Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 4

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 Episode #4 of Understanding Spoken Russian. Let’s jump right to our new word for today. мой We’ve heard versions of it in prior episodes, but today we’ll officially add it to our core vocabulary. Let’s look at it in context. If Sophia is eating popcorn, and you try to take it away from her, she’ll scream…

If William is playing with his toy cars, just try taking one away from him!

And if Andrei, our five yr old, is drinking milk…well, don’t take it from him, either. Or else…

So the words мой моя моё…they’re all forms of the same word…and they all translate as My.

Imagine Sophia has lost two of her toys. Her… динозаврик which is a “little dinosaur,” and her игрушка which is a toy. As she wanders the apartment looking for them, what do you think she’s saying?

– – –

Or maybe she’s lost some clothing. Her wool свитер and her short-sleeved футболка.

Listen to those again. What are the genders?

Okay, so… what’s Sophia saying here?

– – –

In Russian, the words for “my” and “your”—like, this is my salad, and that’s your salad—they’re adjectives. And because they’re adjectives, they, too, have to rhyme or “agree” with the noun.

Granted, the masculine МОЙ doesn’t really rhyme with the nouns динозаврик свитер грейпфрут,

but the other forms rhyme. Even the plural.

So, we got МОЙ…Let’s see if we can guess what this word means: ТВОЙ

Imagine William is sitting in front of a mound of toys and is sorting them into two piles as Sophia watches. Let’s stand in the doorway and listen…

– – –

So, what do you think твой and твоя mean? They’re forms of “your.” And notice how мой rhymes with твой…just as моя rhymes with твоя and моё with твоё

Anyway, now Sophia will go through the two piles and confirm whose toy is whose. This time, try to translate what she says. And if you’re not sure what the toy is, just say something like:

“And this is your…masculine noun.” Ready?

– – –

Although they have a lot of forms, these adjectives for my and your are so common, you won’t need to actively study them. They’ll sink in naturally with lots of exposure.

So, how would you translate the following two phrases…

– – –

Easy enough, right? Now brace yourself. Here comes a massive grammar point. Listen to this…

(monster movie scream) Now wait a second! I was positive that the word for guitar was гитара.

Alexei, can you please say: This is my guitar.

Это моя гитара.

And I’m positive the word for car is just машина. Alex, how do you say: Is this your car?

Это твоя машина?

So what’s going on here? Well, as we already know, the ends of Russian words change depending on how they’re used. We know that from the very first lesson. Take the word парк (a park).

If you’re headed towards it, it keeps its basic form. Я иду в парк. But if you’re located in the park, it has to change its ending: Я сейчас в парке.

Well, in Russian, whenever you do something to a feminine noun, its “ah” ending changes to an “u” sound. I don’t normally request this, but would you mind repeating that point with me?

In Russian, whenever you do something to a feminine noun, its ‘a’ ending changes to an ‘u’ sound.

Listen as the speaker says: Anton bought a car.

Buying something counts as ‘doing something’ to the car, and so it had to change its ending. Or this..

Galina bought a guitar.

Again, гитар has to change to гитару. And if you add “my” in there—Anton bought my car—the word моя has to change to rhyme with машину. Listen…Anton bought my car.

Or this: Galina bought my guitar.

In fact, all the adjectives that describe the object would change. And they’d all rhyme.

Here. Listen….A “biblioteka” (библиотека) is a library. Think of the word bibliography, right?

So she’ll say: This is our new, big, beautiful library.

And now she’ll say: In the center I saw a new, big, beautiful library.

Did you hear all those feminine adjectives rhyming with библиотеку?

новую, большую, красивую

So what else counts as “doing something” to a word? Taking it, putting it, seeing it, eating it, opening or closing it, throwing or catching it…the list goes on.

Hey Alex, did you see the library? Listen to his response…

He says Библиотека at first, because he’s just naming the place. But when he says that he saw it, “seeing something” counts as doing something to it. And so it changes to “biblioteku” (Библиотеку)

This happens even to a person’s name. “Hey Alex, did you see Galina?” Listen to his response…

So in our next exercise, all I want you to say is whether there’s a feminine noun that’s being acted upon in the phrase. You can tell by hearing the “u” sounding adjectives. Ready?

– – –

<<Language tip…>>

In today’s tip, I’d like to talk about an interesting parallel between learning to play a musical instrument, and learning to speak a foreign language. I have a lot of experience there, because— before I developed this passion for the Russian language—I taught guitar professionally for years.

And from time to time I’d get a new student who wanted to learn to play a style of music that they’d barely listened to. “My Dad says I should learn classic rock,” the student would say.

“Ok…” I pick up my guitar. “So, what are some of your favorite classic rock groups? Led Zeppelin? (Whole Lotta Love) AC/DC? (Highway to Hell) Boston? (Peace of Mind)

And the guy shrugs. “I never really listened to classic rock.”

Hmm. Ok. So, I’d give him homework: “Take some time—just for a little while—to listen to the style. Put your guitar away. Dont try to play any of it. Just listen and get a feel for the phrasing, the chord progressions, the keys and time signatures.”

In the next lesson, we’d sit and I’d point out those things. “This is a pentatonic scale, which is the backbone of classic rock riffs. And this is call and response (demo) which is a fundamental part of how solos were constructed.” And so on. Those stylistic elements of rock music—of any style of music—are analogous to the vocabulary, the grammar and syntax of a language. Once you’ve heard them and are aware of them, it makes learning to play the style so much easier.

After a few listening sessions, I’d put on a tune…say, the solo from Good Times Bad Times, and now he can hear it. “Oh, that’s just a pentatonic lick, right? Descending in triplets?” And bingo—now that he understands what he’s hearing, he can very quickly express it himself on the instrument. He’ll need to practice it, obviously, to get fluent, but it’s no longer foreign to him. It makes sense.

Similarly, as you progress through these lessons, you’ll be hearing things with confidence. “Oh, that’s just the feminine ‘doing something’ rule, right?” And like my guitar student, once you understand what you’re hearing, you’ll be able to quickly express similar concepts. Yes, you’ll need to practice to become fluent, but the grammar and syntax of Russian will no longer be foreign to you. The changing word endings won’t surprise you….you’ll expect them. Even predict them.

That’s when learning to speak Russian becomes easy.


Speaking of predicting, that’s what I’d like you to do in this next exercise. First the native speaker will say a word in its basic, dictionary form. Then, they’ll say a phrase that has that same word at the very end of it. I’ll hit pause just before that word, and you need to say just the ending of the word. For ex: It’s going to end with an “u” sound.

And you know why. Because buying something counts as doing something to it. Ready?

– – –

An interesting sidenote: In English, when we talk about playing a musical instrument, sometimes we use the word “on” and sometimes we don’t. It depends, of course, on context. For ex: I play guitar. We don’t say “on”. But in a different context, I might say…”Oh, I played that solo on my Stratocaster.” Or, when introducing the members of your band…”On drums we have John Bonham. And on bass guitar, we have John Paul Jones.”

In Russian, the idea of playing an instrument is always “on”…and so it takes that locational “yeh” ending. Listen…Mark is now playing guitar. ..or…Charlie Parker played the saxophone.

In Russian we always play “on” an instrument. And yet….we play “towards” sports. And here’s why I believe Russian does this. When you play a musical instrument, you’re more or less sitting still. You’re in one location. Hence, the “yeh” ending. But in sports, you’re always moving somewhere. And movement towards something, we don’t add that “yeh” sound. Right? Я иду в парк. I’m going to the park. No “yeh” sound.

– – –

Imagine you’re showing someone photos of your family. I know I never ask you guys to say anything, but this is to quickly review our new words from today. So, as you point to a family photo, tell your Russian friend: My mom. My Dad.

You see a photo on their wall. Point and ask: Your mom? Your dad?

Alright…onto our exam for the day. Can you translate the gist of these phrases? And if you don’t know what a word is, just try your best anyway.

Alright…see you in Episode 5!