Sound Like a Russian in 20 Minutes: 13 Need-to-Know Words | Learning To Know Russian

Sound Like a Russian in 20 Minutes: 13 Need-to-Know Words

Anyone who's had a lot of success with Russian has a few little tricks that help them pass as a local. In just a few minutes, you'll learn to sound like a Russian. Don't believe me? I'll show you how right now.

how to sound like a russian

I remember my friend David from UK tricking Russian people into thinking he was a Russian! When I asked him how he did it, he told me that he didn't bother with advanced language courses or practice his pronunciation all day. In fact, he really only knew a few dozen phrases perfectly. But that was all he needed to get by. He also mentioned that the expression on a person's face is often more important than knowing the right words.

I wrote down several words and added to the list over time, sharing it with anyone who was studying Russian and wanted to feel at home in Russia. After talking with David on the phone today, I decided to share his trick with you too.

1. Да-да-да and нет-нет-нет

For some reason, Russians love to repeat the words да and нет several times. Saying it once just isn't very convincing. This is probably the easiest way to be taken for a Russian.

2. Хорошо

This word works every time. "Should we go to the movie? - Хорошо". "How do you like it here? - Хорошо)". It's a way of showing that you agree with and endorse what's being said. Of course, Russians also use it to be polite. Responding to "How are you doing?" with Хорошо is the same as saying "not good, but let's talk about something else." If a Russian is genuinely happy, he'll use something more expressive.

3. Ладно or ладушки

This is similar to да and хорошо, but sounds better. It's friendlier. Ладно means that you are on the same page. Вот и ладушки means that you've reached an agreement. Don't mistake it for оладушками, which are a popular food that you might found on the menu at Russian cafes.

4. Блин

It's a food, but you'll hear the word блин a lot more often than you'll eat блины. Ладушки means everything's fine; блин is used when something's wrong.

5. Ну

You can use this word almost anywhere and people will definitely think you're Russian if you use it. Here's a sample conversation that relies heavily on ну:

- Ну как? (How are things?)
- Пока ничего не получается. (I can't get anything to work so far)

- Да ну? (surprise). Жаль… (I'm sorry...)

- Ну да (agreement).

- Ну и ну, вот так ситуация. Что делать? (So that's what's going on. What do we do?)

- Ну… (pause to think) попробую еще раз. (I'll try again).

- Ну да, ну да (hesitant agreement).

If you don't know the answer to a question or feel like you're at a dead end, use Ну... to buy yourself as much time as possible.

6. Девушка or женщина; мужчина or друг or брат

Russian women are always happy to be addressed as девушка. But not every девушка will respond if you try to get her attention by saying женщина.

Russian is indeed quite a tricky language and if you want to keep on improving it, you might want to check out the most common (and awkward) mistakes people do when speaking Russian.

It's a lot easier when it comes to men. Address someone you don't know as мужчина, an acquaintance as друг, and someone that you spent last night drinking with as брат. Watch out if you hear someone say Эй, мужик! You might want to think about getting out of there quick.

7. Здесь and там

These two words are the key to getting where you need to go. Don't be shy and ask for directions: "Kremlin там? Taxi здесь?". You'll get an answer immediately, telling you to go там or здесь with an outstretched arm pointing the way.

8. Давай

This is used as a call to action. Давай let's do something. Don't use it too often. Know when to stop, especially when you hear Russians say, "Давай выпьем" (let's drink) more than five times. Давай! is also used when saying goodbye to friends.

9. Здрасьте!

Здравствуйтe is a way to simultaneously say hello and wish someone good health and long life, but it's also really tough for foreigners to pronounce. Здрасьте is a shortened version. It's more popular, though it is more informal.

10. Можно...?

This is the universal question. Ask можно...? and add whatever it is you need or point to it with your finger. "Можно пиво!" is a perfect phrase at the restaurant.

If someone responds with "чо?" and a confused expression, it either means they didn't understand you or that the answer is "нет".

11. Чо?

A shortened form of Что? It's used to get more information. Чо? is translated as "I didn't understand, please repeat what you said." Чо?!!! with an upset, angry tone means "ask something easier, or, better yet, ask someone else."

12. Конечно

If you want to make an impression on a Russian, make yourself look smart, or just pretend that you agree with what's being said, add a конечно. It's a very accepted, harmless expression.

13. Фигня

Saying "Что за фигня?!" with a worried or upset expression on your face means that something's not going as planned. If your friend says "Что за фигня!" when you're trying on something new at the store or about to try an unfamiliar dish, it's a good hint to save your money and eat something else.


Just like that, your Russian is already much more dynamic and alive. Learning to speak like a Russian is much easier than textbooks and traditional teachers would have you believe. Learn these words and work on your pronunciation a bit (check out How to master Russian pronunciation for an excellent method). You'll be surprised at how much confidence these few phrases will give you.

But is this enough to master Russian? Will this be enough to be seen as local by native Russians? I think you already know the answer: you will be able to take your Russian to a whole new level with these phrases, but they will hardly help you properly master the language itself. However, this doesn’t mean that you still have to spend endless hours over your textbooks. There are a few effective techniques that can significantly improve your Russian speaking skills and help you overcome the stress when speaking a foreign language. I can tell you more about these proven methods. Join the community of effective language learners today!

Did you learn something new? Perhaps we forgot something? I'd love to add more words to my list. In the comment section, feel free to write down those Russian words that you can't live without and explain how you use them!


Best regards, 
Denis Ivanov Co-Founder, Learning To Know Russian
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