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Asking for Directions in Russian: Don’t Get Lost in Translation



Many tourists who travel to Russia for the first time are afraid of getting lost in the vast country and not being able to ask for directions, but there’s no need to be afraid. If you’re lost, stop a police officer or a bear of a man playing balalaika* and ask for help. Even if you don’t find the place you were looking for, you may start an adventure that will continue in a Russian restaurant, a banya,** or even a Russian train, on which people can travel for up to seven nights, depending on the final destination.


Jokes aside, the best way to do something is to actually try. Even if you’re visiting Moscow or St. Petersburg for the first time, there’s no harm in trying some Russian words and asking for directions. Google Maps is a great achievement of the modern world, but you learn a language only when you practice it. In this article, we’ll have a look at the simplest phrases you can use to ask for directions. For more advanced ideas, have a lesson with a Russian tutor and master perfect Russian pronunciation to surprise any Muscovite.***


Starting a Conversation

You may be surprised, but even native speakers of Russian are often puzzled with such a simple thing as how to attract the attention of a stranger. In Britain, you would use “Sir” or “Madam,” in the Netherlands “Meneer” or “Mevrouw,” but in modern Russia, it’s better to attract attention with the simple phrase “Izvinite” (извините, “Excuse me”).


A Simple Way to Ask for Directions

In terms of grammar, the simplest way to ask for directions is the following:

  • Izvinite, ya ischu Kreml/ostanovku, metro Tsvetnoy bulvar…

  • Извините, я ищу Кремель/остановку, метро Цветной бульвар…

  • Excuse me, I’m looking for the Kremlin/the Tsvetnoy Boulevard metro stop...

One more question you may find useful is this one:

  • Kak proyti v muzey/na prospekt Mira?

  • Как пройти в музей/на проспект Мира?

  • How do I get to the museum/Mira Avenue?

Useful Words for Questions and Answers

Phrasebooks for tourists have a number of similar phrases to choose from, but the awkward thing about phrasebooks is that they do not always help you understand the response. At the beginner level, try to memorize and identify the following words and phrases in speech (divided into theme groups and presented in Latin and Cyrillic letters with translations for your convenience):


Proximity

  • daleko (далеко, far away)

  • blizko/nedaleko (близко/недалеко, close/not far)

Direction

  • nalevo (налево, to the left)

  • napravo (направо, to the right)

  • pryamo (прямо, straight ahead)

Means of Travel/Transport

  • peshkom (пешком, on foot)

  • na metro (на метро, by metro)

  • na avtobuse (на автобусе, by bus)

  • na taksi (на такси, by taxi)

Don’t Get Discouraged

What if you find yourself in a situation in which all the words you’ve learned don’t help? Stay calm and open a map. The person you’re speaking to may find it convenient to look at the map and show you the right way with the help of gestures. Russia is far from Italy, but we like talking with our hands, too! You’ll have a chance to improve your Russian for your next visit with the help of the best Russian tutors.


* balalaika: a Russian stringed musical instrument

** banya: a Russian sauna

*** Muscovite: an inhabitant or native of Moscow

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