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How to Learn Russian at IKEA Store Posted by on Feb 1, 2011 in language, Russian for beginners

Have you heard of a mnemonics technique called «ассоциативное запоминание» or “vivid associations”? The idea is to link a new piece of information that you’re trying to remember to something you already know in a vivid and positive way.

The rules are simple:

  • It has to be a positive link (who wants to be reminded of «что-то неприятное» [something negative], anyway)
  • The more «яркий» [vivid], «забавный» [fun], «преувеличенный» [exaggerated] the link is, the easier it will be to remember. And if the link refers to «секс» (do I even need to translate this one?), it’s even more likely to be remembered.
  • Placing a new word totally out of «контекст» [context] works well too. Besides, doing so oftentimes creates funny associations.

I challenge you to find a retail brand that offers more opportunities for this type of «изучение языка» than IKEA. Seriously, I love them and all, but I always have so much fun with their English-language catalogs.

For example, they offer a type of jar code-named SLOM. In Russian, «слом» means “demolition” as in «Этот дом годен лишь на слом.» [The only thing this house is good for is demolition]. Just imagine trying to knock down a house with a SLOM jar instead of a wrecking ball. Fun!

In Russian-language catalog the name of this same jar is «СЛУМ» – not nearly as fun unless you get really creative (think «глум» [jeering]).

Another good one is a champagne glass SVALKA. In Russian, «свалка» is a “dump” as in «У тебя не двор, а свалка. Ты бы хоть инструменты убрал.» [Your yard looks like a dump. At least put away your tools.] Just imagine the look on your friends’ faces when, at the next «вечеринка» [party] you mention that the glasses «из которых они пьют» [from which they are drinking] are from a dump. See what I’m saying? Fun, vivid and totally out of context.

IKEA also has something called KVARTAL rail for, among other uses, a room divider. «Квартал» in Russian has two very different meanings. One is a city block; another one is a quarter (as in “fiscal quarter”). City blocks separated with curtains billowing in the breeze – this sounds like an awesome art installation to me.

IKEA PS KRONA might be a pretty bowl, but outside of «ИКЕА», the rest of Russia knows that «крона» is either a national currency of Sweden or a 9-volt battery.

Your family picture might look amazing in a RIBBA frame, but just imagine the kind of reaction you’d get if you were to hang a «рыба» [fish] on your wall instead.

In the textiles and rugs at IKEA you can find a GILDA BLOM cushion. I actually thought to buy it and use as a floor cushion, but – «какой облом» [what a bummer] – they aren’t big enough. Notice that even though the word «облом» starts with «о», it is an unstressed one and will be pronounced as «а».

Two easily confused Russian words are «ванная» [bathroom] and «ванна» [bathtub]. A VANNA mirror might look good above the sink in your «ванная», but taking it into «ванна» [bathtub] with you might be kind of dangerous.

Of course, these are not all English-language product names that sound funny in Russian. And I hope IKEA keeps coming up with even more awesome fun, like KOLJA (sounds like a Russian male name «Коля», diminutive from «Николай» [Nikolay]) or SANELA (sounds very much like «заняла», a female form of past-tense for the verb «занимать» [to borrow]).

What memorization techniques do you use to memorize Russian words? Have you spotted something in a IKEA catalog (on at a store) that’s not in this article? And what about a Russian-language IKEA catalog? Product names are a bit different there, but still, at least some must still be funny. If you know any, please share!

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  1. ambrA:

    my god u did a great work!
    i like to read all this, and it helps me improving my russian 🙂
    spasibo bol’shoe iz italii!

    • yelena:

      @ambrA Thank you, ambrA! Для меня это одно удовольствие – помогать учить русский язык. It’s such a pleasure to help others learn Russian.

  2. Gian:

    I remember that when I started studying Russian, teachers used to tell us an анекдот (joke) for learning the difference between подружка (little girl friend) and подушка (pillow/cushion). It happened that a Cuban student arrived to the общежитие (dorm) in the former Soviet Union and he found out that there were no pillows. Then he ran down and said to the вахтёрша (janitor): “I do not have a подружка and I cannot sleep without one”. Imagine the surprise of the janitor.

    • yelena:

      @Gian Gian, that is funny 🙂 And totally possible. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of words in Russian that sound exactly the same or almost the same, but mean totally different things. My son (who is not as fluent in Russian as I’d like him to be) confuses “плевать” [to spit] and “плавать” [to swim] and surprising me with such “perls” as “Я плевал в бассейне” [I was spitting in the pool] when he actually means to say “I was swimming in the pool”.


    Interesting post. I learned a few things ,especially about stress. I realized that I was putting the wrong sress on some of the words when reading aloud or practicing to myself. Could you next time include a post on stress?
    thanks for your informative post.

    • yelena:

      @LEONA SEMIZIAN Leona, I’m glad you found this post useful. Yes, memorizing stress in Russian words can get stressful. I am a native speaker of Russian and I still double check myself when deciding where to put stress marks on some of the words in the posts. There are no rules, just a lot of exceptions, really. We did do a few posts about the stress, including this one. Best of luck!

  4. miloudi.brahim:

    like that

  5. Gian:

    Yes, Yelena. Russian can be confusing, as any other language. For instance, the word замок can mean castle and lock, it depends where you put the strength and I never remember. Greetings.