Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 1

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* NOTE *
All phrases intended for translating/listening practice have been deleted.

Hey guys, welcome to my new course, Understanding Spoken Russian. If you’re having trouble understanding fluent Russian speech, you’ve come to the right place. Maybe you’re new to the language and you’re curious what your Russian friends around you are saying. Or maybe you’ve been studying for a while and can speak ok, but you find listening to Russian frustrating, especially when they talk so fast. Either way, in this course we’re going to unlock the mysteries of spoken Russian.

And I have to say, I’m really excited about this one. It fits perfectly with my Russian Made Easy podcast because it takes the opposite approach. In that course, as you build up a big vocabulary, we do a whole lot of speaking. You’re always repeating after the native speakers, and translating English phrases into Russian. And that’s great. That’s what a conversational Russian course should do.

But not here. This podcast is all about listening and understanding. The beautiful thing about that, as you’ll see, is that it takes the pressure off you. I wont ask you to memorize anything, and yet, all the same, you’ll find yourself slowly but surely understanding spoken Russian.

And I have a whole lot of experience with that. I’ve been living in Russia and now Ukraine for over ten years. My wife Darina and I have three kids under the age of five, who we’re raising to be tri-lingual—each of them speak English, Russian and Ukrainian. And having carefully observed their language acquisition these past few years, I’ve gotten fresh insight into how they’re doing it.

How these little kids come to understand language so quickly. I understand the process, now…

a process you and I can exploit…right here, in these lessons.

So let’s get started.

Imagine you’re hanging out with some Russian friends and one of them, Yuri, is searching frantically for something. Listen as Polina asks him which places he’s looked already…

Don’t worry about echoing what they say. We will do tons of speaking in my other courses. I just want you to relax and listen. So…Polina asks Yuri about other spots he may have searched. Listen?

Do you hear the “yeh” sound at the end of those words?

Here’s some more, in a different context. This time, Sergei is telling the places where he’s worked over the years. Listen….

Polina laughs and adds…

That “yeh” sound at the end of all those places is a location marker. It tells Russians that someone or something is located in or on that place. Because, in their simplest forms, those words don’t end with “yeh.” In their simple, dictionary form, they are машина…чемодан…комната…Нью Йорк Бостон and so on.

Here’s the key point:

A “yeh” sound at the end of a word—often, but not always–marks it as a location.

File that away for a moment and listen to this next bit. We’re going to hear the word Где…and I want us to figure out what it might mean. So, Yuri is a musician, and just before a gig he’s in a panic, running around the apartment looking for something…

Later you’re in a shopping mall with Yulia and her little boy Andrusha. And suddenly she turns around and the kid is gone. In a panic she asks…

What do you think Где means?

Где translates as Where? It’s our one new word for the lesson. And notice the beautiful symmetry: Где is asking about a location and thus it, too, ends with that “yeh” sound. It’s just one example of the incredible importance that rhyming plays in the Russian language.

Now here’s our first exercise. Imagine Polina is on her smartphone, connecting with her friends who are located all over the place. Yuri, who’s sitting with you on the couch, asks her where each friend is. Can you translate what they’re saying?

– – – Exercise Omitted – – – keep in mind this is a listening course, so putting the answers here so they can be read, defeats the purpose. If you have done the exercises but are having trouble and / or would like to see how things are written, mention the issue you are having in the comments and I’ll either post a reply or e-mail them to you directly. —

Of course, since they were located in those places, the words had that “yeh” sound at the end.

Remember our musician friend who was in a panic, looking for his instruments? Listen to these more complex replies and again, see if you can spot the word with the “yeh” ending…

– – –

The location can be pretty much anywhere or anything. Imagine someone’s asking what’s in the soup they’re eating…

Soup is acting as a location, so it needs that “yeh” sound added on. By the way, that “F” sound before the word (в супе) translates as “in”…as long as there’s that yeh sound at the end. Same with the “V” sound. (В багажнике) There’s the “yeh” sound at the end, so the “V” translates as “in.”

Same with “Na” (На стадионе). We have “yeh” at the end, so the “Na” must mean “inside.”

Let’s work with a few more locations. There’s a popular grocery chain here in Ukraine called Новус. So who is in Новус right now? Listen…

Hear the “yeh” ending? Новус becomes В Новусе because he’s located there.

Эпицентр is another big chain. It’s a copy of Lowe’s in the U.S. Who is in Epicenter right now?

The Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg is the highlight of any visit to that incredible city. (Эрмитаж) So, who’s in the Hermitage at the moment?

You might be wondering, why is he making such a big deal about that “yeh” ending? I’m sure I’d get the meaning even if I didnt hear it.

No. You wouldn’t. Because, for example, Линда идёт В Старбакс…without the yeh at the end, has a very different meaning. It means the person is NOT there at all, but only on their way. So, being able to spot that “yeh” ending is crucial.

In these next ones, in fact, that’s all I want you to do: Tell me whether you heard the “yeh” locational ending.

– – –

The “yeh” ending has to be added even to the end of people’s names…if they’re acting as a location. For example: Let’s say Uncle Igor has lost his spiders. Everyone’s searching the apartment for them. Suddenly, Polina sees one and she screams…

See? Marvin became На Марвине!

Bart became…На Барте!

Olga…На Ольге!

Mama became…На Маме!

<<And now here’s your language learning tip of the day.>>

Two tips, actually, in this maiden episode of the course. The first is, whenever you learn something—someone’s name at a party, some new words in Russian—you need to take a short break and think about something else. That will be the function of these language tips in each episode, to get you thinking about something different. Why? Because a minute later, when I ask you to recall what we learned, that gap—this gap—allows your brain to make that first pathway back to the new information…back to the person’s name, or the new words, or whatever you just learned. That gap is a key part of developing your memory.

The other tip is this: When you’re just starting out in a new language, believe it or not the meaning of most words is irrelevant. Take my two year old son, William. The other day I asked my father-in-law where he put our rocking chair that no one was ever really using. He told me it’s…в подвале.

Now, I know that William doesn’t know where that is. He’s never been down there. But now he knows that the podval is a location. …the ‘F’ sound in front and the “yeh” at the end tell him that. And he knows a little more than that, actually. Because he knows that, in Russian, “pod” (под) means under or beneath. We’re always telling him, “William, your toy is под столом—under the table—or под холодильником—under the fridge. So if I asked him, “William, is the podval up or down?” he would correctly point downwards. But he has no image of the place in his mind.

Instead, his brain categorizes the word podval as: A place below us where we store big things that we no longer use. You could say he gets the gist of the word. The precise meaning isn’t important to him. Not yet. But the word is in there, and nicely set up as a location. All he needs is for Daddy or Grandpa to bring him down to the podval one day, and then he’ll finally know what it is.

You might be thinking, Why not just tell us anyway? What’s the harm? Well, for one thing, a basement in an American single-family home is a very different place than the podval in a Russian apartment building. So the image you’d form in your mind would be way off. But the real reason is, for most words, in the earliest stages of your studies, the meaning is an unnecessary burden. Instead, just for a little while, let’s be like William. Free to listen for the various language markers, and be happy—just at first—with getting the gist of what was said.

<< END TIP>>

Let’s get back to it. This time, let’s see if you can spot our locational ending in this song clip. Just listen for now, and then I’ll go through it with you, and help you find it. Tell me, where does the woman wish she lived? Listen again…

Did you hear на Манхеттене? Remember, the basic form of the word is just: Манхеттен

How about in this TV clip…

Tell me, where can someone buy bananas? Listen…

How about this: Where is our old divan?

Where can someone buy a good divan? Listen…

Next, you’ll hear a location used in two phrases. In the first one, someone will talk about going there. So we won’t hear the “yeh” sound. In the next one, they’ll say they are located there. Just listen for the endings…

– – –

Alright, final exercise. Can you translate the gist of these phrases? If you hear a location without the “yeh” sound, we’ll assume the person is on their way there. Okay? Ready?

– – –

How’d you do? If you got most of those right, you’re off to an excellent start. Think about it: You’re already able to understand the gist of a variety of common phrases, and yet we really only learned one word: Где?

…And one hugely important idea: That “yeh” often marks a word as being a location.

Alright, see you in lesson #2, where we figure out why so many Russian words end with an L.

What do all those L’s mean? See you in the next lesson.

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