What if I told you that there was a way to not only accelerate your Russian learning speed but to also gain an in-depth understanding of the very core of the Russian culture along the way?
Well, there is a way!
Maybe you want to speak Russian so persuasively that you could close any deal with potential clients who speak nothing but Russian, or maybe you simply want to ask somebody out. Whatever your motivation may be, one thing is certain—you must understand the language.
Russian can seem daunting when you start off. Sometimes, though, all you need is just to relax, take the edge off and actually take some time to understand the people and their culture—and that’s where reading comes in.
Now, I’m not talking about dry, dull books on economics, politics or grammar, but about classic Russian fables.
Fables are often overlooked and considered the stuff of children, but that’s exactly where you may be missing the point. Fables usually depict the core values of a specific culture, yet they’re simplified enough for even a seven-year-old to understand.
Why You—and Any Russian Learner—Really Should Start Reading Russian Fables
- They’re easy to read. Russian fables are very easy to read and understand. The lessons are clear and precise, and you won’t wear yourself out in the process of reading.
- They’re incredibly fun. Russian fables are meant to teach Russian kids the core values of the Russian culture. And, just like any other material meant to educate children, they’re fun to read! Otherwise, the kids would get bored and bolt. As an adult seeking to understand Russians and their language, studying these fables makes your quest fun and interesting.
- You’ll learn about Russian culture. For someone seeking to delve deep into the heart of the Russian culture, these fables are a goldmine of rich Russian cultural heritage that spans across centuries. These tales actually reveal what makes the Russians tick, where they’re coming from and what makes the language so unique.
- You’ll learn tons of new words. One great way of exponentially catapulting your Russian-learning process is by reading Russian tales with parallel translations. In other words, you can switch back and forth between English and Russian, while reading enjoyable stories. The beautiful thing here is that you get first-hand, contextual knowledge of word usage. This, by far, remains the biggest merit of diligently reading Russian fables.
Word to the Wise: Study Russian Vocabulary and Culture with 7 Fun, Classic Fables
Before we move on, let me share a few tips on how you can gain maximum results from reading these fables.
There are three links for each fable. The English title will take you to an English version of each fable. Under the title of each fable you’ll find a link to the original, Russian version of the story, as well as a link to the audio version of the fable in Russian.
I strongly recommend you read the English translation before getting down to the Russian text and audio versions. First, by doing so you’ll get an idea of what the fable is about. Second, it’ll help you grasp with much greater ease some old-fashioned Russian expressions present in the original versions.
I would also recommend you read the Russian versions of the fables out loud. These stories include some very colorful phrases and words so by reading them aloud, you’ll train your tongue to pronounce some fairly tricky Russian expressions. To make sure that your pronunciation is correct, turn on the audio file, listen to a paragraph or a sentence (depending on your level of understanding), then pause the audio and read the same paragraph from the text out loud.
One other thing to keep in mind: the English version of the fable is not a word-for-word translation of the Russian version, and the audio version doesn’t have the exact same content as the written versions. The main thing is to read and listen to the stories as a whole and understand the main ideas, while not necessarily worrying about every single word along the way.
If you follow these simple tips, I promise that learning the Russian language through fables will become an extremely rewarding and unforgettable experience.
Of course, this can turn out to require a lot of effort and work if you’re doing all this learning alone. If you’re looking for a resource that can craft the matters detailed in the tips above as embedded functions, check out FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Having FluentU as another study tool can help you before or while you’re learning from fables, since you’ll have the opportunity to gain Russian vocabulary as used in different contexts. With each video, FluentU provides interactive captions and transcripts that, with a single tap, gives you access to a word’s definition, audio pronunciation, supporting illustrations, and example sentences. That way, you’ll be able to confidently follow the content while also growing your own knowledge of the Russian language.
If you’re interested, you can check out FluentU here.
Now let’s move on to some Russian fables!
“Little Snow Girl”
Read It in Russian: “Cнегурочкa”
“Little Snow Girl” is a story that teaches a lot of morals, including faithfulness, watchfulness, wisdom and compassion. It’s the story of a little girl that came from the snow—quite predictable, right? She came into being as a result of the heartfelt prayer of an old couple who had no child. The old couple had a dog named Zhuchka, who guarded the house. One day, Zhuchka was dumb enough to let a fox into the house and the fox made away with two chickens. As expected, the couple got mad and sent Zhuchka away.
As growing girls sometimes do, the little snow girl went into the woods to play with her friends and got lost in the process. She cried for help, all to no avail, until she was found by the banished Zhuchka, who protected her and led her home. The dog was forgiven and they lived happily ever after.
Vocabulary: снегурочка (snow girl), крестьянин (peasant), лепить (to sculpt), благодарить (to thank someone), смышлённый (smart), нежданный (unexpected), кукла (doll), послушный (obedient), старость (old age), сглазить (to jinx), дождик (rain), сумрак (twilight), веселиться (to have fun)
Read It in Russian: “Баба-Яга”
“Baba Yaga” is the story of a little girl with a wicked stepmother. Since doing bad stuff is part of the job description when you’re considered “wicked,” the stepmom tried to get rid of the little girl by sending her to Baba Yaga, the “bony witch”—cool name, right?
Long story short, the witch tried to eat the poor girl, but because the girl sought advice from a wise woman before embarking on the trip, she was able to escape all the traps and defuse all the bombs, through various acts of kindness. There are quite a number of things to learn here, such as wisdom, bravery and kindness. You really should check it out.
Vocabulary: муж и жена (husband and wife), заболеть (to get sick), племянница (niece), тётка (aunt), мачеха (step mother), платочек (handkerchief), полотенце (towel), убегать (to run away), скрипеть (to creak), стегать (to flog), кричать (to scream), служить (to serve)
“Fox, Hare and Rooster”
Read It in Russian: “Лиса, Заяц и Петух”
This one is actually kind of a funny story. The Hare is the nice guy and the Fox is the bad guy, and the Rooster is the good guy that eventually rescues the Hare. Actually, the Fox tricked the Hare and sent him away from his house. The Hare, being a gentle guy, went around crying on the streets, in search of help.
The Hare came across many animals who promised to help, but none actually did. Eventually, he met the Rooster, who scared away the Fox and avenged the Hare. The morals here are kindness, wisdom and bravery.
Vocabulary: лиса (fox), заяц (hare), петух (rooster), лес (forest), избушка (hut), выгнать (to kick someone out), строить (to build), плакать (to cry), горе (grief), печь (furnace), лаять (to bark), медведь (bear), испугаться (to get afraid)
Read It in Russian: “Аленький цветочек”
“Scarlet Flower” is the story of a little girl who asked her voyaging father for a scarlet flower (unlike her elder sisters who preferred shiny stuff) as a gift upon his return. The father had a hard time getting this gift, but eventually found one in a mystical forest. However, before he could take the flower away, he had to make a deal with the beast guarding the flowers, who requested for the little girl to be his companion.
In a nutshell, the girl came, the monster was nice to her and the girl’s love eventually turned the hideous beast into a handsome prince. They then lived happily ever after—don’t you just love fairy tales? The key morals here are love and kindness.
Vocabulary: богатство (riches), товары (goods), жемчуг (pearl), государь (master), дочь (daughter), чудовище (beast), купец (trader), казна (chest), родитель (parent), гостинцы (treats), царство (kingdom), золото (gold), серебро (silver), поклониться (to bow), венец (wreath), хрусталь (crystal)
“The Fire-Bird and Princess Vassilissa”
Read It in Russian: “Жар-птица и Василиса-царевна”
This is a tale that teaches modesty and respect towards elders and the wise. It features a brave young archer who served under an old, greedy king. When the archer fails to listen to his wise magical horse’s advice and picks up the fire-bird’s golden feather, he triggers the chain of events which almost lead to his death. Fortunately, by the end of the story the archer learns his lesson and tells the magical horse about his problems. The latter helps him overcome misfortunes by giving wise advice.
Vocabulary: царь (king), стрелец (archer), конь (horse), перо (feather), жар-птица (fire-bird), охотиться (to hunt), дар (gift), награждать (to award someone), птица (bird), связать (to tie up), невеста (bride), палатка (tent), лодка (boat), радоваться (to rejoice), вскипятить (to boil)
“Magic Wild Geese”
Read It in Russian: “Гуси-лебеди”
Some very important lessons are taught in this tale. They include hard work, focus and resilience.
In the story, a couple had two kids, one boy and one girl. The girl was older so one day when the parents went out, they left her in charge of her little brother. Unfortunately, she got carried away and some wild geese came and stole her little brother. Out of fear and desperation, she clawed her way into the forest and eventually succeeded in recovering her brother, just before their parents arrived.
Vocabulary: гусь (goose), забыть (to forget), окликнуть (to hail), заливаться слезами (to weep), яблоня (apple tree), догадаться (to guess), река (river), болото (swamp), топить баню (to heat up the sauna)
“Masha and The Bear”
Read It in Russian: “Маша и Медведь”
You definitely need to read this one. It’s the story of a pretty little genius named Masha. It so happened that on one fateful day, she wandered into the woods and got lost. She soon found herself in the house of a bear, who held her captive. One day, she outsmarted the bear and devised a perfect plan, which made the bear unwittingly return her safe and sound to her parents. The moral here is that wisdom is better than strength.
Vocabulary: дедушка и бабушка (grandfather and grandmother), внучка (granddaughter), подружка (female friend), лес (forest), заблудиться (to get lost), каша (porridge), съесть (to eat something), деревня (village), короб (a box), печь (to bake)
There are many effective means of spicing up your Russian learning adventure, and burying your nose in Russian fables is certainly one of them. Not only can it accelerate your in-depth understanding of the culture, but can also fast-track the actual learning process.
Be sure to check them out.