How I Used Yahoo! Answers To Learn Russian

The concept of Yahoo! Answers is one of the best Google hacks ever created. You let people from all over ask questions, and let people from all over answer those questions, and while doing almost no work yourself, your site quickly becomes firmly entrenched in the first page of Google results for almost every topic. Brilliant.

When I was learning Russian, I had a lot of questions and I regularly found myself clicking links which eventually led me to Yahoo! Answers. You've probably had a similar experience in the language you're studying.


An interesting phenomenon about the Russian language is transliteration. Most computers do not have Cyrillic keyboards. Many cellphones don't support Cyrillic, and even if they do, a limitation of SMS is that Cyrillic characters are counted as two Latin characters, so messages in Russian can only be half as long. And until recently, Google Translate didn't do transliteration, so a good way to keep conversations private was through transliteration.

There are many reasons to do it. The important thing is that people do it. And when I was learning Russian, I found that there were many people on Yahoo! Answers looking for help with transliterations. Usually they were insecure husbands spying on wives, or insecure bosses spying on employees, but whatever the case, they were people looking for Russian translations.

This created a perfect task for the learner (me!) because it involved real conversation, using the language as it is actually used by real people, rather than an fake academic conversation designed for a textbook. And more importantly, it forced me to sound out words and improve my vocabulary, because I was working with transliterated text.

Different people transliterate differently. There are no rules. For example, one person may write the word лучшее in a character-by-character replacement as luchshee. Others may write the same word how they pronounce it, maybe as lutshee. And many others will choose to use characters that resemble their cyrillic equivalents: ly4wee.

Unpredictable tasks

As you can probably imagine, working with these irregularities requires a stronger phonetical understanding of the language and a better sense of grammar — something I didn't necessarily have when I began these exercises, but which I developed quickly as a result of doing them.

When learning a language, you can learn a lot from non-standard challenges in the language. Translating texts I didn't understand forced me to learn to understand. Translating words I didn't know forced me to learn them — especially slang expressions.

I've recently found a similar challenge as I've been conversing in Macedonian on Facebook. While Macedonian is written in a Cyrillic alphabet, all of my friend's status messages are written in Latin characters. And once again I'm finding this forces me to learn faster.

You may think it's a good idea, but you can't use it because the language you're learning is already in a Latin character set. But there are still many ways things can be written differently. Maybe you can find some conversations in SMS shorthand, or some text written in Rosarigasino.

This is also why I welcome misspellings, and why I'm not afraid to learn from chat rooms. I like to read things written by people who can't spell, or to chat with people who type too quickly and make a lot of mistakes, because it forces me to learn more. After all, I can understand those things in English, why shouldn't I understand them in Spanish or Turkish? Or when they're intentionally misspelled for comedic effect in German?

Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.

Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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