Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Q&A: New Year Greetings In Russian

Hello! Can you please, please help me? I want to congratulate my Russian boyfriend for the New Year, but I don't know what's proper to write? Hope you have a great day and evening!

Hi! Russians like to list all the good things they wish for each other. You can go with this:

С Новым годом! Желаю тебе счастья, здоровья и удачи! Пусть все твои мечты сбудутся!

Happy New year! I wish you happiness, good health and good luck! May all your dreams come true!

These wishes are quite common and neutral.

Please note that when we wish good health (put it in Genitive: здоровья), wealth (богатства) and so on we don’t mean that the addressee is poor and sick. We just wish him or her well being.

Other things to wish:
  • процветания - prosperity (somewhat formal)
  • любви - love
  • спокойствия - serenity
  • много радостных дней - many joyful days
  • радости - joy

Some wishes can be more specific. For example, a wish to a student who is struggling with exams: Желаю тебе отличных оценок! (I wish you to get the best scores!) Or, more jokingly: Желаю тебе невредных преподавателей (I wish your profs to be not mean to you).

Phrases like May this and that” should be started with Пусть … + future tense.

С Новым Годом!

Photo by Steven Mueller

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” This song by John Lennon is in every store at this time of year. Indeed, Christmas is the right time to ask yourself this question.

This year, I taught over 180 one-on-one lessons. I've helped my students to achieve their professional goals, pass qualification exams, and bridge the language gap between them and people who are important to them. Learning languages does change your life in many ways. I learned it from my own experience and from the experiences of my students. I want to thank all of you for the good times we had together. You are the best, guys!

This year, I've launched a shop on Etsy in cooperation with my dear husband Paul. We offer funny, witty and intellectually stimulating t-shirts and home decors there). Attention, language lovers, there are many designs for you too!

The number of followers of my blog on Tumblr exceeded 1000 this December. I'm thrilled and excited about that. Over 1000 hungry-for-knowledge polyglots read my blog, comment on my articles, and ask me questions, and this keeps me in a good intellectual shape and gives me so much drive!

I recently quit my daytime job to dedicate more time to my projects. And here goes another question: what’s next?

Next year, I plan to transform my website from a humble blog to an interactive platform with language courses, forums, podcasts and more. I believe, 2015 is going to be a special year, so stay tuned!

I wish you joyful holidays and a very happy New Year! May curiosity and inspiration be with all of us in 2015!

Happy New Year!
Photo by lentina_x

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Q&A: Three Different Words For Real

What's the difference between настоящий естественный and реальный ? Could you give some example phrases to illustrate the distinctions, and some collocations?

Настоящий - 1) real as opposed to fake. Это настоящий Хеннеси, не подделка! This is real Hennessey, not a counterfeit.
2) It can also be used an an amplifier, similar to English ‘real’: Это настоящий бардак. It’s a real mess.

Естественный - natural, the opposite to artificial, or normal. Она была естественной - She was natural (= she acts normally, she didn’t pretend to be someone else). В естественной среде кошки живут 5-6 лет. In the wild (i.e. in the natural environment) a cats’ life span is 5-6 years.

Реальный - real as opposed to imaginary, also practical, factual. Добро пожаловать в реальный мир, Нео! - Welcome to the real world Neo! Реальная опасность для города - это автомобили, они отнимают всё общественное пространство. The real threat for a city is cars, they take all the public space.

In modern colloquial Russian, реальный is overused and (partly because of that) has a flavor of a poor language, a slang, when used as an amplifier (compare to настоящий) or a synonym for cool, awesome.

I hope this helped.

Photo by Steven Mueller

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Napoleon Cake

The Napoleon Cake also known as mille-feuille, a sort of custard slice cake, and has been one of the most popular cakes in Russia for two centuries. As Wikipedia says, “the exact origin of the mille-feuille is unknown”, however, one of the versions suggest a connection between the name of the cake and the Russian victory over Napoleon in 1812. Presumably, the triangular shape of a cake portion in a dish resembles the famous Napoleon's hat.

This recipe is from my family heritage. My great-grandmother wrote it about 50 years ago. My mom still keeps this piece of paper with her handwriting.

The ingredients are very basic, nothing fancy, but the cooking technique is quite complicated and requires advanced skills. When I was baking this cake I realized how much easier our life has become and how much more skillful our grandmothers had to be in order to cook so many different dishes out of plain, basic food. This is by no means a last minute recipe - it takes about 3-4 hours to cook it and it has to stand overnight to let the pastry absorb the cream. So, if you have plenty of time and want to impress your family and friends with an old-charm classy cake for Christmas dinner, challenge your cooking skills and try it!

For the pastry:
1 1/2 cup of sugar
1 cup of butter
2 eggs
2 tsp of baking soda (mmm, I think, it's too much, but...)
1 cup of milk
3 1/2 - 4 cups of flour, enough to make smooth and soft dough.

For the cream:
3 egg yolks
2 1/4 cup of sugar
3/4 cup of butter
4 1/2 tbsp of flour
4 1/4 cups of milk

Stir all dry ingredients for the pastry. Dice a cup of butter and fold it into the dry mix. Stir well (I used a mixer). Add milk. Stir again. If the dough is thin, add more flour until the dough is not too sticky and can be rolled into very thin slices.

Form 12-16 balls. Take a rolling pin, dust your work surface with a flour and make very thin, almost paper-like slices (not more than 2 mm) out of the balls. Heat oven to 180C (350F) and bake each slice for 12-15 minutes or until slightly golden-brown.

Meanwhile, start making the cream. Separate the egg yolks and stir them very well with sugar and a pinch of salt - until the mix turns a very light yellow. Add flour, mix well. Add 1 cup of cold milk, mix very well. Avoid lumps. When the rest of the milk starts to boil, reduce the heat immediately.Pour the cream mixture into the boiling milk very slowly, using a whisk to stir the cream. Stir vigorously, otherwise, you'll get flakes of cooked yolks. Bring the cream to the boil again, and cook it for another 3-5 minutes. Don’t stop stirring. Let it get thicker and set it aside.

To arrange: make layers by piling the slices on top of one another and putting a lot of cream on top of each slice. Be generous - you have more than enough of cream. Don’t forget to add the cream to the sides - the more cream the better. Crumble the most brown and well-baked slice and use it as a topping. Add cherries, chocolate or other topping, if desired. Let the cake stand for at least 8 hours in a cool place. Enjoy it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Russian Names

When I was a child, I was an insatiable reader. I read everything I could get my hands on. Once I found the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, and spent a couple of weeks reading that incredibly long novel. Of course, the book was in Russian, because in the Soviet Union, books in English were quite hard to buy. So the hardest part for me was to track all the names there and figure out the relations between dozens of characters. To speed up my reading, I cheated - I didn’t read the names. Rather, I guessed them by reading the first letter and a couple of other letters, memorizing the length of the name and its shape. Funny looking British names were too weird for me back then. I couldn’t memorize them and when reading, I didn’t pronounce them in my mind. I marked the names like “the oldest guy”, “his son”, “that crazy lady - his prospective wife”, etc.

I recalled that well-forgotten episode of my biography recently, when my student told me that he was reading a long, classic Russian novel. For him, getting through all those monstrous Russian names was as hard as it was for me when I read Galsworthy. Since the Russian classic is still quite popular worldwide, here is a brief observation of Russian names. I hope it will help you to deal with the Russian classics.

Russian full names consist of three parts: first name, patronymic, last name.

First Name

Russian first names have their full form and one or more diminutive variants. Quite often, Russians call their diminutive names “short names”, but it is not rare that “short names” are actually longer than their full forms. Diminutive names are used with family and friends and generally show closeness and short social distance. At school, teachers normally call students by their diminutive names, because children are normally addressed by their short names. An older person may call a younger adult by his or her short name, which can be a sign of friendliness or patronizing, depending on their relations. What is absolutely unthinkable in the Russian culture is that presidents would be called by their short names, like Bill Clinton, for example.
Here are some examples of Russian diminutive first names:

  • Александр - Саша, Шура, Саня
  • Владимир - Вова, Влад, Володя, Вовочка.
  • Мария - Маша, Маня, Маруся

Instagram, photo
Photo by Ivano Bellini


Unlike in English, where you may or may not have a middle name, every Russian has a patronymic - the name formed from the father’s name. You might wonder, what if the new mom doesn’t know the name of the father of her child? Or she may simply not want to honor the man by giving her child the patronymic, which like the first name, is very hard to change later on. Well, then new moms make up patronymics. You can identify a patronymic by its ending: for men, it is -ович/-евич/-ич (-ovich, -yevich, -yich), for women, it is -овна/-евна/-ична/-инична (-yevna, -ovna or -ichna). Examples:
If the father's name is Михаил, the patronymic is Михайлович (for a son) or Михайловна (for a daughter)

If the father’s name is Игорь, the patronymic is Игоревич (for a son) or Игоревна (for a daughter)

Patronymic is a part of a full name and is normally used in formal occasions. It may also show your respect to a person. Sometimes you may find a patronymic used alone, without the first name. It is a very informal way to address a person that is acceptable in some specific situations - among close friends or where people are used to calling each other by patronymics only.

Last Name

Last name in Russian is фамилия (familia). One of the most confusing things about the Russian last names is that they are gender-dependent: Цветаев (m), but Цветаева (f), Савицкий (f), but Савицкая (f). However, this is true only for the last names ending with -ов(а), -ев(а), -ин(а), and -ский/ -ская. Last names ending with -их, -ко, and -ец (probably, some other endings should be added to this list) have no gender variations.

Regular Russian names have to be declined, and they follow their specific declension rules. For foreign last names the rules are more complicated: most male last names can and should be declined, while female last names remain unchanged in all cases: у Курта Воннегута, but У Анны Воннегут. However, Italian last names ending with -i or -o are not declined. There are other exceptions, too, so even Russians get confused when trying to add a foreign last name to a Russian sentence.

During the Soviet Era, it became a tradition to put the last name before the first name. I don’t know for sure why this happened back then, but this fashion has returned recently, and my friends register their accounts on Facebook in this way: last name + first name. It is a great source of confusion, because for people who don’t speak Russian, it is absolutely impossible to figure out which is which. Interestingly enough, celebrity names have been always written in the normal order: First name + Last name: Alla Pugachyova has never ever been introduced as Pugachyova Alla.