How to Tell if Someone is Russian – So You Can Practice Russian

When you are starting to learn Russian, it’s a lot of fun to meet Russians and try to talk to them in Russian. This is usually a very pleasant way to make new friends.

However, when you are just starting out, it’s really hard to tell the difference between a Russian accent and a French or German accent. Even after you are fluent in Russian, it might still be hard to tell the difference between someone speaking English with a Russian accent or a Polish accent.

So here’s the secret…

You need to do something to let people know you are friendly. People whose native language is Russian can be a little bit afraid to tell you where they originally were from, because immigrants and travelers sometimes aren’t treated very well. To reassure them that you mean well, here’s what to do.

Say something like, “I like your accent; where are you from?” This lets them you you are friendly, and it lets them know that they should tell you about growing up in Moscow, not about the apartment where they now live in New York City.

I’ve used this method to meet Russians everywhere from Hawaii to New Zealand to London. It’s disarming, and it’s a good way to switch to talking in Russian.

Can you honestly say that you like their accent? Of course you can. You will soon be speaking Russian with an accent (at least at first), and it’s high time that you develop a love for interesting accents. It’s a great way to meet Russians outside of Russia.

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6 Comments to “How to Tell if Someone is Russian – So You Can Practice Russian”

  1. emilyg

    Here are some signs to see if you’re listening to someone speak English with a Russian accent:
    -if they speak in a monotone
    -if they avoid using “to be”
    -if they omit little words like “the, a, an, to”
    -if they roll their R’s
    -if they pronounce a guttural H
    -if they pronounce ‘w’ as ‘v’
    -if they pronounce ‘th’ as ‘z’
    -if they pronounce ‘I’ as “ee”
    -emphasizing the end of “-ing” even turning it into a “k” sound

  2. emilyg is right, you will also hear Russians (and some Ukrainians) sometimes overuse the word “the” in English.

  3. mrbean

    As someone who lives in a foreign country and has an accent, please *do not do this*.

    When we’re just trying to blend in and live our lives, the last thing we want is to be called out for our foreignness and used for language practice.

  4. Brent Van Arsdell

    Of course you wouldn’t like it if someone singled you out for your accent in a negative way. However what I am suggesting is that people learn how to gently welcome you with the love and enthusiasm for your culture that I share.

    So thank you for making this post and please know that I think your accent is lovely! I really do.

  5. Екатерина

    Russian is my native language. I started to learn English recently. I’ll be glad to help studying Russian language and instead start practicing English. Skype – salinno-1

    ———–Google translation above. Original below.————–

    Русский мой родной язык. Я начала изучать английский недавно. Буду рада помочь изучающим русский язык а взамен начать практиковать английский. Skype – salinno-1

  6. Brent Van Arsdell

    Hi Ekaterina,

    I wish we had a way to find a language exchange partner.

    In my experience, language exchange works well when both students can already carry on a conversation in their new language. Also talking about the same thing first in one language and then the other helps a lot.

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