Ever found yourself wondering what the real Russian language ”tastes” like?
You know—the raw, unrefined Russian.
The Russian you’re not going to encounter in textbooks, blog posts, audio lessons and most other sources you learn Russian from?
The fact is, the gap between the literary Russian (you’re most probably learning) and the everyday, “average Joe” or, to put it more appropriately, “average Ivan” Russian is dramatically bigger than the gap between the literary and everyday English.
Read on to learn how you can master the brutal, crude yet infinitely romantic (talk about the controversial Russian soul) everyday language you’re most probably going to come across if you ever step foot in the ”Motherland.”
Literary vs. Everyday Russian
You know that William Shakespeare expressed himself a lot differently than William three-doors-down who likes to barbecue on Fridays. The line “Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes,” sure sounds a lot different than, “That boy was a goner the moment he laid eyes on her.”
The sentiments are similar, but you can probably guess which one came from the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Literature uses language to paint a picture and while everyday speech can be colorful and full of imagery, it’s not usually as formal. That holds true in English and in Russian.
A good example of this from Russian literature comes from Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls.” He says in Russian, “Как ни глупы слова дурака, а иногда бывают они достаточны, чтобы смутить умного человека.” In English, “However stupid a fool’s words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man” (translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky).
Kind of a zinger, right? But that phrase is the sort of thing you’d quote, not the sort of thing that rolls off your tongue in day-to-day conversation. And that’s what we’re talking about. Phrases that will help you each and every day to string your words together and carry on real conversations with real people.
Resources to Enrich Your Conversational Vocabulary and Phrase List
Before we get to those handy conversational phrases, here are a few resources that will help you expand your vocabulary by exploring authentic Russian media. These will allow you to go beyond the scope of this article to explore whichever part of the Russian world most appeals to you.
You can read about hockey or soccer in Russian, see what Russians say about politics, art and performance, comedy or fixing a leaky pipe. Search for the things that interest you in your life and you’ll start to pick up some quick phrases that you’ll want to use in conversation.
Popular Russian blogs
- “Livejournal” is a popular blogging site. You’ll see posts from around the world, but Russians have really latched onto the idea. You can search for articles by language, region, city, what’s trending and the topics are extremely varied. One example is the Russian photographer Igor Shpilenok. He finds his subjects in nature and usually gives a fairly brief description of each picture. You can find his blog here.
- If you have an eye for design, graphic designer Ilya Birman has both a Russian language and an English language blog where he explores various themes related to this field.
- “Остров” (“The Island”) is a good movie if you’re up for a heavy topic. About a priest with a past, it will give you an introduction to some specific Russian vocabulary. This is probably not a movie for beginners, since the serious theme will require you to stay focused throughout the film.
- “Ирония судьбы” (“The Irony of Fate”) is a classic New Year’s movie that probably every single Russian has seen. It’s a long comedy/romance (many classic Russian movies run three hours or more) that’s likely the most famous Soviet film created.
- “Малыш и Карлсон” (“Junior and Karlsson”) is a Soviet cartoon series based on a Scandinavian character. If you’re in the mood for something lighthearted, something most Russians watched as kids, this could be it.
- “Вечерний Ургант” (“Evening Urgant”) is a late-night show a la Jimmy Fallon. Actor Ivan Urgant interviews stars (including frequent visits from American celebrities), and there are skits and music dispersed throughout the show.
Radio and podcasts
- Русское радио (Russian Radio) is a popular Moscow-based Russian radio station, broadcasting songs almost exclusively in Russian.
- Наше радио (Our Radio) is another popular Russian radio station. It primarily plays Russian rock of all kinds, though classic rock and modern pop-punk dominate its playlist.
- Всё о спорте на Спорт FM (All About Sport On Sport FM) is a popular podcast, hosted by a radio station. Topics come from the world of athletics and include discussions of current topics and interviews with coaches and athletes.
- Полный Альбац (Total Albats) is a weekly political talk-show produced by Echo of Moscow (a local radio station). It discusses important events in Russia with expert guests.
21 Conversational Russian Phrases to Fit In with Natives
From finding your way through city streets to meeting friends at the discothèque to working with new colleagues, you’ll find yourself in a myriad of situations where you’ll want to start talking to new people.
As you have those conversations, you may notice a few cultural differences. For one, if you start to feel uncomfortable, it may be because your new Russian acquaintance is standing a bit closer than you’re used to.
Another cultural difference comes with the idea of small talk. Americans can ask anyone, “How are you?” as a greeting . . . that’s weird in Russia. Strangers normally keep to themselves, though you could wish someone “good morning” (доброе утро), “good evening” (добрый вечер) or ask for the time (скажите, пожалуйста, который час).
Phrases for Starting a Conversation
While it’s very unusual to chat a stranger up on the metro, Russians are willing to help if you need it. Knowing how to strike up that conversation will help you communicate why you’re approaching them and break the ice for whatever comes next.
Here are seven everyday phrases that will help you start your conversation with a Russian. We’ve included the pronunciation for each word to help you say these words like a native!
1. Приятно видеть вас здесь!
Meaning: Nice to see you here!
2. Мы встречались с вами ранее?
Meaning: Have we met before?
3. Как поживаешь?
Meaning: How are you doing?
Pronunciation: Как поживаешь
3. Привет! Что нового?
Meaning: Hi! What’s up?
4. Привет! Давно не виделись!
Meaning: Hi! Haven’t seen you for a while!
5. Ты не будешь возражать, если я спрошу тебя о…
Meaning: Would you mind if I ask you . . .
6. Ну, дело в следующем …
Meaning: Here’s the thing…
7. Без разницы!
Prononciation: Без разницы
Phrases to Break an Awkward Silence
We all hate awkward silences, don’t we? Check these phrases out to ensure you won’t experience that while communicating with your Russian friends.
8. В самом деле? Расскажи подробнее!
Meaning: Really? Tell me more!
9. Ты, должно быть, шутишь!
Meaning: You must be kidding!
10. Ну, как бы получше выразиться…
Meaning: How can I phrase this right…
11. Видишь ли, дело в том, что…
Meaning: You see, the thing is…
12. что касается…
Meaning: Regarding the…
Pronunciation: что касается
Meaning: By the way…
14. для справки
Meaning: Just for the record
Slang Phrases to Keep the Conversation Going
Did you know that in Russia the most eager English-learners study American slang phrases and expressions…with textbooks!
Yep, you read it right—in Russia there are textbooks devoted to teaching the most avid learners how to pronounce, “You have to ditch that chick,” “I dig the groove,” “Wassup, dingbat!” and other fun phrases.
So why shouldn’t you have an upper hand when it comes down to studying Russian with a few Russian slang expressions under your belt? Read on to remove any doubt Russians might have of your thorough knowledge of their language.
15. Приятель, давай сходим куда-то сегодня вечером!
Meaning: Let’s go out somewhere this evening, buddy.
16. Какая безбашенная вечеринка!
Meaning: What a crazy party!
17. Я чертовски рад тебя видеть!
Meaning: I’m very (freakin’) happy to see you!
18. Я сегодня замотался!
Meaning: I’m overwhelmed today!
19. Базара нет
Meaning: No questions about it
20. Классная тема
Meaning: This is some cool stuff
21. Это реально круто
Meaning: This is cool
Make sure to check out the resources outlined above. Listen to words’ pronunciations. Subscribe to blogs and channels mentioned in this post.
And if you utilize even just a small part of these resources and sprinkle the everyday phrases into your Russian speech, you’ll be sure to put your Russian-learning on “steroids” and keep your conversations fresh and interesting!
And One More Thing…
Since you’ve read this far, you’re obviously serious about learning Russian. And that means there’s a good chance you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes all kinds of real-world videos and turns them into language learning experiences, as you can see here:
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? FluentU makes native Russian videos approachable through interactive captions. Tap or click on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab. Easily review words and phrases with audio under Vocab.
Don’t stop there, though. Use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.