Obstacles in learning Russian 

Obstacles in learning Russian 
14 October 2019

Да нет, наверное! You have probably heard Russian people say this phrase before. Literary translated it means – yes no, maybe! However, do not get confused, because if you ask someone if he/she wants to go to the cinema and their reply is ‚Да нет, наверное‘, it means they are probably not going. The Russian language … what should I say? It is a love-hate relationship. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Russian, but sometimes (and I am sure many of you share the same opinion with me) it can be extremely frustrating. Here are three obstacles in Russian language that are the most nerve-racking to me.

1. Stressing Russian words correctly 

I remember my very first Russian class back in University. We covered basic phrases like ‚How are you‘ (Как дела?) and possible replies, like for example ‚Good‘ (Хорошо). Хорошо … it all started with this word. Like many beginners I pronounced the word as it was written, which means, I pronounced the o-letters as o-sounds. So KHOROSHO sounded very correct to me, why wouldn’t it, right? But I remember our teacher telling us that not all o-letters are pronounced as o-sounds, because it depends on whether they are stressed or not. However, when we wanted to know what rules we could apply to actually know when a vowel is stressed, she just smiled and said that there are no rules and that we have to watch Russian movies, listen a lot to Russian music, Russian audiobooks or even better, Russian people. One good example that emphasizes the importance on correct stressing are the words to pay (плати́ть – platiť) and to cry (пла́кать – plakat’). When we use the first person Singular of both these words, then it is the exact same word — by that I mean it is written identically. However, they are stressed differently.

плати́ть – platiť (to pay)

1.P.SG: я плачу (“ya plachu”)

пла́кать – plakat’ (to cry)

1.P.SG: я плачу (“ya plachu”)

If you are at a restaurant and you want to tell your Russian friends who are waiting for you that you are paying and then you will join them, but you stress the ‚a‘ instead of the ‚u‘, then they might get worried about your well-being or they might just burst out in laughter. Another good example is the word “писать” (“pisat’”). If you stress the ‚a’ sound, then it means ‚to write‘, however, if you stress the ‚i‘ sound, it means ‚to pee‘. As you can clearly see, this can actually be a big obstacle when speaking Russian.

So, for those of you who are just starting to learn this wonderful language, I want to warn you, because you’ll be confronted with words, where you’ll have absolutely no idea how to stress them.

2. Struggling with the “ы” sound

As if this is not enough, Russians decided to add one tiny little sound to their alphabet, which is absolutely evil (Do not take me too seriously here). For foreigners it is very challenging to pronounce this sound correctly, so they often give up and just pronounce it as a regular ‚e‘. However, this letter does have its own unique sound and we, Russian learners, have to find a way to master this sound, if we want to sound authentic when speaking Russian. And even if it can be an obstacle for a lot of us, it is important not only to sound like a real Russian, but also because if not pronounced correctly, we can be misunderstood.

The best example here are the words for ‚to be‘ (быть, “byt”) and to ‚beat’ (бить, “beet”).

3. ехать, идти, выходить, обходить, переходить, … Verbs of motion – the bane of every Russian learner 

Verbs of motion… my dear Russian learners, we are all in this together! There are literary tons of ways in Russian to express how and where someone is going. To me, this is one of the most difficult obstacles in Russian grammar. As I said before, in Russian there is not just one way to say „I went“ or „I will go“ — It all depends on whether you walked or took a mean of transport, whether you went directly or took a little detour, whether you just went there or you already came back, and so on. It is not only that there are always two forms of one verb, like for example of the verb ‚to go‘: There is ‚идти́’ and ‚ходи́ть‘, whereas one is used for one direction and the second is used when the meaning is going in more directions. (Of course, there are so many more situations, but I am sure, you will cover this in class … or you already did). So apart from having to decide which form you have to choose, there is a huge amount of prefixes, each of with has a different meaning.

в- into

вы- out of

до- as far as

за- with a stop (on the way)

об- around

от- away

про- by, through

у- away

These are just a few I mentioned, but there are a lot more.

Verbs of motion

Verbs of motion; photo taken by: https://www.tips4russian.com/mastering-verbs-of-motion/


Welcome to the world of Russian language!

I am not going to lie to you, Russian language is full of obstacles … these are just the three that are most difficult for me. But do not lose hope, because each language has its difficulties and when you are determined and hard-working, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. We can do this!

Posted by Daniela Nuic

Daniela Nuic, Croatian/Bosnian from Austria, studied transcultural communication and is currently interning at Liden & Denz in St Petersburg.

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