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The 7 Most Common Mistakes Russian Language Learners Make

Some say it’s good to make mistakes while learning a foreign language, because that’s the way to remember words better. Although that’s true, there are common mistakes that nearly all Russian language learners make, so let’s take a look at a list of them. To learn Russian online and avoid making these mistakes, work with a tutor.

Devushka, Devochka, Dedushka… Who Is Who?

These three words may look and even sound the same to a foreigner. The word “девушка” (devushka) means “a girl.” Unfortunately, it’s very close to the word “девочка” (devochka), which is used to address and name a little girl.

Please also remember, if you talk to a waitress at a restaurant or to a saleswoman, you should say “devushka” and not mix it up with the word “дедушка” (dedushka), meaning “an old man”!

Excuse Me, Zhenschina!

Let’s figure out how to talk with Russian women. Again, use the word “devushka” even if you’re talking to a middle-aged woman. The Russian word for “woman” is “женщина” (zhenschina), but never, ever use this word unless you’re talking to a seventy-year-old granny. It’s considered to be very rude, although nobody knows why.

Intonation Matters

Unlike English, the word order in Russian sentences is not fixed. This means it’s easy to make a question out of a statement; all you need is the right intonation. But be sure your intonation is actually right! Otherwise, to the question “Это Красная площадь’?” (Eto Krasnaya Ploschad’?) (“Is that the Red Square?”), you’ll get the answer “Я знаю” (Ya znaiu) (“I know”).

The Russian Letter “ы”

The most popular advice to pronounce this letter is to imagine that someone has slightly punched you in the stomach. Take your time while practicing it. Please don’t be lazy and say “i” instead, as this can lead to some misunderstandings.

There are words such as “мишка” (mishka), which is a small bear, versus “мышка” (myshka), which is a mouse, and “бить” (bit’), which means “to beat,” versus “быть” (byt’), which means “to be.” The only way to make these words sound different is to pronounce “ы” correctly.

The Tricky Letter “o”

The Russian letter “o” is pronounced like “a” when it’s unstressed. In words like “молоко” (moloko) and “хорошо” (khorosho), the stress falls on the final letter “o.” That’s why you need to say malakò and kharashò. “Молоко” is translated as “milk” in English, whereas “хорошо” means “good.”

Word Stress

If you put stress on the wrong vowel, people won’t understand you. Actually, stress may fall on almost any syllable, and there are very few rules to help. Some words are completely the same aside from word stress.

For instance, there is plàchu (to cry) versus plachù (to pay), zàmok (a castle) versus zamòk (a lock), etc.

When It’s Appropriate to Say “Privet”

Remember that you can use the word “привет” (privet) as a greeting only with close friends. Don’t use it when you meet a person for the first time, especially if that person is much older than you. You can use “здравствуйте” (zdravstvuite) instead.

As you can see, to avoid the most common mistakes, you need a lot of practice. Learn how to pronounce Russian words with a teacher.

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