Do Slavic people have an advantage when learning Russian?

Do Slavic people have an advantage when learning Russian?
25 September 2023

Russian is generally considered a complicated language to learn, so be proud of your progress. But you might notice that your Slavic classmates do not struggle as much as you do. So, does the knowledge of other Slavic languages give you an advantage when learning Russian? The simple answer is yes, but let’s discuss a bit more how other Slavic languages are similar to Russian.

Introduction to Slavic languages

When you hear Slavic languages, usually the first one that comes to your mind is Russian. There is nothing wrong with that as it is the most widely spoken Slavic language, but there are more than 10 Slavic languages. The parent language of Slavic languages is the Proto-Slavic language, which was later separated into three branches: East Slavic, West Slavic, and South Slavic. The East group is the largest by the number of speakers, combining Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian. The West group then covers Polish, Czech, and Slovak, and Bulgarian, Serbian, and Croatian belong to the South group. 

What do they have in common?

When you hear Slavic languages, there is a high chance they might sound similar to you. As they developed, they influenced each other, which is why they share many aspects. For instance, since the Czech Republic and Slovakia used to be one country, both nationalities can understand each other and share many words. The same can be said for Croatian and Serbian, in which case some even do not distinguish them as separate languages but merely as two different dialects. This means common vocabulary is typical, yet it can sometimes be confusing. For example, in Russian, the word живот means stomach, while in Czech and Slovak, život means life. If you want to say a table in Czech, you say stůl, but in Russian, a table is стол and стул is chair. You can easily catch a bunch of Slavic people laughing at these funny confusions, incapable of learning which one is correct. From the perspective of grammar, Slavic languages have in common the implementation of an extensive system of cases in which the endings of nouns, adjectives, and prepositions change depending on the case. Moreover, all Slavic languages make a distinction between the three main grammatical genders and divide verbs into perfective and imperfective, which you might already know from your Russian classes. Also, phonetic palatalization, known as softening, is present in all Slavic languages. Importantly, Slavic languages use two alphabets, Latin and Cyrillic, and each language also developed its unique letters, such as Czech ř.

Does this make Russian an easy language for Slavic people to learn?

In theory, yes. As for me, a Czech national, I can find several similarities between Czech and Russian, mainly regarding grammar and sentence structure. At the same time, I cannot learn when to use the soft sign, let alone correctly pronounce it. As mentioned, some words are confusing to me or impossibly long to remember. Sometimes, it seems to me the more similar a language is to yours, the harder it is to learn it because you confuse the language with yours all the time.

So, although it helps us a bit to know another Slavic language, it also confuses us immensely. 😀


This blog was brought to you by Anna, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz in Riga

The image was taken from Pexel

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