Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 2

Full Episode Audio

Exercises Only Audio

Download Full Episode (right click save-as)

Download Exercises

* NOTE *

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

Welcome to Lesson #2 of Understanding Spoken Russian. Let’s start today with a quick test on what we learned in the first lesson. Can you translate the gist of these phrases? What we’re after is the person’s name or the item’s name, the location, and whether they are in that place, or merely headed there. As before, if you hear a location without the “yeh” sound, we’ll assume the person is on their way there. Ready?

– – – 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. —

On to today’s lesson. Listen to the following phrases. Don’t try to echo the native speaker, and don’t try to translate. Just relax and let it sink in…

What’d you hear? I heard a guy’s name, followed by a word that ended with an L. Listen again. We’ll chop off the last word in each of those…

I wonder what kind of words those are: купил…смотрел…сказал

Well, let’s think about English for a second. I’ll pull three phrases from some emails.

Last night, Rick went to the Knicks game.

Yesterday, Greg played a gig in Buffalo.

Abbott bought another guitar.

Rick went…Greg played….Abbott bought

So we have a person’s name followed by what they did. In grammar terms, a subject followed by a past tense verb. Could Russian be doing the same thing? Well…yes.

Those verbs— ходил играл купил—all end with the letter L (Л).

Let’s listen to some more. These will all feature a guy who has done something….

We’re not stressing about meaning. That’ll come just a little later. We’re doing something much more important here. We’re discovering the patterns of the language. And this is a very common and pretty simple one: With just a few exceptions—so few I can basically count them on one hand—Russian verbs end with an L when a guy did the action.

As I’ll often ask you to do, I want you to file away that bit of info for a moment as I teach you our one new word for this lesson. Listen…


I wonder if you can pick it up from context. Listen…

When he was younger, my brother was a bag boy in the Safeway grocery store.

If he could speak Russian, he’d tell you…

So, работал translates as “worked,” or “used to work,” or even, “was working.”

And it is said of a guy. There’s a feminine version which we’ll learn in the next lesson.

To hep you recall it, think of the English word robot. работа. Because rabota is actually a Czech word which translates as ‘forced labor.’ (The German word arbeit, which also means ‘work’ was derived from robota, too.) Anyway, you want to make that connection. A robot was made to do work….and работа is the Russian word for work or for a job.

But again работал with an L at the end translates as “was working.”

So, listen as Sergei tells you all the places he’s worked…

Listen as Polina tells you where her Papa worked…

– – –

Let’s listen to sentences with other verbs. I wonder if you can translate them.

For ex: On the morning of the Super Bowl, my Russian roommate came home with a friend of his, and they were carrying a huge cardboard box that had SAMSUNG written on it. He smiled and said…

They mount it on the wall, and now Polina calls to invite her friends over, telling them…

Sergei bought a television. We heard that “ил” sound at the end of the word, so we know it’s a statement about what he did. Maybe instead he bought a telephone…

The next day Sergei comes back to the apartment. He’s wearing cleats and shinpads, he’s got grass stains all over. He’s got his Lionel Messi jersey on. And he explains…

When Polina comes over and sees his dirty cleats by the door, she asks me:

играл…that L tells us she’s asking about the past…about what Sergei wasdoing. Maybe instead he was playing baseball.

That evening I come into the kitchen, he’s in front of the chopping board, there’s bits of carrots and celery and onion, and there’s a pot bubbling on the stove. He explains…

Then, when Polina’s mom offers to bring over some food, Polina tells her…

Sergei cooked soup. приготовил…the L tells us…what?

That it was in the past.

Maybe instead he cooked spaghetti…or a salad…or borscht.

Remember, I don’t want you bothering to repeat these or memorize them. We’re just listening, and seeing if we understand. One more. I see a friend in Starbucks. He’s sitting with his laptop open, and headphones on. Seeing me, he politely shuts his computer and takes off his headphones, explaining…

I was watching a video on youtube. And notice that you-tube becomes na youtube-yeh (на ю-тубе), with that “yeh” at the end, because that was the location of the video…you-tube was where he was watching it.

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

In the first episode of this course, I made a point about not repeating after the native speakers.

For today’s tip, I want to explain the reasoning behind that. The issue is, if you always listen with the intent of mimicking the speaker, all your attention becomes focused on the physical side, trying to get your mouth to make those sounds, and so you miss a thousand little details which all point to the meaning of what’s being said.

Again, think of little kids. My two youngest—William and his twin sister Sophia…they didn’t say a word their first two years of life. But believe me, they were listening and paying attention. And by doing that, they noticed how the ends of words change in Russian depending on how they’re used.

We saw one example of that in the first lesson, right? Words like the park, or a divan, or New York…if someone’s just talking about them, they keep their basic ending. New York is big. We’re going to the park. But if someone is located there, the end changes. We’re in the park-eyh, Daddy’s in New Yorkyeh, and so on.

The patterns of how words change are actually pretty straightforward and very consistent…but you have to be listening for them. And that’s why—jut when you’re doing this particular course—I ask you to not repeat after the speaker. The only exception to that is when we learn our one new word for the lesson. That one you can practice a bit. So that word где from the first lesson, and работал from today. But other than that, just relax…but listen close.


For fun, I’m going to play some really tough clips, now, that I pulled from Russian videos on youtube. These are just guys making video blogs. In this first one, can you spot our new word from today? The guy speaks blazingly fast, so we’ll listen a few times…

I’ll play it again. He said: They’ve been asking me for a long time to talk about how I was working in МТС is the largest mobile phone company in Russia.

In this next one, can you spot a past tense verb?

Here’s that same guy—he’s a personal driver in Moscow. Do you hear another word ending with an ‘L’? He said: While the boss is working out, I also headed out for a stroll. I also headed out.

One more guy. He’s talking about the American TV shows that he watches.

It was the very last word. Listen again…

He said: The first two seasons there were really awesome, the third was weaker but I watched it.

Then he talks about the fifth season of the show, it’s called Homeland. Listen for two words ending with “—ал”

He’s talking about the fifth season…”I was waiting for it, when it will come out, I missed it.”

In each of those, we have a guy talking about himself…about what he did. Past tense.

So, just for now, at this stage, what you want to be listening for is—a if the subject is a guy—listen for words ending with an L. Because once you start catching that, it’s a lot easier to fill in the meaning. That’s the whole point of this course. So, here are some more…

– – –

Question: What do you think the most common verb is in English? It’s… To be. I am, he is, you are. What’s interesting about Russian is, they don’t use “to be” in the present tense. They skip it. They literally put a dash in its place. But they do use it in the past tense. And like in English, it’s surely the most common past tense verb.

We’re going to listen to a lot examples of use, but I’m not officially asking you to learn it. I think, because it’s so common, you’ll just pick it up naturally. Listen…

He said: I was in the restroom. I was in the podval. I was in the sport-zall (gym).

Let’s say he was gone a whole week. Then you finally see him again on Monday. He explains…

I was in London. I was in Stuttgart. I was in Detroit.

Do you notice our two grammar points coming together? A guy’s past tense verb ending in an L sound, and then our location marker from the first lesson.

How about these next ones…Can you translate them?

– – –

Before getting to our final exam, let’s do some really easy listening. As you listen to each phrase, just tell me whether you heard a past tense verb about a guy, or not.

– – –

Alright, here’s your final exam for this episode. Can you translate the gist of these phrases?

– – –

Alright, see you in episode #3, where we learn the female version of today’s verbs, plus we discover the role that rhyming plays in Russian. Once you see it, it makes everything so much easier. I’ll see you there!

2 thoughts on “Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 2

  1. Hello!! I have been listening to this on Spotify, and you are always saying to leave a comment. I love your podcast, it’s been very helpful and I’ve been using it along with Duolingo. So I had to let you know about something. It was either this episode or episode 3, I don’t remember, but one of your language learning tips was to understand an unfamiliar word by using the image search function on Google. I felt compelled to comment when I heard that, because… ooooooooof. I don’t think that’s a good thing to be recommending. I understand why it worked for you based on your example, but I would recommend never ever using Google Image Search to look up ANY word that you don’t already know the meaning of– English, Russian, or any other language. Google Image Search is a dangerous animal. It’s already exposed me to many things I wish I could un-see, and that’s just from searches I understood and thought were safe. Also, google search can be misleading. Once I wanted a drawing reference for “knuckles”, so I typed “knuckles” into Google and got… Knuckles the Hedgehog from Sonic. I was frustrated, so I typed “human knuckles” instead. And you can probably guess what I got pictures of. I’m just saying, google image search isn’t always great.

    1. Hi Emily,

      Thanks for the input. And yes, I can imagine what images might come up when entering “human knuckles.”
      Still, it’s a powerful tool for quickly differentiating between similar words. Again, my real-world example was тягач vs эвакуатор
      So, to others who may be reading this: Be sure to have your ‘Safe Search’ clicked on (or whatever variant of that may exist in the future).
      And yes…Search for things you’re not quite clear on. (As opposed to randomly chosen a word you don’t know and popping it into image search.)
      Thanks for taking the time, Emily.

Comments are closed.