Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 19

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

Welcome to Ep 19.Today’s episode will focus on one of the most intimidating aspects of the Russian language: The notorious Verbs of Motion. It’s a topic worthy of it own podcast, and in my Accelerator course there are ten in-depth lessons—two full weeks of material—dedicated to mastering them. So what, you might be wondering, can we possibly hope to cover in one little podcast? Well, let’s just see.

For now, repeat after the speaker…Я еду

Without any setup, I still wonder if you can get the meaning. Can you translate these phrases?

В мае я еду в Лондон.

В августе я еду в Москву.

He said: In May, ya yedu to London.

And she said: In August, ya yedu to Moscow.

So what’s your best guess on я еду? It translates as I’m going, I’m heading to, I’m traveling to

Like: In May, I’m going to London…or…In August, I’m traveling to Moscow

Let’s turn those into questions. Just for fun—again, making your best guess—How would you ask a friend: You’re traveling to London?

Ты едешь в Лондон?

You’re traveling to Moscow?

Ты едешь в Москву?

Your brother is traveling to Rome?

Твой брат едет в Рим?

Your sister is traveling to Paris?

Твоя сестра едет в Париж?

I’m traveling, you’re traveling, he’s traveling.

Я еду, ты едешь, он едет

You know the drill. File it away and let’s do some review. Imagine your daughter comes out of her grandparents home carrying a balloon and some gifts, and it wasn’t even her birthday. Ask:

“They made a surprise for you?” Lit: They made for you a surprise?

Они сделали тебе сюрприз?

Tell your friend: Your drums are in the podval.

Твои барабаны в подвале.

Ask: Where are my guitars?

Где мои гитары?

…did you get that “ee” sound at the end of guitars…to make it plural?

Try to say: They didn’t want to wait.

Они не хотели ждать.

They said that you worked in a bank.

Они сказали, что ты работал в банке.

You get those? Good job. Ok..back to our main topic…

Imagine Vlad is on a business trip. A friend calls and asks about his travel plans. So Vlad tells him…

Я сейчас в Бостоне, но завтра я еду в Питсбург.

What do you think he said? I’m now in Boston but zaftra I’m heading to Pittsburgh.

You probably got that…it translates as tomorrow.

Try to say the opposite. I’m now in Pittsburgh, but tomorrow I’m heading to Boston.

Я сейчас в Питсбурге, но завтра я еду в Бостон.

Let’s run through some common constructions with these. In this first round, imagine you’re stepping to the door with a suitcase in hand. You roommate asks where you’re going. Say…

I’m traveling to Minsk….to Portland…to Berlin.

Я еду…в Минск. / …в Портленд. / …в Берлин. /

Anton is traveling to Sydney….to San Diego…to Sevastopol

Антон едет …в Сидней….в Сан Диего…в Севастополь

Quick question..In English, is there any real difference between saying, I’m going to Las Vegas?

vs…I’m traveling to Las Vegas? Well, for one, the word ‘going’ is way more common. But is there a difference in meaning? Imagine you step to the door, your roommate asks where you’re going, and you say: “I am traveling to the grocery store.” — “Oh? Fare thee well, young explorer. Godspeed on your journey.” Right? “traveling” is a pretty dramatic word just for some trip across town.

Well, in Russian, я еду means I’m traveling **in some vehicle**.

As soon as someone hears it, they envision a long trip. Depending on how far you’re going, they will envision you either inside a car, a train, a plane…maybe a bus. And that comes to them in an instant as soon as they hear еду. It comes to them before you even say your destination.

English doesn’t work like that. If I open the door and I tell my roommate, I’m going to ******

Whoops… he didn’t catch my last word. He has no idea, now, if I’m going just around the corner, or if I’m flying across the country. Because in English, the word ‘going’ doesn’t tell us much.

But in Russian, the verb of motion that you use conveys TONS of information. It’s incredible.


Let me really test your memory. This is from Episode #4. Can you translate these two phrases?

Я сейчас в парке.

Я иду в парк.

Since we didn’t hear a ‘yeh’ at the end, we assume that second one means: I’m going to the park.

Which it does. But, being a verb of motion, it means a lot more than just “going.” It means, in fact, ‘going on foot.’ It’s the walking version of я еду

Let’s practice spotting them. Just say whether the person is going on foot or by vehicle. Ready?

– – –

So, as you open the door, if you tell your Russian roommate: Я иду в Москву.

He might joke with you…”Seriously? You’re going there on foot?”

Серьёзно? Ты идёшь туда пешком?!

So, again: я иду means I’m going on foot

…but it also means you’re on your way there…that you’re en route

English makes this difference, too. A kid says…I go to school. He means, He’s old enough, now, and he goes to school. vs a kid hefting his school bag…Mom, I’m going to school. He means he’s on his way there right now. I go…vs I’m going…

In Russian, you’d need a totally different verb. Think of it this way. You’re on the phone with a Russian friend, and at some point you mention: Я иду в спортзал.

You think you’re telling them…I go to the gym.

But what does your Russian friend think? They’ll say something like, “Shoot, I didn’t realize. I’ll let you go.” Because what you actually said is, “I’m going to the gym..” or “I’m heading to the gym.”

If you want to convey that you go to the gym in general, like the kid who “goes to school”…you need a totally different verb in Russian. Я хожу в спортзал.

No need to learn that right now. Like I said, there are ten video lessons in Russian Accelerator that will lead you through all these versions. And really, video is the only way to explain it anyway, because we’re describing motion…It’s so much easier to grasp when you can see it.

But for now, just know: Russian conveys much more information with its verbs than English does.

Earlier, you listened to phrases and had to say whether the person was going by foot or by vehicle. Let’s see if you can say similar phrases now. First, say just the word ‘library’:


Now say: I’m heading to the library…implying, on foot. Heading there counts as doing something to the library, so its ending changes to an ”u” sound. Listen again.

Я иду в библиотеку.

Do you recall the word for pharmacy?


Now say: I’m heading to the pharmacy.

Я иду в аптеку.

And discotheque is a cognate. Like the other two, it’s feminine. Listen. дискотека

Я иду на дискотеку.

Ask your friend: Are you going to Starbucks?

Ты идёшь в Старбакс?

Are you going to the store?

Ты идёшь в магазин?

Are you going to the concert?

Ты идёшь на концерт?

We used the ‘on foot’ versions, because those are places about town. But now say…

I’m going to Kiev…I’m going to St. Petersburg…I’m going to Odessa

Я еду в Киев…в Санкт Петербург…в Одессу

We had to use the ‘by vehicle’ forms for those. And with these next ones, too. Try to ask…

Are you going to the seminar? Are you going to a conference?

Ты едешь…на семинар?…на конференцию?

Why are some of these getting ‘V’ (в) and others get ‘Na’ (на) ?

Like, why is it: Я иду в магазин.


Я иду на концерт.

I could give you the textbook explanation about ‘enclosed spaces’ versus ‘open air’ locations, but there are just too many exceptions. The way I learned them was to assume I needed to use ‘V’–because it’s the more common one–and then compile a list in my head of locations that actually require Na. It’s such a small thing, please don’t let it keep you from using your Russian.

Alright….Russian Immersion time….


Despite my dire warning at the start of today’s episode—that the Russian Verbs of Motion are notoriously intimidating—you probably don’t feel that yet. But let me lead you a bit deeper in. Imagine you’re traveling with friends and someone calls asking you what everyone’s up to. In English, we can use the verb “went” for almost everything…

Jim went to the pharmacy. Sara went to the mall. Roger went to a fair.

Oh, but in Russian…? In Russian, before you say a single word, you need to decide: How did Jim go to the pharmacy…On foot or by vehicle? …and then….Is he still out, or did he get back?

That’s four possibilities, each needing a different verb. Listen…

Джим пошёл в аптеку.

That means: Jim headed off to the pharmacy on foot and he is not back yet.

Джим ходил в аптеку.

That one means: Jim went to the pharmacy and he’s back home.

Джим поехал в аптеку.

Jim headed to the pharmacy by vehicle. He is not back yet.

Джим ездил в аптеку.

Jim went to the pharmacy and is back now. He went by vehicle.

In English, we say “went” without even thinking. Jim went to the pharmacy. In Russian, in that same microsecond before I answer my friend’s question, I have four combinations that I have to I have to consider.

So what’s the tip? Well, the trick is to assign those four possibilities to people’s actions as they happen. If Jim leaves on foot, I tell myself..Джим пошёл…I hold onto that right until he gets back, when I adjust it to: Джим ходил. (Meaning he left and returned). This way you’re doing all that calculating long before anyone anyone ever asks you a question about who went where. It’s one of the tricks we cover in Russian Accelerator. So don’t let the verbs of motion scare you. Believe me, with the right exercises, they will absolutely become second nature for you.

<< TIP OUT >>

Ok…time for our final exam. I’ll prompt you to recite today’s three dialogs. You wont know all the words. It’s ok. After a replay or two you’ll get them all. You ready?

Hi Andrei, are you going to the pharmacy?

Привет, Андрей. Ты идёшь в аптеку?

Can you buy me aspirin?

Можешь купить мне аспирин?

Of course.


Hi Galina. Are you going now to McDonalds?

Привет, Галина. Ты идёшь сейчас в Макдоналдс?

Can you buy me a double-cheeseburger and potato-fries?

А можешь купить мне дабл-чизбургер…и картошку-фри?

Of course.


Wow…Passport, suitcase…Where are you going?

Ого…Пасспорт, чемодан…Куда ты едешь?

I’m going to Munich, to a conference.

Я еду в Мюнхен, на конференцию.

But you were in Munich in August, no?

А ты была в Мюнхене в августе, нет?

No. I was in Berlin. I bought a car.

Нет. Я была в Берлине. Машину купила.

Alright. Great job. The next episode, #20, is our last one. Our final exam. See you there!