Taking on the task of learning Russian is no easy feat. Not only do you need to get your head around tenses, grammar and the accent, but you need to learn a whole new alphabet too. It’s certainly not one of the easiest languages to learn if your first language is English, but don’t be put off because you might need to put in a bit more effort.
Idioms are a great place to start if you’re hesitant about taking the plunge – they’re fun and should show you that learning Russian won’t be all about spelling and grammar. These examples are in both Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet to help you along:
1. Как об сте́нку горо́х (Kak ob sténku goróh)
In English if you can’t get through to someone or make them listen to you, you might say that it’s like talking to a brick wall. In Russian you would say that it’s ‘like throwing peas against the wall’ – a futile exercise that achieves nothing.
2. А дело бывало — и коза волка съедала (A delo byvalo — i koza volka s’’edala)
‘It was happening – a goat was eating up a wolf’, which is the Russian way to say that ‘pigs might fly’. In other words, this sentence is used to comment on something that’s extremely unlikely to happen.
3. Набра́ть в рот воды (Nabrát’ v rot vody)
The direct translation of this phrase is ‘to fill one’s mouth with water’ and it’s used to refer to keeping quiet about something.
4. Водо́й не разольёшь (Vodój ne razol’ëš’)
If you say ‘Водо́й не разольёшь’ about two people it means that they’re inseparable. Literally the phrase means ‘you couldn’t split them apart with water’; it’s the Russian equivalent to ‘as thick as thieves’.
5. Говоря́т, что кур доя́т (Govorját, čto kur doját)
This one translates directly as ‘they say they milk chickens’, which is the Russian way of telling you not to believe everything you hear.
6. В нога́х правды не́т (V nogáh pravdy nét)
This phrase literally means ‘there is no truth in feet’ and is an idiomatic way to offer someone a seat. What’s so untruthful about feet you ask? No idea.
7. В чужо́й монасты́рь со свои́м уста́вом не хо́дят (V čužój monastýr’ so svoím ustávom ne hódjat)
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, but when in Russia ‘no one goes to another monastery with their own charter’.
8. Бе́лая ворона (Bélaja vorona)
This phrase means ‘white crow’. Someone who is a white crow is the odd one out in a group.
9. Дели́ть шку́ру неуби́того медве́дя (Delít’ škúru neubítogo medvédja)
This phrase also exists in German and means ‘to divide the pelt of a bear not yet killed’. It’s the Russian (and German) equivalent of ‘don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched’.
If you think you can handle learning Russian, you can test your knowledge with our Russian level test (in Cyrillic). Do you have any idiomatic Russian expressions to share?