/PCs, and what is usually used on tablets/smartphones.

2.) A phonetic keyboard (say, ЯВЕРТЫ) sort of matches Russian letters to

Latin letters close in pronunciation. This may be fine if you’re moderately interested in Russian, but that’s it. Also, a phonetic keyboard has an obvious advantage if your physical keyboard doesn’t have Russian letters.

7. How to Practice Typing Russian

As you probably know by now, learning Russian is all about practice, practice, and more practice! Strengthen your Russian typing skills by writing comments on any of our lesson pages, and our teacher will answer. If you’re a RussianPod101 Premium PLUS member, you can directly text our teacher via the My Teacher app—use your Russian keyboard to do this!

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Russian Family: Guide on Talking about Relatives in Russian

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Did you know that the woman who gave birth the most times was Russian? She lived in the 18th century and was the wife of a peasant. She had sixty-nine kids! Sixteen pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets.

In the past, Russian people tried to have more kids because not all of them were able to survive infancy (rest assured that sixty-seven of the record-holder’s children survived). Since that difficult time, the Russian family has become the core value of many Russians, and has remained so for a long time.

That’s why it’s important to know how to talk about your family and ask about your Russian friend’s family. Once family backgrounds are exchanged, you’ll be able to understand each other much better!

And besides, it’s a nice and easy topic to master, even for beginners. ;-) To tackle this topic, family in Russian lessons like this one are essential.

Let’s dig in to our guide on family words in Russian and family in Russian culture!

Table of Contents

  1. Family in Russia: Russian Family Culture
  2. Family Members
  3. How to Talk about the Family
  4. Top Four Quotes and Famous Phrases about Family
  5. Exercise
  6. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Master Russian

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1. Family in Russia: Russian Family Culture

Russian Family Dinner

Before we go over the most basic Russian family words, here’s some background information on the family culture in Russia!

1- Age of Marriage

Family is a really important aspect of life for Russians. In the 20th century, the age for marriage was twenty-three years old for men and twenty years old for women. From 1990 to 1993, the average marriage age lowered about two-three years; this was dictated by government policy to make families stronger.

Being together without marriage was criticized. A woman who lived with a man outside of marriage was thought to be frivolous; she usually couldn’t make a career of her work. A married man could build his career more quickly, as he was considered reliable and serious.

That government policy has significantly influenced how people think about marriage. They think that marriage is a serious thing, and people should be married once for the whole lifetime. That’s how people of the 20th century taught their children to view marriage.

However, by 2019, the age for marriage has increased. Now, it’s usually twenty-seven years old for men and twenty-two to twenty-four years old for girls. In smaller towns, people tend to get married earlier than this age, and in bigger cities (e.g. Moscow and Saint Petersburg) they get married later.

2- Children

Russian Kid

When it comes to Russian family size, modern Russian families usually have two kids. People think that because there are two parents, they need to make two replacements.

However, one child is more common for families living in bigger cities. This is because children’s education costs much more and requires much more from the parents there.

Of course, there are families with more kids, but this is an exception to the rule. Most Russian people prefer giving a lot to one child, than giving a little to several children.

3- Elders

Russian Grandparents

Of course, Russian people have high respect for elders. For example, it’s good etiquette to stand up and offer a seat on public transport if an older person walks in.

Unfortunately, the level of respect in Russia can’t compare with that in Asian countries where respect is built into the culture itself. In Russia, modern people tend to think that age alone isn’t enough to gain respect. The person needs to be intelligent, kind, or have another outstanding quality that youngsters could learn from.

4- The Most Popular Russian Family Names

For a long time, Russian people didn’t have surnames. In documents, they had only their name, nickname, father’s job, nationality, place of birth, and occupation. That’s how the first surnames were made.

Столяров (Stolyarov) is the son of столяр (stolyar) meaning “carpenter,” and Андреев (Andreyev) is the son of Андрей (Andrey) meaning “Andrey” (boys’ name).

It’s hard to say how many family names there are in Russia. According to the last attempt to count, there are more than one-hundred-thousand surnames. Here are the top five most common surnames:

  • Иванов (Ivanov)
    • The son of Иван (Ivan)
    • “Ivan” (boys’ name)
  • Смирнов (Smirnov)
    • The adjective смирной (smirnoy) refers to a person who is calm, not proud, and not arrogant. This was considered one of the highest Christian virtues.
  • Кузнецов (Kuznetsov)
    • The son of кузнец (kuznets) meaning “blacksmith.”
  • Попов (Popov)
    • The son of поп (pop)
    • That’s what people unofficially called the Christian priest.
  • Васильев (Vasil’yev)
    • The son of Василий (Vasiliy)
    • “Vasiliy” (boys’ name).

2. Family Members

Family Words

Now let’s learn the Russian words for family members to increase your family in Russian vocabulary!

1- Mother

This is how to say “mother” in Russian: мама (mama). In English, it can be translated as “mom.” This is the word kids learn to use when they’re little.

There’s also a more formal word for “mother” in Russian language: мать (mat’). It’s used in formal writing or formal speeches.

Interesting fact. If someone who has always called his mother мама (mama) has suddenly referred to her as мать (mat’), he might be pissed at her at the moment, or he’s intentionally using a more formal style to talk about her.          

Also, Russian people just looooove to use suffixes to make Russian language-learners suffer to give extra meanings to the words, usually in terms of a quality or to describe closeness, especially between family members. In English, the same additional meanings can be expressed using diminutives.

The word мама (mama) is often used with suffixes to express love for her: мамочка (mamochka), мамуля (mamulya). Russians can both call the mother мамочка (mamochka) or мамуля (mamulya) directly, or refer to her like that in a conversation (though it feels way too showy when the second situation happens).

For example, a child can try to persuade his mother to buy him something he wants by using these affectionate suffixes:

  • Мамочка, мамочка, купи мне мороженое!
    Mamochka, mamochka, kupi mne morozhenoye!
    “Mommy, mommy, buy me ice cream!”

Interesting fact. “Mother Russia” in Russian is Матушка Россия (Matushka Rossiya). The word матушка (matushka) is formed with the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) which expresses love and tenderness toward the mother-country.     

2- Father

The word “father” in Russian also has two translations. Usually, it’s папа (papa), and in formal situations it’s отец (otets).

Also, you might come across the translation батя (batya). This word is usually used by guys to talk about their fathers. The word is of Ukranian origin.

The suffix most often used with “father” words is –к– (-k-): папка (papka), батька (bat’ka). In these cases, the suffix gives a slightly contemptuous meaning.

3- Sister

“Sister” in Russian is сестра (sestra). It slightly resembles the English word, right? When we talk about our siblings, we usually tell whether they’re older or younger than us. Let’s learn how to do that in Russian:

  • Старшая сестра
    Starshaya sestra
    “Older sister”
  • Младшая сестра
    Mladshaya sestra
    “Younger sister”

In Russian, there’s no difference in how a male or female speaker would phrase this (as is the case in other languages, such as Korean).

The word сестра (sestra) is usually used without suffixes, but you may come across the word with a suffix in a children’s story book: сестричка (sestrichka).

You can also use сестричка (sestrichka) as an endearment term to refer to your sister. The suffix –ичк– (-ichk-) also expresses a good attitude toward your sister. Keep in mind that сестричка (sestrichka) nowadays is used only in books, and almost never in other situations.

4- Brother

“Brother” in Russian is брат (brat). Just like сестра (sestra), you can describe whether your brothers are older or younger.

  • Старший брат
    Starshiy brat
    “Elder brother”
  • Младший брат
    Mladshiy brat
    “Younger brother”

The word брат (brat) has been actively used to refer to one another in criminal groups since the 1990s. During this time, many suffixes became commonly used with this word:

  • Братан
    Bratan
    “Bro”
  • Братишка
    Bratishka
    “Little bro”

The suffix –ишк– (-ishk-) here shows that you undermine the person you’re calling with it.

Now, братан (bratan) is actively used by young people to seem “cooler,” especially between guys. Try to address your Russian friend by saying Привет, братан (Privet, bratan) which means “Hi, bro.” ;-)

By the way, young Russian guys often use бро (bro) or “bro” the same as it’s used in English..

5- Grandmother

This is probably one of the most popular Russian words. So, “grandmother “in Russian translation is бабушка (babushka).

If you’re interested in how Russian words are built, then it’ll be interesting for you to know that the word бабушка (babushka) already contains a suffix in it. The suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) doesn’t give any new quality, it just shows that we like the thing (or person) we’re talking about. The stem of the word is баба (baba) which meant “woman” in previous centuries.

Nowadays, if you use баба (baba) when talking to or about a woman, it will have a disparaging meaning. But it’s often used when we talk about a grandmother in Russian language, with an added name. For example: баба Света (baba Sveta), баба Надя (baba Nadya), or баба Маша (baba Masha).

6- Grandfather

The “grandfather” in Russian translation is дедушка (dedushka). Like бабушка (babushka), this word already contains the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) which shows that we like the person we’re talking about. The stem here is дед (ded).

Interesting fact. Santa Claus in the Russian language is Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz). Дед (Ded) means “grandfather” and Мороз (Moroz) means “frost.”

7- Wife

“Wife” in Russian is жена (zhena). It has the stem жен– (zhen-), which is used in the word жениться (zhenit’sya) which means “to marry a girl.”

If you add the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-), you’ll get a more tender name for your wife: женушка (zhenushka).

The more formal word for “wife” in Russian translation is супруга (supruga). The ending –a (-a) here shows the sex of the person (female).

Of course, there are a lot of things husbands can call their wives. The most popular are:

  • Спутница жизни
    Sputnica zhizni
    “Life companion”

The above phrase shows that the husband has chosen his wife for his whole life.

  • Боевая подруга
    Boyevaya podruga
    “Combat friend”

This phrase basically means that the wife will be at her husband’s side in any situation that might occur during their life together.

8- Husband

“Husband” in Russian is муж (muzh). It has the same stem муж– (muzh-) as the word мужчина (muzhchina) which means “man.”

The more formal word for “husband” in Russian is супруг (suprug).

9- Daughter

Let’s learn how to say “daughter” in Russian: дочь (doch’). When people talk, they’re more likely to use the less formal version by adding the suffix –к– (-k-) to make дочка (dochka).

There are plenty of suffixes that mothers add to address their daughter in a more loving and tender way. These are the most commonly used ones:

  • Доченька (Dochen’ka)
  • Дочурка (Dochurka)
  • Доча (Docha)
    • Technically, there’s no suffix in this word. But it still has a loving, emotional ring to it.
  • Дочушка (Dochushka)
  • Дочечка (Dochechka)
  • Дочура (Dochura)

10- Son

“Son” in Russian is сын (syn). The most commonly used forms with suffixes to express love are:

  • Сынок (Synok)
    • This form is the most frequently used.
    • Сынок, помоги мне, пожалуйста (Synok, pomogi mne, pozhaluysta) or “Dear son, please, help me.”
  • Сынуля (Synulya)
    • The suffix –ул– (-ul-) is used to express love.
  • Сыночка (Synochka)
    • This form is usually used in a country speech.
  • Сынишка (Synishka)
    • This form shows that the son being addressed is smaller than the speaker.

11- Uncle and Aunt

“Uncle” in Russian is дядя (dyadya). “Aunt” in Russian is тётя (tyotya).

To make it clear whose relative is being talked about—mom’s or dad’s—Russians add со стороны матери (so storony materi) or со стороны отца (so storony otsa) after дядя (dyadya) or тётя (tyotya).

12- Cousin

“Cousin” (male) in Russian is двоюродный брат (dvoyurodnyy brat). “Cousin” (female) in Russian is двоюродная сестра (dvoyurodnaya sestra).

As you can see, to say “cousin,” Russians use the words брат (brat) meaning “brother” and сестра (sestra) meaning “sister.” The word двоюродный (dvoyurodnyy) shows that this brother or sister is second-tier.

You can indicate a third-tier relative by using the word троюродный (troyurodnyy), or a fourth-tier relative by using the word четвероюродный (chetveroyurodnyy), etc. That’s a smart way to show how close your relatives are to you.

13- Niece and Nephew

“Niece” in Russian is племянница (plemyannitsa). “Nephew” in Russian is племянник (plemyannik).

To say “great niece,” add the word внучатый (vnuchatyy), and you’ll get внучатая племянница (vnuchataya plemyannitsa).

“Great nephew” is внучатый племянник (vnuchatyy plemyannik).

14- Grandchildren

Grandparents call their “granddaughter” внучка (vnuchka), and their “grandson” внук (vnuk). Внук (vnuk) is often used with the suffix –ок (-ok) and sounds like внучок (vnuchok).

Also keep in mind that old people will often call younger people these words, even if they’re not related.

3. How to Talk about the Family

Parent Phrases

Okay, now let’s learn how to talk about family in Russian. Here are some family Russian phrases and sentences:

  • Родители (Roditeli) meaning “Parents.”

Interesting fact. Though there is a word for “grandparents”—прародители (praroditeli)—Russians prefer to use бабушка с дедушкой (babushka s dedushkoy) which means “grandmother and grandfather” if they have one grandmother and one grandfather. They use бабушки с дедушками (babushki s dedushkami) meaning “grandmothers and grandfathers” if they have more.

  • В моей семье 3 человека
    V moyey sem’ye tri cheloveka
    “There are three people in my family.”
  • У меня большая семья
    U menya bol’shaya sem’ya
    “I have a big family.”
  • У меня маленькая семья: я и мой кот
    U menya malen’kaya sem’ya: ya i moy kot
    “I have a small family: me and my cat.”
  • У меня есть папа, мама, брат и сестра
    U menya yest’ papa, mama, brat i sestra
    “I have a father, mother, brother, and sister.”
  • Моему брату 20 лет
    Moyemu bratu dvadtsat’ let
    “My brother is 20 years old.”
  • Моя сестра старше меня на 5 лет
    Moya sestra starshe menya na pyat’ let
    “My sister is five years older than me.”
  • Я очень люблю и уважаю своих родителей
    Ya ochen’ lyublyu i uvazhayu svoikh roditeley
    “I really love and respect my parents.”
  • Мой папа – учитель
    Moy papa – uchitel’
    “My father is a teacher.”
  • Моя мама – врач
    Moya mama – vrach
    “My mother is a doctor.”
  • Моя племянник – школьник
    Moy plemyannik – shkol’nik
    “My nephew is a pupil at school.”
  • Моя сестра – студентка
    Moya sestra – studentka
    “My sister is a student.”
  • Моя сестра учится в университете
    Moya sestra uchitsya v universitete
    “My sister studies in a university.”

Interesting fact. There’s an interesting Russian pronoun cвой (svoy) which is translated as “my,” “our,” “your,” “his,” “her,” and “their,” depending on which person in a sentence is performing the action. Have a look at the sentence above. The word cвой (svoy) there can be easily replaced with мой (moy) meaning “my.” But the natives prefer to use cвой (svoy). So…why?

The word cвой (svoy) has a stronger meaning of ownership. By using cвой (svoy), you emphasize that something belongs to the person who’s taking action. Please, keep in mind that there should be someone taking an action in a sentence, or else using this word would be a mistake.

For example, in the sentence В моей семье 3 человека (V moyey sem’ye tri cheloveka) which means “There are three people in my family,” we don’t see any person. There’s no “I/you/him/etc.,” so you can’t use cвой (svoy) here. If you use it, Russians won’t understand whose family you’re talking about.

For better understanding, note that the antonym of cвой (svoy) is чужой (chuzhoy) which means “someone else’s,” “not belonging to me/you/etc.”

4. Top Four Quotes and Famous Phrases about Family

Family Quotes

There are many phrases about family that go around. Here are the most famous ones:

  • В гостях хорошо, а дома лучше
    V gostyakh khorosho, a doma luchshe
    “There’s no place like home.”

This proverb is often used in books and even orally, especially by older people. The perfect situation to use this phrase would be when you come home from someone else’s place after having a good time.

  • Яблочко от яблони недалеко падает
    Yablochko ot yabloni nedaleko padayet
    “The apple doesn’t fall far from an apple tree.”

This proverb can be translated as “Like mother, like son.” It’s used to comment on someone else’s bad behavior when the speaker doesn’t like that person’s mother. For example, Tanya’s mother got pregnant without being married. When Tanya grew up, she also got pregnant without being married. The person who knows these facts, and doesn’t like this family, could express his contempt by saying Яблочко от яблони недалеко падает (Yablochko ot yabloni nedaleko padayet).

  • Я старый солдат и не знаю слов любви
    Ya staryy soldat i ne znayu slov lyubvi
    “I am an old soldier and I don’t know words of love.”

This is a quote from another famous Soviet film Здравствуйте, я ваша тётя (Zdravstvuyte, ya vasha tyotya) which translates to “Hello, I’m Your Aunt.” Watch the moment when this phrase is used. Note that Донна Роза (Donna Roza) is the name of the main hero. This phrase can be ironically used by a husband when his wife asks him to tell her more often that he loves her.

  • В семье не без дурака
    V sem’ye ne bez duraka
    “There is no family without a fool.”

When one family member does something bad, other family members can comment on the situation by saying this proverb. There’s a stronger version of this phrase: В семье не без урода (V sem’ye ne bez uroda) which means “There is no family without a freak.” It’s usually said when the speaker is really angry. Be very careful when using it.

4. Exercise

Now it’s time for practice! First, read the following example and then write a paragraph or two about your own family. If you want professional assistance, don’t hesitate to apply for our MyTeacher program for Russian-learners, where professional Russian tutors will help you nail this topic.

Okay, here’s the example:

Меня зовут Катя. Мне 16 лет. У меня большая семья. В ней шесть человек: мама, папа, сестра и два брата. Моя сестра – студент, учится на адвоката. Мои братья – еще школьники. Младший учится в шестом классе, а старший – в одиннадцатом. Я очень люблю свою семью!

Menya zovut Katya. Mne shestnadtsat’ let. U menya bol’shaya sem’ya. V ney shest’ chelovek: mama, papa, sestra i dva brata. Moya sestra – student, uchitsya na advokata. Moi brat’ya – eshchyo shkol’niki. Mladshiy uchitsya v shestom klasse, a starshiy – v odinnadtsatom. Ya ochen’ lyublyu svoyu sem’yu!

“My name is Katya. I’m 21 years old. I have a big family. I have six family members: mom, dad, sister, and two brothers. My sister is a student; she is studying to be a lawyer. My brothers are still at school. The younger one is in sixth grade, and the older one is in eleventh grade. I love my family a lot!”

Now, your turn! And don’t move to the next article until you finish this task.

To add to this paragraph of yourself, please read our article on how to introduce yourself in Russian. To handle numbers, read our article on numbers in Russian.

5. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Master Russian

In this article, we’ve learned the words to talk about Russian family and family members. Print our colorful PDF to keep all the new words in front of your eyes while you’re learning them. You can also refresh the vocabulary in your memory with our word list for family members.

And keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Try to use the words as much as you can to transfer them from short-term memory into long-term memory. You can do it!

If you’re searching for a professional Russian tutor, check out our MyTeacher program for Russian-learners. Our teachers are all native speakers with an impressive teaching background. They’ll make sure that you start talking in Russian very soon. ;-)

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