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From: Sandy Lubkin
Date: Wed, 9 Jul 1997 11:51:59 +0000
Subject: Russian Language Lesson

Hi, folks!

Sorry I've been so quiet lately. We've been frantically working on something we should have done before we left home: trying to learn enough Russian to carry on simple conversations.

We've made a bunch of flash cards for our vocabulary, and we read aloud to each other (probably developing really bad accents in the process, but we'll work on that later) from our "Russian in Three Months" book, and work the grammar exercises.

Before visiting Russia, it'd be a good idea to learn more Russian than we did. Well, actually, I did study Russian for a while with a tutor, two years ago, and became reasonably good at simple compositions - done with a dictionary in one hand and my grammar book in the other. It's not the same thing as being able to speak and understand. But we're learning, both by our study and when we go to the markets.

At first, our shopping was all done by pointing to what we wanted, asking the price ("Skolka stoit?"), and handing them paper and pen to write the price down. We're getting better with the numbers, we know the names of a lot of the things we buy, and I (at least - I don't know about Bela) try not to buy anything that doesn't have a price posted. I get terribly flustered when people start talking really rapidly to me, and then I even forget English.

Useful words and phrases:

Know the Cyrillic alphabet, both printed and script. You will be able to sound out a lot of familiar words on signs. Russian and English borrowed a lot of the same words from other languages through the years. They just look very different in the two alphabets.

Another reason they look different is that most words have different endings depending on where they are in the sentence. Remember in elementary school, being taught to identify the direct object and the indirect object of a sentence? In Russian, it's easy because they have different endings. But it makes it a bit harder for an English speaker to learn Russian - we aren't used to declining words.

[Favorite quote: Mark Twain from "That Awful German Language" in, I think, Innocents Abroad: "I'd rather decline two glasses of wine than one German adjective."]

Gdye tooalyet? -- Where's the bathroom?
(Take your own toilet paper [tooaletnya boomaga] - there frequently is none provided. A word about Russian toilet paper: it's *not* sandpapery as is rumoured. It has a texture similar to the crepe paper streamers we used to decorate our classrooms with. But it's just fine as toilet paper. "Western-style" toilet paper is available but we find the regular stuff to be good enough and much less expensive.)

(Another note - the men's bathroom is marked with an "M"; the women's is marked with the Cyrillic letter "zheh" which resembles an "X" with vertical cross-bar - imagine a stylized drawing of a butterfly.)

Fhod -- entrance
Vihod -- exit
(These two words are spelled almost the same in Russian. One of my Russian tutors used to tell a cautionary tale about a former student of hers who had had to spend the entire day in the Moscow zoo because he couldn't find the exit - he read all the signs to be pointing to the entrance.)

Vi gahvahreetye pah-angleeskee? -- Do you speak English?

A phrase you will not use:

Do you have change for a rouble?
(When our textbook was written 6 years ago [more or less], the Russian rouble was worth about the same as a British pound, US$2. Then inflation hit. These days, prices are written in thousands of roubles, and many of the people in the market don't like to [or won't] accept anything smaller than a 100 rouble note. The smallest piece of money I've seen is a 10 rouble coin. The kopek is not used any more. I think we can skip the section in our book where it teaches us the correct declinations for "kopek".)

- Sandy :)

All text and pictures copyright 1997 Sandy and Bela Lubkin, all rights reserved.