Essential Russian Phrases

I’m four weeks into Russian lessons*. Major accomplishments include:

  • Being able to order an americano with milk, both to stay and to-go!
  • Passive-aggressively yelling “FINE!” at a taxi driver.
  • Last week, the corner store lady asked if I could understand Russian, I said yes and then she told me I looked nice that day.

My преподаватель is a lovely woman who teaches lessons to all the expats studying Russian here at the university. I’m sure there are other options out there but she’s so very good and already on campus so often, what would be the point in looking elsewhere? She’s also endeared herself to me forever because she once asked me if I was a ballerina.


Language books continue to be racist.

We meet for an hour and a half once a week, one-on-one, which is ideal for me. She tells me my reading and writing is very good and she’s impressed by my memory but my conversational skills need a lot of work. When someone speaks Russian to me, I feel as if I’ve just been passed the ball in soccer and I get so panicky that I forget everything and kick/blurt as fast as I can in an aimless direction. I get especially nervous when people I know are around. My friend Kevin (who is fluent in like 7 languages) doesn’t think I know, but I KNOW, that he was laughing at the way I pronounced “coffee” in Russian yesterday. Or maybe my self-consciousness just makes me crazy. It’s probably both. If only more people had been around to hear my flawless зеленый чай order later that afternoon.


There are many sites out there that will tell you basic Russian phrases but how often am I going to say “I’m looking for John?” So here is my comprehensive list of phrases/words that I actually use on a regular basis and I think, would be helpful for visitors here. I’ve also linked them to pronunciations on Forvo, rather than write garbled phonetic strings. And if you want to learn/brush up on the Russian alphabet, this is my favourite site.


Getting a Taxi

Once you’ve flagged down a cab, go up to the driver and say the name of your location. Then if they say да (yes), you ask сколько. Agree on a number, which will probably be between 500-1000 tenge and off you go.




Можно means “may I” and is used to preface any ordering.

Putting this altogether, here’s how you could order two beers: Можно два пиво, пожалуйста. And then you will probably be asked a question, which I always assume is about the size and so I automatically respond with a size-related answer: Нул пять. If it turns out to be about something else, then a не понимаю is in order.


The power was out over the weekend. That’s the building I live in.


You have to ask for milk when you order since it’s not kept on the counter. Things like latte and cappuccino are all pronounced the same way, except the “i” in Americano is pronounced like an “ee,” and roll the “r” if you can.

Deciding Which Dumplings to Buy

Potato is best, in my books. Mushroom is worst (said by someone who likes mushrooms).


One of the last morning runs I’ll go on for some time, probably.

Taxi Conversations 

Sometimes taxi rides are really long and often the drivers want to have a conversation or know more about you. Here are some common questions they ask and answers you can give (I got lazy about the pronunciation linking here. There aren’t links to the full phrases, anyhow):


I went to the Canadian Embassy for Thanksgiving. Best sugar pie of my life.

*This post is not conducive to photos and so there are some random ones throughout.

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