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In the late 9th century, two Greek brothers: Methodius and Cyril (both renowned scholars from Macedonia) converted vernacular Slavic into a written language so that teachings of Byzantine Orthodoxy could be translated for the Slavs. Many letters were derived from the Greek – the Slavic alphabet was called Cyrillic, after Cyril. When Prince Vladimir brought Christian Orthodoxy into Kievan Rus in the 10th century, Slavonic became the language of the Church. Church Slavonic, written in the Cyrillic alphabet, remained the literary and liturgical language of Russia for oven seven centuries.
In 1710, Peter the Great simplified Church Cyrillic into the ‘civil alphabet’ (grazhdansky shrift), a written form used in secular books. The two types of writing, the older script of the Church and Peter’s revised version, were both employed in Russia up the of Lomonosov and the Pushkin, who were largely responsible for combining the two into a national language for the Russian people. The alphabet that is used today was further simplified after the October Revolution.
Letters and Words
Since Russian is not a Romance language, it is more difficult to pick up words compared to French or Spanish. Before leaving for your trip, try to spend some time learning some of the Cyrillic alphabet, in which there are 33 letters compared to the English 26. Most Russian sounds are similar to English, but are just expressed with a different character symbol. For example, a Russian C is pronounced’s’, and W is a ‘sh’ sound. Thus Masha is spelled Mawa and Sasha spelled Cawa. Once you start to recognize letters of the Russian alphabet, it is easy to sound out familiar words posted on the street, such as METPO (Metro), KAÔE (cafe) and PECTOPAH (restaurant). Besides, it is fun to walk down the street and decipher many of the signs and shop names, and you will feel much more at ease in the new environment.
Once you can recognize Cyrillic letters work on Russian vocabulary and phrases. As with learning any new language, first try memorizing a few common words, such as ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’, and to count from one to ten. Granted, even though Russian is not an easy language to learn (there are seven cases of conjugation compared with four in English); you will discover that its native speakers appreciate any effort made in using their language and are delighted to help out. Even a few gestures and simple Russian expressions can go a long way and bring smiles to many faces! Purchase an English – Russian dictionary and phrasebook that can be shown to Russian-speaking people when you meet. Before your trip, you may also try one of the numerous Russian language courses for beginners and listen to audio cassettes to get feel for the pronunciation.