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Russian and other Slavic languages

 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
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jbbar
Senior Member
Belgium
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 Message 1 of 43
13 May 2009 at 2:11pm | IP Logged 
Just how close are Russian and other Slavic languages like Ukrainian and Polish? How well can you understand or read these languages knowing only Russian? I'm asking this because I know that some natives in the Slavic states that were formerly Soviet republics may prefer using English to Russian, but nonetheless I'd still be interested to know how helpful Russian is in understanding the Slavic languages spoken in these countries. I hope to hear from both native Russian speakers and those learners who have acquired a good command of Russian.

Thanks,
jbbar
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leonidus
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Russian Federation
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 Message 2 of 43
13 May 2009 at 3:22pm | IP Logged 
Being Russian, I can understand 50-70% of Ukrainian, and probably about 30-40% of Polish. It depends on the context, topic, etc. I can't speak in them, just understand since many words have the same roots as their Russian equivalents. So I can get the gist and sometimes details too.
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SII
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 Message 3 of 43
13 May 2009 at 4:16pm | IP Logged 
IMHO, Ukrainian -- 70-90%, Byelorussian, Bulgarian -- 40-70%, Polish -- less than 30%. The West Slavonic languages (Polish etc) have more difference than the South Slavonic (Bulgarian, Serbian etc).
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Sennin
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 Message 4 of 43
13 May 2009 at 5:43pm | IP Logged 
SII wrote:
IMHO, Ukrainian -- 70-90%, Byelorussian, Bulgarian -- 40-70%, Polish -- less than 30%. The West Slavonic languages (Polish etc) have more difference than the South Slavonic (Bulgarian, Serbian etc).


Lol, 70%... I wish it were that easy. I'd say it's like 40% for Bulgarian and keep in mind I have studied some Russian in school; It's probably less transparent for the "general public".

On the other hand, I can understand 90% of what Serbs have to say and about 99% of Macedonian :). The difference Serbian<->Bulgarian (and vice versa) is like English<->Scots. Hmm... actually Scots is much more difficult to comprehend for English-speaking people. I guess this is not a good example. Anyway, South Slavic languages are very closely related but they are quite different form Russian.

Edited by Sennin on 13 May 2009 at 6:02pm

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Russianbear
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 Message 5 of 43
13 May 2009 at 6:03pm | IP Logged 
jbbar wrote:
Just how close are Russian and other Slavic languages like Ukrainian and Polish? How well can you understand or read these languages knowing only Russian? I'm asking this because I know that some natives in the Slavic states that were formerly Soviet republics may prefer using English to Russian, but nonetheless I'd still be interested to know how helpful Russian is in understanding the Slavic languages spoken in these countries. I hope to hear from both native Russian speakers and those learners who have acquired a good command of Russian.

Thanks,
jbbar


It depends. If both people make an effort, it can be relatively easy to get one's message across on relatively simple topics. Some languages are easier to understand when you hear them than when you reads them and vice versa. Also, I think some of the numbers cited by others may be too high, because they only ever encounter the most basic of topic/phrases in other languages, and those can be significantly easier to understand than the rest of the language.

My own guess would be for a Russian speaker can understand a Ukrainian or a Belarusian speaker as much as 70-90% on relatively simple topics, but on more complex and obscure and technical things, that number can get significantly lower - to perhaps 50-70%. With Polish, I'd say the number would be 40-60% on simple/basic topics, and below 30% on complex topics. Polish is weird - sometimes it seems like it is the Polish writing that is easier to understand than Polish speech, yet other times it seems like speech is easier than writing.

I think someone who knows Ukrainian in adition to Russian will have a somewhat easier time with Polish, as a lot of the words that would be new to a Russian learning Ukrainian would be cognates with Polish words. So, someone who speaks both Russian and Ukrainian may understand considerably more than someone who speaks only Russian.

Bulgarian may be somewhat closer to Russian in terms of vocabulary (compared to Polish), but Polish is closer to Russian in terms of grammar. For a Russian who hasn't had any exposure to Ukrainian, Bulgarian may be easier to understand than Polish due to similarities in vocabulary - and writing is much easier, because it is Cyrillic and is pretty straightword compared to Polish.

Serbo-Chroato-Bosnian is hard for speakers of Russian to understand, I think. It is more remote than Polish, I think, though the writing may appear easier whenever it is written with the Cyrillic alphabet. Czech may be the most remote Slavic language for Russian speakers, but even Czech is still close enough that one can understand a lot of the phrases and words, though. Even Ukrainian doesn't help me much with Czech, though sometimes when I watch Czech movies with subtitles, I can kinda recreate the things that are said in my head, and I am able to parse sentences into words and have a decent idea of what word translates into what. But I'd probably be pretty much lost if subtitles were not available.

Edited by Russianbear on 13 May 2009 at 6:40pm

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Russianbear
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 Message 6 of 43
13 May 2009 at 6:07pm | IP Logged 
Sennin wrote:
SII wrote:
IMHO, Ukrainian -- 70-90%, Byelorussian, Bulgarian -- 40-70%, Polish -- less than 30%. The West Slavonic languages (Polish etc) have more difference than the South Slavonic (Bulgarian, Serbian etc).


Lol, 70%... I wish it were that easy. I'd say it's like 40% for Bulgarian and keep in mind I have studied some Russian in school; It's probably less transparent for the "general public".
.


It depends on how one defines these percentages. Maybe you actually agree with SII, but just refer to different things. If someone understands about 70% of the words in a paragraph, it is possible they only understand 40% of the paragraph's meaning :)

Edited by Russianbear on 13 May 2009 at 6:22pm

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Sennin
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 Message 7 of 43
13 May 2009 at 6:52pm | IP Logged 
Russianbear wrote:
Sennin wrote:
SII wrote:
IMHO, Ukrainian -- 70-90%, Byelorussian, Bulgarian -- 40-70%, Polish -- less than 30%. The West Slavonic languages (Polish etc) have more difference than the South Slavonic (Bulgarian, Serbian etc).

Lol, 70%... I wish it were that easy. I'd say it's like 40% for Bulgarian and keep in mind I have studied some Russian in school; It's probably less transparent for the "general public".
.

It depends on how one defines these percentages. Maybe you actually agree with SII, but just refer to different things. If someone understands about 70% of the words in a paragraph, it is possible they only understand 40% of the paragraph's meaning :)


Yea, probably... In my view, transparency is the level of overall ineligibility, not the percentage of intelligible words. Making a "bag of words" assumption (no structure) would result in a higher percentage but it's not 70% for sure.

Edited by Sennin on 13 May 2009 at 6:52pm

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William Camden
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United Kingdom
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 Message 8 of 43
15 May 2009 at 8:10pm | IP Logged 
I posted about this before, probably last year.
Somewhere on Wikipedia, the opinion was expressed that for a Russian, Polish was a little like the Jabberwocky poem in English would be for an English speaker. The basic grammar and some of the basic words are the same or nearly the same, but much of the vocabulary is unfamiliar. So there is a combination of familiar sentence structure with incomprehensible words.


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