Understanding Spoken Russian – Learn Russian Ep. 6

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* NOTE *

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

Welcome to Episode 6 of Understanding Spoken Russian.

(sound of crying girl) Because she was crying, I gave Sophia a doll.

That’s an odd way to start the lesson. And yet, allow me to repeat that: Because she was crying, I gave Sophia a doll. Odder still, I’d like you to repeat that out loud. Say it with me: “Because she was crying, I gave Sophia a doll.”

Ok, what is this guy up to? Well, hopefully you trust me by now. I promise, in a minute you’ll see why I had you repeat that sentence. But first, let’s review what we learned in Episode 5. Try to translate the following phrases, and explain what kind of verb was used…perfective or imperfective.

– – –

Alright, so…what was that phrase I had you repeat? “Because she was crying, I gave Sophia a doll.”

Listen to this Russian word: дал

A woman would pronounce it: дала

What kind of word do you think it is? With those L endings, it’s probably a verb in the past tense, right? Let’s hear it in context: (cell phone ringing)…

(Andrei) “Here Mommy, take your phone.”

Андрюша дал Маме телефон.

(sound of fork dropping to the floor) “Oh, I dropped my fork. Sophia, could you get me one from the kitchen?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

София дала Папе вилку.

Both дал …and… дала translate as “gave”. And дал sounds a lot like the English word ‘doll’, doesn’t it? So that phrase I told you in the beginning…What was it again?

Sophia was crying so I gave her a doll. That phrase should help you recall it.

In Russian, giving something counts as doing something to the object. For ex:

Я дал Антону футболку.

I gave Anton a T-shirt. The word futbolka changed to futbolku, with that ‘u’ ending.

Or this…

Мама дала мне книгу.

Mom gave me a book. Again, kniga (книга) changed to knigu (книгу).

The verb to give is obviously very useful to know, which is why it’s our official new word of the lesson. But today’s real topic is what happened to the words Mama and Papa and Anton when they received those things. Listen again…

Андрюша дал Маме телефон. – Mama became Mam-yeh

София дала Папе вилку. – Papa became Pap-yeh

Я дал Антону футболку. – Anton became Antonu

Interesting. Let’s listen to some more examples. Can you translate these?

– – –

Let’s run through those again with the name Jeff. So he’ll start by saying, This is Jeff…

Это Джеф. Я сказал Джефу нет. Я купил Джефу новый телефон. Я дал Джефу шанс.

What do you think that ‘U’ sound at the end of Jeff’s name is signifying? Another way to ask that is: What does the ‘U’ sound tell the listener? That ‘u’ sound added to the end of a guy’s name is a recipient marker. It tells the listener that, in this case Jeff, is receiving something.

So: Я сказал Джефу нет. …I said to Jeff no. Jeff was receiving the words.

Я купил Джефу новый телефон. I bought for Jeff a new phone. Jeff was the recipient of a phone.

Я дал Джефу шанс. I gave (to) Jeff a chance. Again, Jeff was the person who received the chance.

For female names, the ending is “yeh”…same sound as the location marker. So let’s do a few more with the name Polina. So he’ll start by saying, This is Polina…

Это Полина. Я сказал Полине нет. Я купил Полине новый телефон. Я дал Полине шанс.

Polina changed to Polinyeh in each one because she was the recipient.

This is a major chunk of Russian grammar right here. Think of how often we say things like,

“I called her, I sent him an email, I sent her a text, I gave her the money, I told him I’d be there.”

In each of those…I called, I sent, I gave, I told…there’s a recipient. If the recipient is guy, you’ll hear an U at the end of his name: Mark becomes Marku…John becomes Johnu. If it’s a woman, a ‘yeh’ sound. Yana becomes Yanyeh. Darina becomes Darinyeh.

– – –

(telephone ring)

Алло? Привет, Папа. Хорошо, скажу. Урра! Папа позвонил. Он купил пиццу.

What do you think this means: Папа позвонил.

Do you hear the word “phone” in there, kind of? puh-zvon-EEL…zvonphone?

позвонил means called on the phone. And it’s the perfective form of the verb. No need to actively learn that one. You’ll use it a few million times, so it’ll sink in naturally. And we’ll be hearing it quite a few times in just a minute. But here’s the thing about this recipient ending: It allows Russian to use a more flexible word order than English.

In English, you have to put the recipient right after the verb. For ex: I called Mom this afternoon. Mom comes right after called.

I gave Chris the money. Chris comes right after gave.

Yes, you could perhaps say: Chris I gave the money…but it’s awkward, and much less common. But in Russian, we’re more flexible. So tell me…Who called who?

Марку позвонил Грег.

Greg called Mark. Right? Mark had the recipient “u” ending. And Greg was in his basic form, meaning he did the action. Weird, isn’t it? And you might think, “C’mon…Do Russians really phrase it that way?” Absolutely. It all depends on the question that prompted the statement.

If someone asks: Who did Greg call? Then ‘Mark’ would go at the end of the sentence:

Кому Грег позвонил? Грег позвонил Марку.

But if the question is: Who called Mark? Кто позвонил Марку? Then we’d use this one: Марку позвонил Грег. So it simply depends on the question. And I can’t help but point out the rhyme here:

The question word: Whom…кому? Марку. …rhymes with the masculine answer. To whom? To Mark. Let’s do some more. Again, Who called who?

– – –

These recipient endings are used even when the verb is unspoken. Just this morning, Dedushka—our kid’s grandfather—was feeding the twins kasha (каша), which is porridge. William was being silly and insisting that Ded feed his toy dinosaur instead. As Ded pretended to feed a spoonful to the dinosaur and then to William, here is exactly what he said:

Одну ложку динозаврику, одну Уильяму.

Literally: One spoon to the little dinosaur, one to William.

The words: динозаврик…and… Уильям …became…. динозаврику …and….Уильяму.

because they were the recipients of the spoonfuls.

Let’s translate other phrases like that, with no verbs in them. Just say who gets what, even if you’re not sure what the item is.

– – –

Listen to the masculine words client клиент and travel agent турагент

Я сказал клиенту, что он должен позвонить турагенту.

I said to the client, that he should call a travel agent.

I said to the client…клиенту….he should call to the travel agent…турагенту

Я сказал официантке, что нам нужна ещё одна ложка.

I told the waitress that we need one more spoon.

официантка with that basic ‘a’ ending, became официантке…with the recipient “yeh” ending because she was the recipient of what he said.

Listen to this phrase: Is he your partner? (like…business partner)

Он твой партнёр?

Я дала все документы твоему партнёру.

I gave all the documents to your partner. And notice that now the words “your” and “partner” rhyme. твоему партнёру

Gotta love it.

<<< Tip of the day…..>>>

In the last podcast, the tip was how useful Google’s exact match function is, as well as its image search. Those are great because they don’t rely on the computer having to understand anything. It’s simply showing you what native speakers are doing. That’s great. What’s not so great is how computers themselves understand and translate language. During the 2019 Superbowl Google had an ad: We translate one billion words every day. Yeah, and about four hundred million of those translations are horribly mangled.

The problem is, computers translate by statistical analysis. They simply do not understand language. At all. For one thing, they’re infamously bad with expressions. For ex: I feel like a milkshake.

in American English, that means I feel like having a milkshake. Ok? Languages do that sometimes…they leave off words which are understood between native speakers. But poor Google just doesn’t get it. Here’s how it translates that… Я чувствую себя как молочный коктейль.

..which, to a Russian speaker, is like saying: I feel the way a milkshake feels.

We can go the other way. A very common expression in Russian is to tell someone:

Марк, ты даёшь.

There’s a multitude of ways you might translate that, depending on the context, and what prompted the person to say that. But it’s an expression of comical exasperation. Like, Only you could be like that. Only you could do something like that.

So, what’s Google’s gloriously translation? “Mark, you give.”

I didn’t see that one in the Superbowl commercial.

One more: “Dude, you’re driving me up a wall.”…comes out in Russian as…

Чувак, ты ведешь меня вверх по стене.

Instead of giving an equivalent expression in Russian—some version of ‘you’re making me crazy’, the computer goes word by word: Dude, you’re leading me by vehicle upwards along a wall.

Do you think your Russian friend reading that is going to have the slightest clue what you mean?

They also do terribly with slang. I talked to my buddy in the U.S. last night, and at one point he said, and I quote: “My new laptop has a bad-ass processor.” I couldn’t help myself. I typed it into Google translate. Now here’s the Russian version…

People, the Russian word плохой is the word for terrible, horrible.

It got the translation 100% wrong. The exact opposite of what he meant. This is a very important tip, okay? Please don’t rely on and don’t trust any computer translation. They’re just not there yet.

<<< tip end >>>

Let’s see if we remember our one new word from this lesson. Try to say…

– – –

When Svetlana was the recipient, did you say Svetlan-yeh? And when James was the recipient, did you say James-u? If so, you’re doing great.

In this next exercise, all I want you to do is say who did what to whom.

– – –

Alright, let’s go on to our final exam…Can you translate the gist of these phrases? As always, if you don’t know a word, it’s no biggie. Just add it into your translation. Like for this…

Маша дала Папе вилку.

If you don’t recall what a veelka (вилка) is, just say: “Masha gave Dad a veelku (вилку)

….which happens to be a fork. Ok? No pressure. Just try your best.

– – –

Great job, guys. And on a sidenote..Have any of you noticed that every single phrase we’ve translated has been in the past tense? Dad bought, Mom gave, Alina called…Well, that’s about to change. And it’ll happen—present tense—in the next episode. See you there.

Before we go, I gotta have a little more fun with Google translate. Here’s some Cardi B for you guys. Let’s run the lyrics through Google…

So, Here’s how Google translated that into Japanese…

Let’s translate those Japanese words into Danish…

…and Danish back to English

I put a stone in the clock. Google, I like it like that.