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Yes, you can speak Russian!

Did you realise that, when you travel to a Russian speaking country or simply meet a Russian speaker on a holiday resort, you can easily express yourself by using certain English words?

Coffee, cappuccino, pizza, taxi, machine, autobus, park, passport, visa, airport, problem, toilet, telephone, computer, interest, journal, concert, museum, theatre, prospect, object, subject, project, business, manager…. and many, many more. If the English and Russians were aware of these similarities, they would be able to communicate after learning only a few strategic foundation phrases!

This is something I discovered thanks to my personal learning experience.

When I arrived in the UK in 2006, my English was very poor. I knew the basics of the English grammar and had some idea about the differences between English and Russian syntaxes, but had had no oral or audial experience. Furthermore, my English vocabulary was rather limited. With all my professional qualifications I was very employable if only my English was fluent! Being treated as somehow helpless was very frustrating (this happens when you do not know the language of the country, in which you plan to reside) until I realised that my full professional proficiency in Russian could help me master English quickly. Thus, despite the odds and without taking any language courses, two years later, I was approached about teaching at a high school in London.

In truth, my English was not as good as it may have appeared to my colleagues, pupils and family. Whenever I found myself stuck due to a lack of vocabulary, I tried to remember a Russian word that, to my knowledge, originated from a Western European language. To my absolute joy, in 80% of cases, I was able to express myself and had others wondering how I had managed to learn such an advanced vocabulary in such a short time. The trick, however, lay in knowing my native language well… And this works another way around!

I have bee researching English - Russian cognates and loanwords for the last 5 years and this is what I have discovered (the detailed description of patterns of lexiacal borrowing in the Russian language can be found in my upcoming book "7000 English words in the Russian Language".

The major tendencies that will help inter-linguistic communication:

1. Over 350 English words ending in –tion end in  -tsiya (-ция) in Russian, e.g. station (stantsiya), action (actsiya), communication (communicatsiya), collection (collectsiya), operation (operatsiya), dislocation (dislocatsiya) ect.

2. Majority of occupational nouns ending in –ist, -er and –or exist in modern Russian language, although sometimes those suffixes are confused: football-ist, therap-ist, doctor, program-ist, materialist, conformist, artist, chauffer etc.

3. The suffix –ism follow its kin, the suffix –ist: conformism, pluralism, feminism etc.

4. Nearly 300 words ending in –y end in –ia (-ия) in Russian: allergy (allergia), anomaly (anomalia), anatomy (anatomia), family (familia = surname), history = story (istoria) and territory (territoria).

5. Just under 100 words ending in –ia and –ie are the same or have undergone minor modifications:  calorie (caloria), criteria, aria, bacteria, media, idea (ideya).

6. And also just under 100 words ending in –cs exist in Russian with the ending -ka: politika, statistika, synthetika, economika, electronika and most of other names of academic disciplines.

7. Over 120 words ending in –o are exactly the same in Russian or simply cut the last letter, such as tempo (temp), bistro, bravo, cappuccino, Euro, ego, metro, radio, retro, solo and tomato (tomat).

8. English words ending in silent -e are adopted by Russian as feminine:disciplina, routina, medicina, raca (race) etc. 

9. Most of the Greek and Latin-based terms with suffixes  –is, -es and –um are used in Russian without these suffixes: analys, diabet, hypnos, psychos  and neuros. However, oasis, synopsis and metis are exactly the same.

10. Add –niy (-ный) to many English adjectives ending in – l,  - r and –ve to say a descriptive word in Russian: emotional-niy, intellectual-niy, culture-niy, regular-niy, active-niy, mobile-niy etc.

11. International words (names of sports, animals, weather condition etc): giraffe, tennis, tsunami, spaghetti and all words related to computer technology and electronics.

Throughout centuries, the Russian language has been absorbing foreign words in order to collaborate with the world and learn from it. Nearly 10% loanwords still have original Russian synonyms that are being used by Russian speakers with equal frequency. Loanwords in the Russian language are not only a great communication tool but also the most long-standing effects of the meaningful changes that have occurred in Russia during the past 1000 years. Their important place in the Russian lexical structure is also proof of the language’s flexibility as well as the high survival skills and the problem-solving potential of the Russian nation.

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