Learn Russian As It's Really Spoken From LOLCats

One of the most difficult barriers in Russian study is the disconnect between the words and pronunciations you learn in a book and those you hear in daily speech.

In English, we write "I am going to..." but we say "I'm gonna". We write "what do you think?", but we say "Whaddya think?" This same phenomenon happens all over the world in other languages, and it will confuse you if you try to learn from books and in classes.

In my super-fast year of Russian study, I took in a lot of vocabulary and had a lot of work to just learn the basics and reach a point where I could understand what I was hearing. This worked out well for me since most of my Russian friends here are former-Soviets, so they speak in a very educated and proper way. But on my trip to Tashkent, I found out that modern, young Russian-speakers use a lot of slang.

Fortunately, there is a fun resource that allows you to keep up with some of the slang people use when they speak, and do it in a fun way: Russian LOLCats. Just like the English phenomenon with which you are probably already familiar, it's a bunch of pictures of cute cats, made funnier by adding witty captions. The captions are supposed to be in the voice of the cat, so you get a good dose of slang.

For example...

One of the first words you learn in Russian is что (shto), which means "what". A lot of your subsequent study will be built upon this word. But when you find yourself among young Russian-speaking people, you won't ever hear that word. Instead, they say чë (cho).

In other regions (the Russian-speaking world is big!), instead of чë (cho), people say шо (sho) or що (scho).

And an interesting usage note, чë (or шо/що, etc) isn't only "what". It can also be used as "why"? As in the phrase чë так, which is literally a meaningless "what thus", but when you hear it, it usually means something like "why not?"

Another slang shorthand I picked up on was the shortening of тебе (tebyeh) into something more like те (tyeh), and тебя (tebya) into тя (tya).

You can also notice shortening of сейчас (seychass), meaning "now", into the shorter form щас (schas), or even ща (scha).

These Russian LOLCats can be an endless source of fun, of course. But they are also a great way to stay up to date on the way Russian is actually being spoken, rather than the stiff, scholarly way it is taught in books. And you can add the RSS feed to your Google Reader to get regular updates and practice your Russian.


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  • Good post, I'm a native speaker from Odessa (Ukraine) and we have a lot of slang that bugs my Moscow friends.I've heard all of the above, but never heard "чë как". To say that would sound pretty weird in my area.

  • My friends use чё the same way we would say "Huh?" also. They thought it was hilarious when we kept saying "Huh?" and made fun of the face that we apparantly make when we say it. I would guess that "Huh?" sounds really nasally to them. I also have a friend who says чтоль all the time. I think it would roughly translate to the Canadian "eh?", but I'm not 100% sure about that. It's derived from что ли.

  • It would be nice if a native speaker would add a few new ones when he comments. :)

  • чтоль? hmmm it kinda sounds like что ли, just smooshed together fast... which I understand to be like "or what?" I like the comparison to the Canadian "eh"! :)

  • Hard to pin point exactly what it is, as I say it without thinking. I'll try to remember it for next time. Ukraine's Russian is much more relaxed, more informal. Just easier floating.
    One thing I like to say is 'Priti v sebya'. Literally it means: Come to oneself as in relax, gather thoughts, chill, etc. I have not heard Moscovites say that, but in Odessa we say that all the time.It's a good way to break a tense moment. Just say, 'Mne nada priti v sebya' as in 'I need to chill/relax' and you'll always get a laugh out of it if said in sarcastic context.

  • Excellent! Great tip!

  • If you don't understand something on the lolcats website, ask in the comments! There's a human approach to everything. :)I have a phrase for you that I've used numerous times: да ну нА!
    It means "no f*cking way!" but doesn't sound as rude as its full version "да ну нахуй!", which can be used as a disagreement or expression of surprise. Gotta love those one-syllable words!

  • I love it!

  • Jen is absolutely right. The colloquial чё, like the regular что, is very often used like the English "huh?". The shorter чё? sounds either impolite or very informal, что? is neutral, and there is a polite reduplicated что-что? which is often used when one can't hear what is being told.On the other hand, "чё как" sounds quite unfamiliar (I live in Moscow region), but it looks very un-sophisticated.

  • Apologies... I wrote it incorrectly. It's supposed to be "чё так". My understanding is that "чё так" IS very unsophisticated. hahaha! But I have definitely heard it said.
    Good point on the что-что... I hear this a lot. This phrase sounds funny to me and always makes me laugh when I hear it.

  • Hello, I'm a native speaker from Moscow. "Чё-как" is a very informal way to say "how are you?". Literally "what and how?". Sometimes we use it to ask a person about details of some problem/business/event (also informal).
    Example:
    - Был у врача вчера
    - Чё-как?
    - Сказал - жить буду! (:

  • Oh great! I like English lolcats for the same reason.))
    I'm a native speaker from Moscow. "Hello, I'm a native speaker from Moscow. "Чё-как" is a very informal way to say "how are you?". Literally "what and how?". Sometimes we use it to ask a person about details of some problem/business/event (also informal)." - that is right! Exactly what I wanted to say.
    There's also "ну чё?" with the same meaning. Or sometimes even "Ну чё-как?" =)

  • Seems like,Ну и как?

  • Thanks!

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