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 Russian Language Introduction

Basic facts about Russian language
What countries Russian is spoken in?
How hard is Russian?


Basic facts about Russian language

Russian belongs to the Slavic group of 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 with Chinese, English, Spanish, and Hindi as a major world language. It is the native language of 145 million citizens of the Russian Federation, the world's largest country.

Russia on the World Map

Russia on the World Map

What is more, Russian is still spoken or at least understood in many countries of the former USSR and it remains a key language across all of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Altogether about 240 million people around the world speak Russian today.

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, etc.
(visit Online Library for collection of works in original and English translation)


What countries Russian is spoken in?

Naturally, Russian is spoken in the Russian Federation. The 14 other countries from the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine) also speak Russian one way or another. And Russian was taught to at least some people in Eastern Europe in the Warsaw Pact countries, i.e. in Bulgaria, Hungary, the GDR, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia.


How hard is Russian?

Russian has the reputation of being a very difficult language to learn, and it is indeed somewhat more difficult for a native English speaker than the Western European languages. Nevertheless, Russian is still easier than Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic.

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 as in English. The alphabet can be mastered in under a week or less. Besides, Russian spelling system is far simpler than that of English. It represents the spoken language more accurately than does English spelling.

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

Russian Transliteration English
школа shkola school
студент student student
атмосфера atmosfera atmosphere
факт fakt fact
космос kosmos cosmos

There are also hundreds of modern words that are borrowed directly from English, the majority of them are connected with computing, e.g.

Russian Transliteration English
компьютер komp'yuter computer
Интернет Internet Internet
чат chat chat
провайдер provajder provider
сайт sajt site

You probably know that there also exist English words of Russian origin, such as vodka, tsar, samovar, troika, tundra, sputnik, etc.

Russian grammar is not simple because of the synthetic nature of the language. 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, genus, 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 a hard time telling if it is Anton who gave the book to Nina or the other way around.
In addition to tense 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; that is, it 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 world over. 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.




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