Russian Language Blog

Quick Start Guide to Speaking Russian Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in language, Russian for beginners


What’s the best way to learn to speak Russian? The answer is pretty simple – you need to start using it as soon as possible. Which really means on Day 1. Yes, that first day you decided to learn this idiosyncratic yet beautiful language. But how can you have a meaningful conversation in a foreign language if you literally just started to learn it.

First, you’ll need a conversation partner. That should be pretty easy. If you can’t find a Russian speaker locally, there’s always Internet and you can find someone willing to help you with your Russian in exchange for a lesson in your language.

Now, time to learn a few essential phrases. That might be a real stumbler. For the first conversation, I’d suggest something generic that can be used in a variety of situations, such as “hello”, “how are you”, “I’m fine” and maybe a few other helpful phrases.


There are many different ways to greet a person in Russian, but a polite здравствуйте [zdRAstvoote] is your best choice here. It offers the just right level of formality and is appropriate in most situations.

My name is

You won’t need to use this phrase if you are shopping at a Russian grocery store, but in pretty much all other situations it’s a handy phrase to know:

Меня зовут Бонд, Джеймс Бонд [MeNYA zaVOOT Bond, James Bond] – My name is Bond, James Bond.

And when your counterpart introduces him- or herself, you can make a great impression by responding with очень приятно [Ochen’ preeYAtna] – very nice (to meet you)

How are you today?

First, let me just say that, unlike in the US, strangers in Russia don’t ask each other the “how are you today?” question all that often. Instead, it is reserved for a conversation between friends or at least acquaintances. Still, if you would like to ask it, go with

Как дела? [Kak deLA?] – How’s it going?

In which case be prepared to hear something more detailed than the typical Western “fine, thank you” (see “In case of emergency” section at the end of the post)

I am fine, thank you

If, in turn, your conversation partner asks you как дела? or а у вас как дела? the useful phrase to keep in mind is

Всё хорошо, спасибо [Vsyo haraSHO, spaSEEba] – All is well, thank you.

Where are you from? Where do you live?

Americans are ridiculously mobile. And by this I mean they move from place to place a lot. Turns out, average Americans move 11-14 times in their life. By contrast, most Russians stay in the same town they were born in or move only a couple of times. For example, most of my childhood friends still live in my hometown of Volgograd, many – in the same neighborhoods and some – in the same apartments.

Here’s why it matters – the “where are you from” and “where do you live” questions are frequently interchangeable in Russia:

Откуда вы? [atKOOda vi?]

Now, when it’s your turn to answer the откуда вы question, you might want to go into details like

Я – из Маями, но я вырос в Нью-Йорке [ya iz Miami, no ya VIras v New Yorke]

Я – из Маями, но я выросла в Нью-Йорке (ya iz Miami, no ya VIrasla v New Yorke]

Do you see the difference? Russian verbs change their endings depending on the subject’s gender. If the speaker is a man, he will say я вырос (I grew up). A woman will say я выросла (I grew up). And if a tree could talk, it’d say я выросло (I grew up) since дерево (tree) is a neuter noun in Russian.

If you do not feel certain that you will be able to juggle the verb endings during your first conversation, avoid them altogether. So you can just use the gender-neutral construct

я родом из Канады [ya ROdam iz kaNAdi] – I am originally from Canada

So the whole phrase might be

Я живу во Франции, но я родом из Канады – I live in France, but I am originally from Canada.

Once the conversation is over, don’t forget to look up the town your partner is from. This will give you something to talk about next time.

Now, since this is your first conversation in Russian, it’ll probably be very short. To wrap it up, here are some handy phrases:

I must go now

The simplest and mercifully gender-neutral phrase is мне пора [mne paRA] meaning, literally, it’s time for me… You don’t really need to add “… to do something”. It’s understood that you have to leave. However, it’s only polite to show your regret at having to leave:

К сожалению, мне пора [k sazhaLEn’yu mne paRA] – Unfortunately I must leave

Thank you and goodbye

Спасибо [spaSEEba]. Ok, that’s a must-know one that you will use a lot in the future. If your partner thanks you first for a pleasant conversation, it’s more appropriate to reply with это вам спасибо (Eta vam spaSEEba] (no, thank you) instead of a пожалуйста [paZHAlsta] (you’re welcome).

Just like with greetings, there are many ways to say “goodbye” in Russian. But the one that would work in pretty much any situation is the classic до свидания [dasveeDAn’ya]. But you can also say до встречи [davstREchee] (see you).

So here are all the phrases assembled in a real dialogue:

– Здравствуйте, меня зовут Майкл

– Очень приятно. Меня зовут Елена.

– Очень приятно. Как дела?

– Хорошо, а у вас, Майкл?

– Всё хорошо, спасибо. Откуда вы, Елена?

– Я из Омска, но выросла в Твери. А вы?

– Я из Хьюстона, но я родом из Лос-Анжелеса. К сожалению, мне пора.

– Спасибо. До свидания.

– Это вам спасибо, Елена. До встречи.

This might not look like much, but even a simple short conversation like this feels awesome on Day 1. It makes you really believe that you can do it, you can learn to speak Russian! Let me know (in the comments) what other phrases would be useful and I’ll add them to the post.

Now, your partner will of course know that you are just learning to speak Russian. So hopefully she will go easy on you, speak slowly and use simple words. But in case you need some help, here are a few emergency phrases:

Повторите, пожалуйста [pavtaREEte paZHAlsta] – Please repeat

Я не понимаю [ya ne paneeMAyu] – I don’t understand

Напишите, пожалуйста [napeSHEEte paZHAlsta] – Please write it

Как это сказать? [Kak Eta skaZAt’] – How do you say this?

Don’t worry about memorizing these phrases. Instead, write them down and keep them nearby just in case. Удачи! (Good luck!)

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  1. warren gage:

    I started learning Russian in 2013 and the course I bought only covered the conversation starters in the last chapter of the advanced course material. Thank you for this blog, I am having so much fun learning now!!!

  2. Mary Ann Rabalais:

    a friend wrote to me: otnpaBb B nnulu. of course my typewriter does not print letter as written but hopefully you know enough to tell me meaning; I’m dying to know; thank you
    mary ann

  3. Mary Ann Rabalais:

    sorry; last word has a y at the end. nnyky. sorry.