How Much Russian Do You Need to Know?

If you are planning a trip to the Russian-speaking part of the world, this question has certainly come to your mind. Russian language, with its Cyrillic alphabet and endless Tolstoy-like sensences produced by everyone including train station porters, can leave everyone frustrated. Add Russian mentality, unusual lifestyle, and people’s extravagant (not to say more) behavior, and Russia will look quite overwhelming to a first-timer by the end of the first day.


Still, hundreds of individual travelers dare to take their trips to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics (further on, I will refer to all of them as Russia). As a teacher of Russian, who works exactly with this category of travelers – English-speaking individuals, visiting Russia for short terms of 1-2 weeks – I have noticed a consistent pattern:

the less Russian you know, the more expensive is your trip.

You can certainly survive even if you don’t know a single word in Russian: hire an interpreter, ask some friends for assistance, take electronic translation devices, etc. and you will communicate what you need quite successfully, but if you demonstrate to a Russian that you know at least a little of their language, you will make them so happy that you can get discounts on many services and even have some for free. As I have been working with English-speaking visitors to Russia for nearly two decades now, i can confirm that those of them who could produce a few dozens of phrases in Russian, had the most successful trips, not only financially, but also in terms of making friends and getting involved into the local culture.

“Alright, how much of Russian is enough to survive on a trip?” You may ask then, and this, of course, depends on your particular goal.


A large percent of all individual visitors to Russia are the men who decided to check how correct are the statements about Russian women being the best wives of all. I have met very purposeful men who had made dozens of trips to different cities and made hundreds of contacts in Russia. After such a massive experience with the Russian life, they were able to communicate in Russian, at least on a simple level, and of course, they finally became more familliar with the culture, which is inseparably connected with language. If you come seeking for contacts in a local culture, your success is directly dependent on the ability to understand the culture, and language is the most accurate reflection of the culture.

You do not need all the language, you do not need even to become fluent in it (unless you are planning to obtain Russian citizenship and spend years of your life in the country) , but knowing some basic conversational language would be a great “door-opener” for you.

vasnetsov_1 Being able to say a few words in the beginning of a conversation opens a way for more open, friendly, welcoming communication. It also gives you better understanding of people’s behavior and protects you (at least partially) against cross-cultural missunderstanding. Finally, being able to say a few simple phrases in daily life situations will allow you to easily walk out of your temporary Russian home and spend some time out, socializing with people you don’t know. Consider learning a few phrases before taking the trip, and you will feel more confident when you step off the plane on the Russian land one day.

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Corey Williams

writer and director

~ dreams to remember ~

Willie Gordon Suting | poet | writer | freelancer | bibliophile | crooner | fashionista | Shillong,Meghalaya,Northeast India

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