Russian is the official language in the Russian Federation, which has a population of more than 140 million people. Russian is also spoken in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other republics of the former USSR. Because of the legacy of the Iron Curtain, Russian speakers have a good chance of being understood anywhere from Riga to Belgrade.

About 10% of Russian words are internationalisms and bear a resemblance to English words, eg.

проблема, problem,
кофе, coffee, or
кафе, café.

There are plenty of loan words from Italian, French or German so you have an advantage if you know any of these languages already. Admittedly, those loan words might look a bit archaic as they made their way into the Russian language in the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the word парикмахерская, hair salon, from the German word for wig maker.

The main source of loan words for modern Russian is English so don’t be surprised if you see words such as флэш-карта, flash card, or хакер, hacker.

By the way, even the old word вокзал, train station, comes from a very similar English word – Vauxhall.

Many people who are learning to speak Russian agonise over its pronunciation and grammar. The various endings of the nouns, six cases, two aspects of the verbs and the correct placement of stress may seem tortuous indeed.

But the good news is that there are only three tenses in Russian and the word order in Russian sentences is predictable.

Russian sits within the East Slavic branch of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest relatives of Russian are Ukrainian and Belarussian, which you will be able to understand on a basic level after learning Russian.

Knowing Russian will make it easier for you to speak any other Slavic language, eg. Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or Slovene.

As with all languages beware of false friends, ie. words that sound similar but have a different meaning.
Don’t try to buy a магазин, magazin, in Russian – you end up with a shop.

Better ask for a журнал, zhurnal.

Don’t be surprised if someone invites you into his кабинет, kabinet. You’re not meant to sit in his cupboard or join his cabinet, you’re simply invited into his office.

And watch out for which syllable of a word is stressed as it has an impact on the meaning.

Я плачу, ja plachU, means I’m paying while я плáчу, ja plAchu, means I’m crying, which you might well be considering the prices in Russia today.

If your name is Luke or Luka, don’t be offended if people start giggling when you’re introducing yourself. Люк means hatch and лук, luk, means onion.

Unearthed in 2000, the Novgorod Codex is considered to be the most ancient Russian book which dates back to the beginning of the 11th century. The wooden book with four wax pages was used for a few decades to record psalms and other religious texts.

Russian is one of those languages that differentiates between a formal and an informal you.

So please use the polite Вы for people you’ve just been introduced to and switch to the informal ты after you’ve been invited to do so.

Then there is the patronymic: a Russian name consists of the first name, patronymic and family name, eg. Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky or Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva. The patronymic does what it says – it’s based on the name of one’s father with -ovich behind it for a son and -ovna for a daughter. It is considered polite to address someone by his first name and patronymic so if you’re learning Russian there’s no better way to impress than knowing someone’s formal name. Learning to use it correctly in accordance with six cases is a completely different matter (based on BBC materials).