Learn Russian online from the beginning!
Lesson One

Talking about yourself

You will learn

  • common greetings in Russian
  • to introduce yourself and people you are with
  • to ask somebody’s name
  • to ask and reply to simple questions about nationality, etc

and you will read about the different forms a Russian name can take and when each is used

Before you begin

Always listen to the dialogues at least once before following them in your book. Don't worry if you can't make out every word. Try to follow the gist without being distracted by unfamiliar words. The more accustomed you are to the sound of the Russian language, the easier it will be to read the script. So don't hurry, and above all do not despair - all will fit into place!

In Unit (lesson) 1 you will hear people greeting each other, introducing themselves and asking about others. We will be introducing the Cyrillic alphabet over the first five lessons with all dialogues in both Cyrillic and Latin scripts. Before turning to the first dialogues, you will find it useful to read the section on the alphabet. See how many of the Russian words you can make out.

And now: желаем успеха! [zhilayim uspyekha] we wish you success!
Note: The stressed letter/sound is marked as bold or it will be in italic if it is already bold.

Study guide

To help you check your progress, mark off the Study guide list as you complete the tasks in each lesson.

Read and practice writing the Alphabet
Dialogues 1, 2: listen without the book
Dialogues 1, 2: listen, read and study one by one
Practice what you have learned
Dialogues 3, 4: listen without the book
Dialogues 3, 4: listen, read and study one by one
Practice what you have learned
Dialogues 5-7: listen without the book
Dialogues 5-7: listen, read and study one by one
Practice what you have learned
Study the Key words and phrases
Study the Grammar section carefully
Read Did you know?
Do the exercises in Your turn to speak
Listen to all the dialogues once again straight through

The Russian alphabet

The Cyrillic alphabet is named in honour of St. Cyril (in Russian Kyrill), a 9th-century Macedonian monk, who, with his brother St. Methodius, is credited with creating a writing system for the Slavonic languages. The two monks worked as missionaries, bringing Christianity to Slavs outside the Byzantine empire, and an alphabet was required to translate liturgical books and the Bible into Slavonic. Two original writing systems are known to have existed and whether in fact Cyril and Methodius' alphabet is the one we now call 'Cyrillic' is a matter of some conjecture among scholars.

The alphabet which developed into present Cyrillic shares many letters with the Greek and Latin scripts. Among its 33 letters there are, however, some which are quite different. You may find it useful to practice writing them out (try your name, and your friends' names!). Try also to follow as much as possible of the dialogues in Cyrillic, though there will be a transliterated version for the first five units while the alphabet is being introduced.

a [a] р [r]
б [b] с [s]
в [v] т [t]
г [g] у [u]
д [d] ф [f]
e [ye] x [kh]
ё [уо] ц [ts]
ж [zh] ч [ch]
з [z] ш [sh]
и [i] or, sometimes, [ее] щ [shch]
й [у] ъ not transliterated
in the course
к [k]  
л [l] ы [у] or, sometimes, [i]
м [m] ь [']
н [n] э [e]
о [o] ю [yu]
п [p] я [ya]

All letters given in square brackets reflect pronunciation.

As you can see, such a list is only useful for reference, since it can only approximately give the Russian pronunciation. Furthermore there are features of Russian which make our transliteration, based as it is on actual pronunciation, deviate from this norm. Most importantly:

I. о is pronounced [o] when it is the stressed syllable and closer to [a] when not stressed. A similar change occurs with я [ya] which can sound like [i] the further it is from the stressed syllable. It must, in fact, be acknowledged that any vowel sound which is not in stressed position may become blurred and even indistinguishable from other vowel sounds. Since this applies especially to the many different noun endings, such a situation can be very convenient for the learner!

II. Certain consonants sound more like others in particular combinations or at the end of a word. For example: в [v] will be closer to [f] before с [s] and some other consonants. We would stress that this is not a rule as such, but simply what the vocal chords force us to do (compare the English absorb v absorption).

Beside each letter you will find the character, or characters, in Latin script which most closely correspond. They will seldom correspond entirely, so listen to Andrei as he pronounces the Russian letters.

There are five letters in Russian which need no introduction:

[as in car]
[as in wore]

One letter is almost the same:

з [z]

Some letters are deceptively familiar:

[ye as in yet]
(oo as in boom)

And then there's Я [ya] - an extremely important letter to remember since it can also mean 'I' or 'I am' in Russian.

Can you recognize these words?


Now listen to Andrei as he reads the letters aloud. You will notice that some letters, in particular o, do not always sound as they look. Mostly this is a question of stress, but we will explain particular discrepancies along the way.

Try writing the words printed above. If you feel confident with those, see if you can fill in the missing letters in the next exercise.

как вс зоут? what is your name?
мен зовут Вpa my name is Vera
вот реторан here is a restaurant
вот Сеa here is Syeva (a man's name)
вот метo here is the metro (subway)
мo мма русская my mother is Russian

And now a little passage to read through.

— Как вас зовут?
— Меня зовут Вера.
— А как вас зовут?
— Меня зовут Сева.

Would you be able to write down the reply if the people's names were Anna and Zoya? What about Olya and Vanya? Svyeta and Katya?



From the above examples, you have seen how important stress - where you put the emphasis on a word - is in Russian. The stress can often change in accordance with a word's role in a sentence. Unfortunately there are no simple rules to help the learner. This need not inhibit you in speaking: a word wrongly stressed will probably be understood. However it is crucial to be aware of these possible changes, since pronunciation is sometimes radically altered. Most of the stresses are marked in this course, so that you can become accustomed to them. Russians do not, however, normally mark them in the written script.


1. Tanya greets a woman in the service bureau

Tanya Здравствуйте. Zdrastvuytye.
Woman Добрый день. Dobry dyen'.

здравствуйте [zdrastvuytye] is the most common way of saying hello in Russian.

добрый день [dobry dyen'] good day
At different times of the day one can also say:
доброе утро [dobraye utra] good morning
добрый вечер [dobry vyecher] good evening

2. Katya arrives at Anna Sergeevna's house

Katya Здравствуйте, Анна Сергеевна. Zdrastvuytye, Anna Sergeevna.
Anna Sergeevna Здравствуй, Катя. Zdrastvuy, Katya.
здравствуй [zdrastvuy] is the familiar form of 'hello' used with people you know well or with children.

Practice what you have learned

The exercise below is to help you become accustomed to the various forms of greeting. Concentrate on listening and clearly distinguishing each one.

1. Listen to the recording and see if you can match the voices to the pictures below.




3. Irina introduces herself, then asks Anna Ivanovna her name

Irina Здравствуйте. Zdrastvuytye.
Anna Ivanovna Здравствуйте. Zdrastvuytye.
Irina Меня зовут Ирина. А как вас зовут? Minya zavut Irina. A kak vas zavut?
Anna Ivanovna Меня зовут Анна Ивановна. Minya zavut Anna Ivanovna.
Irina Очень приятно. Ochin' priyatna.

меня зовут... [minya zavut...] my name is... (the Russian in fact means 'they call me'). This would answer the question как вас зовут? [kak vas zavut?] 'how do they call you?' i.e. what is your name?

You may have noticed that in the word зовут [zavut] the first vowel is not pronounced as it looks. It's not a mistake! In Russian о when not stressed sounds much closer to [a] than to [о]. (It's called 'akanye'!)

The a which begins Irina's question means 'and' in a contrastive sense, as in That’s my name. And (but) what's yours?'

4. Maria Dmitrievna introduces herself to her new students

Maria Dmitrievna Здравствуйте, ребята! Zdrastvuytye, ribyata!
Students Здравствуйте! Zdrastvuytye!
Maria Dmitrievna Меня зовут Мария Дмитриевна. А как вас зовут? Minya zavut Maria Dmitrievna. A kak vas zavut?
Olya Меня зовут Оля. Minya zavut Olya.
Maria Dmitrievna А тебя как зовут? A tibya kak zavut?
Lena Меня зовут Лена. Minya zavut Lyena.
Maria Dmitrievna А тебя? A tibya?
Volodya Меня зовут Володя. Minya zavut Volodya.
Maria Dmitrievna А тебя? A tibya?
Kolya Меня - Коля. Извините, а как вас зовут? Minya - Kolya. Izvinitye, a kak vas zavut?
Maria Dmitrievna Меня зовут Мария Дмитриевна. Minya zavut Maria Dmitrievna.

ребята [ribyata] is an informal way of addressing a group of children or teenagers.

Maria Dmitrievna has used здравствуйте [zdrastvuytye] because she is addressing a group (while the children use this form because she is their teacher!)

как тебя зовут? [kak tibya zavut?] what is your name? You would use тебя [tibya] addressing a child.

извините [izvinitye] excuse me. More often than not you will hear извините, пожалуйста [izvinitye, pazhalsta] excuse me please.

Practice what you have learned

A journey by train through the Russian Federation gives ample time to become acquainted! Listen to the snatches of conversation on your recording, then decide which corresponds to each of the pictures below.




5. Misha wants his mother to meet a friend.

Misha Мама, это мой друг. Mama, eta moy druk.
Dima Здравствуйте, меня зовут Дима. Zdrastvuytye, minya zavut Dima.
Anna Sergeevna Очень приятно. Анна Сергеевна. Ochin' priyatna. Anna Sergeevna.

это... [eta...] this (is)... Introducing somebody can be very simple in Russian. You just need это... [eta...] and then a name or description of the person. To find out who somebody is, you ask кто это? [kto eta?] who is this?

мой друг [moy druk] my friend. If Misha's friend was a woman, he would say это моя подруга [eta maya padruga]. Note that мой [moy] is used talking about a man and моя [maya| about a woman.

Remember what was said above about о when not stressed. When written down, мой and моя are obviously closely related, unlike their transliterated versions!

6. Tamara asks Pavel his last name and where he's from

Tamara Павел, как ваша фамилия? Pavel, kak vasha familiya?
Pavel Моя фамилия - Величенко. Maya familiya - Velichenko.
Tamara Вы русский? Vi russky?
Pavel Нет, я украинец. Это украинская фамилия. Nyet, ya ukrayinets. Eta ukrayiskaya familiya.

как ваша фамилия? [kak vasha familiya?] what is your last name? Фамилия [familiya] may not be a person, but it is a feminine noun (see the grammar section on this page below).

вы русский? [vi russky?] are you Russian? нет, я украинец [nyet, ya ukrayinets] no. I'm Ukrainian. If he was Russian, he would answer: да, я русский [da, ya russky].

A few more nationalities:
англичанин [anglichanin] Englishman, англичанка [anglichanka] Englishwoman; француз [frantsus] Frenchman, француженка [frantsuzhinka] Frenchwoman; американец [amerikanyets] American (male), американка [amerikanka] American (female): немец [nyemets] German (male), немка [nyemka] German (female).

это украинская фамилия [eta ukrayinskaya familiya] it's a Ukrainian last name.


Tamara До свидания, Павел. Da svidanya, Pavel.
Pavel До свидания. Всего вам доброго. Da svidanya. Fsivo vam dobrava.

до свидания [da svidanya] goodbye (lit. 'until our next meeting’)

всего вам доброго [fsivo vam dobrava] all the best.

Practice what you have learned

3. Tanya is in a very cosmopolitan hotel (hotel "Cosmos" on the pictures below). Can you work out the nationalities of the people she speaks to?


(а) англичанка [anglichanka] (b) русский [russky]
(с) итальянка [ital'yanka] (d) француз [frantsus]

4. This time listen for the professions of each of the four people.

I. Sergey
II. Tanya
III. Pavel
IV. Larisa

(а) математик [matimatik]
(с) журналистка [zhurnalistka]
(e) экономист [ekanamist]
(b) студент [studyent]
(d) студентка [studyentka]

Key words and phrases

Here are the words and phrases you have met so far. Do make sure you're confident with them before going further. The best way to learn them, we think, is to say them aloud as often as possible. The transliterated forms are as close as we could get to the Russian, but you should listen to how they sound on the recording, paying particular attention to where the stress falls. This can make an enormous difference to how a word is pronounced and spelled.

здравствуйте [zdrastvuytye] hello
здравствуй [zdrastvuy] hello (to a friend, or child)
добрый день [dobry dyen'] good day
доброе утро [dobraye utra] good morning
добрый вечер [dobry vyecher] good evening
как вас зовут? [kak vas zavut?] what is your name?
как тебя зовут? [kak tibya zavut?] what is your name? (to a child)
меня зовут... [minya zavut...] my name is...
очень приятно [ochin' priyatna] pleased to meet you
извините (пожалуйста) [izvinitye (pazhalsta)] excuse me (please)
это... [eta...] this is... / it is...
мой друг [moy druk] my friend (male)
моя подруга [maya padruga] my friend (female)
как ваша фамилия? [kak vasha familiya?] what is your last name?
моя фамилия... [maya familiya...] my last name is...
вы русский? [vi russky?] are you Russian?
да, я русский [da, ya russky] yes, I am Russian
нет, я украинец [nyet, ya ukrayinets] no. I’m Ukrainian
это украинская фамилия [eta ukrayinskaya familiya] it's a Ukrainian name
я бизнесмен [ya biznismyen] I am a businessman
до свидания [da svidanya] goodbye


One can talk about Russian grammar a lot, some people do it endlessly! However you can communicate in Russian without knowing all the ‘rules’ and we have therefore kept discussion of complexities to a minimum. The notes here and in the following lessons will give you the basic structure of the language. They will help you to understand and build on what you hear in each lesson.

Please don't worry if something baffles you, or if you can't remember it all. You can leave it, and still understand the unit. You'll probably find later that you can't remember why you were confused!

Grammar should be an aid, a tool in learning Russian. Remember though that very few grammatical mistakes will be serious enough to prevent you from being understood.


In Russian nouns have a gender - masculine, feminine or neuter. Sometimes the choice will seem obvious - мама [mama] can hardly be anything but feminine! More often, however, there seems to be no reason, good or otherwise, for the gender of a particular noun.

Fortunately in Russian the gender is normally clear from the ending of a noun.

  • Masculine nouns most often end in a consonant:
    друг [druk] a male friend
  • Feminine nouns usually end in -a or :
    подруга [padruga] female friend
    фамилия [familiya] last name
  • Neuter nouns end in -o or -e:
    вино [vino] wine

We will leave neuter nouns for the moment since they don't crop up so often. The reason for mentioning anything about gender is that any word describing a noun has to 'agree' with it.

мой друг [moy druk] my (male) friend
моя подруга [maya padruga] my (female) friend

Any word describing a noun changes, for example:

украинская фамилия [ukrayinskaya familiya] a Ukrainian last name

You could have украинский друг [ukrayinsky druk] and украинская подруга [ukrayinskaya padruga]

If that seems complicated, it may be some consolation that you now know enough to construct full Russian sentences. The verb 'to be' ('I am', 'you are', etc.) is not used in Russian. To say that he is Ukrainian, Pavel simply uses the word for 'I' - я [ya] (not capitalized in Russian) and украинец [ukrayinets].

And a statement can be made into a question by simply changing one's intonation ('putting a question in the voice'):

Это украинская фамилия? [Eta ukrayinskaya familiya?]
Is it a Ukrainian name?
Да, это украинская фамилия. [Da, eta ukrayinskaya familiya.]
Yes, it is a Ukrainian name.

Did you know

The polite way of addressing somebody older or whom you don't know very well is by name and patronymic. The patronymic is formed from one's father's name with different endings for a man or woman. In the dialogues you met Anna Sergeevna. Sergeevna indicates that she is ’the daughter of Sergey’. Her brother Nikolai would be Nikolai Sergeevich.

There are titles like our 'Mr' or 'Mrs' in Russian. However, these have traditionally been used when addressing foreigners. Other titles, some in common usage before the 1917 revolution, are beginning to reappear, but it is too early to judge whether these will endure.

You will probably have noticed that the patronymic is not always used. It would not be used in addressing a child or young adult, and probably only used on formal occasions about a person in his or her 20s or 30s. Instead the first name only, or, more probably, a shortened form, is used (Katya for example is the short form of Yekaterina).

It all depends very much on the situation and on how well you know a person. This may not be of great comfort to beginners, but in fact you shouldn't have much problem. Listen to how a person introduces him or herself. And if you can't make it out the first time, you can always ask them again:

Извините, пожалуйста, как вас зовут? [izvinitye, pazhalsta, как vas zavut?] Sorry, what is your name?

Заместитель главного редактора
газеты «Московские новости»

Москва, Тверская ул., 16/2 229-82-18

Deputy Editor-in-Chief
"Moscow News"

16/2 Tverskaya St., Moscow tel: 229-82-18

Have you ever tried reading a Russian novel and had the strange sensation that characters are multiplying before your eyes? They’re not! Since it is not always easy to match up a name with its short form, here are some of the more common Russian names.

Women's names

Full name Short form

Men’s names

Full name Short form

This is by no means a definitive list. A name may have a number of possible short forms, as well as other forms used for expressing affection, etc. (Lyenachka, Natashenka and many more).

Борис Михайлович

Кандидат технических наук

Москва, 119034
Хилков переулок, 1/2
Тел. 233-46-81

Research Complex "Textile"
Cand. Sc. (Technology)

1/2 Hilkov Lane,
Moscow 119034
Tel. 233-46-81

Your turn to speak

5. The last exercise in this lesson will give you a chance to practice what you have learned. You will need the following phrases:

меня зовут... [minya zavut...]
вы русский? [vi russky?]
да, я русский (da, ya russky]
это мой друг [eta moy druk]
это моя мама [eta maya mama]
как вас зовут? [как vas zavut?]
очень приятно [ochin' priyatna]
моя фамилия... [maya familiya...]
я бизнесмен [ya biznismyen]

Now don't look on the phrases and listen to Andrei's prompts. Remember you can always go back and listen again if it seems difficult the first time.

How to use this course

Following this course will help you to understand, speak and read most of the Russian you are likely to need on vacation or business trips. The course is based on recordings made in Moscow. You will hear ordinary Russians and other Russian-speakers in everyday situations. Step by step you will learn first to understand what they are saying and then to speak in similar situations yourself.

Before producing the course we talked to many people about why and how they learn languages. We know how important it is for learning to be enjoyable - and for it to be usable from the beginning. There is not a lot of point in knowing all the complexities of Russian grammar if you can't ask for a cup of coffee! There is a grammar section in each unit, but its main function will be to help you to understand and use the language.

We have introduced the Cyrillic alphabet in the first five units. Do remember that it is difficult to learn an entirely new alphabet, and that it takes time. The exercises in each unit will help you to learn the letters, as will writing out the new words and phrases you meet.

In the first five units we have transliterated all the words, that is, we have provided the nearest equivalents in Latin script to the Russian sounds. You will see that the spelling and pronunciation of Russian words do not always correspond! A few guidelines are given below, but our best advice would be to listen as much as possible to the native speakers on your recording and follow their pronunciation.

© Halya Coynash, "Just Listen 'n Learn"

General hints to help you use the course

  • Have confidence in us! Real language is complex and you will find certain things in every unit which are not explained in detail. Don't worry about this. We will build up your knowledge slowly, selecting only what is most important to know at each stage.
  • Try to study regularly, but in short periods. 20-30 minutes each day is usually better than 4 hours once a week.
  • To help you learn to speak, say the words and phrases out loud whenever possible.
  • If you don't understand something, leave it for a while. Learning a language is a bit like doing a jigsaw or a crossword puzzle; there are many ways to tackle it and it falls into place eventually.
  • Don't be afraid to write in your book and add your own notes.
  • Do revise frequently. (There are revision sections after every three units.) It also helps to get somebody to test you - they don't need to understand Russian.
  • If you can possibly learn with somebody else, you will be able to help each other and practice the language together.
  • Learning Russian may take more time than you thought. Just be patient and above all don't get angry with yourself.

Suggested study pattern

Each unit of the course consists of approximately thirteen pages in the book and around ten minutes of recordings. The first page of each unit will tell you what you are going to learn and you will also find our Study guide there. The Study guide tells you the best way (we think) to tackle a unit. As you progress with the course you may find that you evolve a method of study which suits you better. That's fine, but we suggest you keep to our pattern at least for the first three units, or you may find you are not taking full advantage of all the possibilities offered by the material.

Lessons contain step-by-step instructions for working through the course: when to use them on its own, when to use the recording on its own, when to use them both together, and how to use them in each case. On the recording our presenter Andrei Bell will guide you through the various sections. Here is an outline of the study pattern proposed.


Listen to the dialogues, first without stopping, and get a feel for the task ahead. Then go over each dialogue or suggested group of dialogues in conjunction with the vocabulary and the notes. You should get into the habit of playing the recording repeatedly to give yourself time to think, listen to sentences a number of times, and repeat them after the speakers. Don't leave a dialogue until you are confident that you have at least understood it.

Key words and phrases

Study this list of the most important words and phrases from the dialogues. If possible, try to learn them by heart. They will be practiced in the rest of the unit.

Practice what you have learned

After each group of dialogues there are some listening and speaking exercises. To do them, you will need to work closely with the course. You will, for instance, often be asked to listen to a piece on the recording and then fill in answers or mark off boxes on the page. Or you will be asked to write an exercise and then check the answers on the recording. Use your pause/stop or repeat buttons to give yourself time to think. Normally in the last exercise you will have an opportunity to practise the most important language in the preceding dialogues.


At this stage in a unit things should begin to fall into place and you are ready for the grammar section. If you really don’t like grammar you will still learn a lot without studying this part, but most people quite enjoy finding out how the language they are learning actually works and how it is put together. In each unit we have selected just one or two major grammar points.

Alphabet and Read and understand

In these sections you will practise reading and using the Cyrillic alphabet, and, later, understanding signs, menus and so on which you may come across in Russia.

Did you know?

In this section you will be given some practical background information about Russia.

Your turn to speak

Finally back to the recording for some more practice, this time using the main words and phrases of the whole lesson. The course only gives you an outline of the exercises, so you will be listening to the recording and responding. For the first half of the lessons you will usually be asked to take part in a conversation where you hear a question or statement in Russian, followed by a suggestion in English as to how you might reply. You then give your reply in Russian and listen to see if you were right. You will probably have to go over these spoken exercises a few times. In the later lessons, as you become more confident, we will suggest situations which you might expect to encounter in Russia. Try these first yourself, and then turn on your recording to see how a Russian might talk on the same theme.


The answers to all the exercises (except those given in the recording) can be found by hovering the mouse over this key Key.

Symbols and abbreviations

This indicates an important word or phrase in the dialogues.


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