Why do you need to learn basic Russian before your trip to Moscow? Russia is part of Europe, doesn’t everyone speak English? Oh no, how mistaken you would be to believe this! You will need to learn some basic Russian at least!
Many younger Russians are likely to speak some English in Moscow, as they now learn it at school and practice it for business. However, if you are going to Russia, don’t expect that the older generation to speak English, even in Moscow. Don’t expect all of the road signs and Metro stations to be written in English either! (Update 2016 – travellers are reporting that Metro stations are now displayed in English too!)
My Experience of Travelling in Russia
As a student, I travelled from Moscow to Beijing and the trans-Siberian railway. I went with a university friend who was excited about travelling in Russia, but knew no Russian. Before we flew to Moscow, another university friend of mine with extensive experience travelling in Russia advised me to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Little did I know at the time, that this could have been the best travel advice I was ever given!
I was much younger and an inexperienced traveller at that time. I’d only ever travelled solo in the USA, which is easy enough for an English girl!
So, after being ripped off by a Russian taxi driver at Moscow airport, we were deposited at the wrong hotel only to find that no one spoke in English and all of the signs were in Russian! Bizarrely, at this point in time, it was my French that saved me. We met a woman on the bus who also spoke French and helped us to get the right hotel. Never again did I trust taxi tout at an airport or train station!
Navigating the city and the Moscow Metro came as quite a shock, when nothing really seemed to be in English or even written in the Latin alphabet. After a challenging first day, we spied the golden arches of McDonald’s. Thank God, we thought to ourselves, at least this menu will be in English. However, much to our dismay, we see the McDonalds menu in the Cyrillic alphabet. “Read it Amy,” my friend John said to me. I was hesitant, because I didn’t know if I had practised enough. I started to read slowly… B-I-G M-A-C! It’s a Big Mac! M-C CH-YI-KEN! Mc Chicken Sandwich! Oh, how we laughed!
The Metro and the street signs were the most challenging part of travelling in Russia. Get yourself a Metro Map that has both Russian and English, or better still, learn the Cyrillic alphabet like I did – it was a God send! When you arrive at the platform, the name of the station will be in Cyrillic, so “Kitai Gorod” will look like this”Китай Город”.
However, if you don’t have the time to learn the Cyrillic alphabet or basic Russian, just ask someone nearby if it’s that station that you want, and they will tell you ‘da’ (yes) or ‘nyet’ (no).
Are the Street Signs in English or Russian Alphabet?
Some street signs in Moscow are now translated into English, particularly in the very touristy areas near Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral. However, in suburban areas near some hostels, there will be some street signs in the Cyrillic alphabet only.
This will be no good to you if you can’t read the Cyrillic alphabet and the map that you carry is in English only! You either need to learn basic Russian or have a map with both the English alphabet and the Cyrillic alphabet street names on.
The further that you go out of the big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, the less likely it is that will ee a street name in English.
How to Learn Basic Russian
In my opinion, if you are travelling extensively in Russia, it is essential that you at least learn the Cyrillic alphabet and if possible you learn some basic Russian language as well. The first stage is to get to grips with the Cyrillic script. The second stage will be to read some basic phrases and practice them.
I bought a great book, which really helped me to learn Russian…
How to Learn the basic Russian Alphabet
You will be pleased to know that some letters are the same in Cyrillic as they are in English. They are…
A K M O T
However there are some recognisable English letters, but they make different sounds in Russian! Here are few examples…
B = V
E = Ye
H = N
P = R (a rolled r!)
C = S
Y = oo
X = H
There is then a whole new list of Russian letters, such as Ю (“yoo”) and Ш (“shh), which you can learn here. There is also a fabulous YouTube to help you to learn the Russian alphabet online…
Top Russian Phrases
My top Russian Phrases are…
Добрый день – Dobre den (Good day)
Здравствуйте – Zdrazvoyte (Hello)
Спасибо – Spaseeba (Thank you)
где метро – Gdye Metro (Where is the Metro)
If you want to learn more, visit www.masterrussian.com, which has some excellent Russian Phrases tables like this…
Good luck with learning basic Russian for your trip to Moscow. And remember, it will come in useful in some other countries in Eastern Europe including Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia.
I’d love to hear how you get on learning Russian for your travels, so please leave your comments below. Also, if anyone has been to Moscow more recently, please leave an update!