Helpful Russian Words I Really Wish Existed In English

Picture of a Cottage
Having grown up overseas, I am no stranger to the problem of searching for a word in my native language and coming up empty when doing English translation. After becoming fluent in my second language, Russian, and spending years living and working in that language, I often find myself code-switching when trying to express myself in English. This happens the most when I’m trying to describe a very particular word that has no direct interpretation from Russian to English translation or interpretation, or it can happen simply because the Russian word carries more cultural meaning than the English equivalent would which no amount of English translation can find a way to replace. The same holds true with other languages when you are trying to make a meaningful English translation. Imagine how it would look when trying to translate text from other languages into English translation. Either way, the more languages I am exposed to, the more I find that not all words are equal, and some other languages offer more details on certain subjects than others. You will notice this with a machine translation of words phrases when the English translation of Russian leads to something awkward. Russian-English translate, as applies to other languages for that matter, leads more or less to the same thing. Worse of all, if you do it through machine translation or any translation tool run by artificial intelligence.

The more languages I am exposed to, the more I find that not all words are equal, and some languages offer more details on certain subjects than others.

We have several helpful articles that can guide you through the value of meaningful translation and interesting cultural information such as the contextual differences encountered in simultaneous interpreting, and learning about Chinese New Year Facts from one of the most dependable language translation services companies today.

Second-language speakers often stumble upon words and phrases that communicate specific ideas better or more fully than their own mother tongue might. Sometimes a word just feels better in other languages. Let’s look at some of my favorite words and phrases in Russian that are hard to translate from Russian to English
 

как раз – kak raz

idiom, literally: how time

This is our first example of Russian to English translation that won’t have exactly the same context. Roughly translated, this word can mean just in time/just right/exactly/perfectly/precisely/about to/on the nose. However, this can also be a way to punctuate the certainty of a statement just made or affirm someone else’s comment or opinion. This phrase can be used to make a friend feel better about an outfit they’ve chosen, or highlight an irrefutable fact in an argument. In the words of the three bears, this phrase is just right.

“как раз – kak raz” is an idiom that literally means “how time.” This Russian term can carry a number of connotations, depending on the context of the conversation.

oго – ogo

interjection, expression of surprise

This can be translated as wow/oh boy/aha/woah. This is a word that carries not only a fun meaning, but also a regional flavor which makes the Russian to English translation of this particular word more challenging. Less used in western Russian cities, this particular interjection is most common in villages throughout Siberia. While not rude or vulgar, this interjection will certainly be corrected by any Russian speech teacher.

 

дача – dacha

noun, summer home/summer cottage/chalet/garden home/cabin

While this word seems to have a one-to-one translation, the Russian word conjures up a very different image in the mind of the speaker. In English, a summer home or cottage would call to mind a quiet little house, maybe tucked back in the woods or near a beach, where a family would go to relax for a few weeks during the summer. This is rather different from the Russian idea of “dacha.” In Russia, a “dacha” is where you go every week during the summer to tend to your garden plot. Most of these houses are co-owned with extended family, and the responsibility is shared through the summer, with the harvest divided in the fall. Though most of Russia’s population lives in cities, agriculture is still a major part of life. Consequently, a “dacha” is more than just a relaxing summer home, but a necessity to have fresh fruits and vegetables, and a place to prepare and pickle produce to last through the cold winter months in the city. While “summer home” or “garden home” can grasp some of this image, it could never be fully described in one word in an English translation.
Picture of a Cottage
The Russian term “дача – dacha” means “summer home” or “summer cottage” and reflects the important role that agriculture still plays in the lives of most Russians.

чайник – chainik

noun, tea kettle/teapot/kettle

I’ll admit, this word is easily translated into English, with all possible translations falling into the same semantic category. However, like the last term, this word brings to mind a slightly different image to a native Russian speaker than its counterpart in the English language. In English, “tea kettle” would make one think of a cheerfully whistling teapot sitting on the stove. Some people have a tea kettle, some people don’t. It is not necessarily a staple of life (at least not in the American English speaking world). In Russian, the first image associated with “chainik” would be an electric teapot, always at the ready to entertain guests or waiting in the corner of the office for the next tea break. The “chainik” is an integral part of the Russian experience, and present in all places where Russians are gathered. Because of the cultural association of the “chainik,” there is no exact Russian to English translation possible, or through any translation tool run by artificial intelligence for that matter.
Picture of a red teapot beside white teacups
“чайник – chainik” as the Russian term for “tea kettle” or “teapot.” Though easily translated, the term carries connotations in Russian culture that reflects the centrality of tea in everyday life.

молодец – molodets

noun, good person/good boy/brave fellow; phrase, good job/well done/atta-boy

This final word is one that can be basically translated into an English translation but does not come across as succinctly as it does in Russian. Its most common usage is as an accolade extended to someone doing a good thing, easily translated as “good job!” When used as a noun, though, there is not quite the same idea expressed in English. In Russian, it is quite common to congratulate someone and tell them they are a “molodets.” But when that is translated directly into English, that same person would be told they are a “good boy,” which holds less of a congratulatory meaning, and more of a condescending tone. Perhaps the English language places a higher value on results, while Russian places more value on the person achieving said results. Whatever the case, there is not quite an equivalent English noun or noun phrase that would not sound mildly sarcastic, when used in the same context as “molodets.”
As a linguist and a collector of languages, I often find myself struggling to stay confined within my first language. The more languages I study, the more I find that sometimes I can express myself in another language more clearly than my own. I have a growing list of foreign words that seem to be infiltrating my English vocabulary, and I can’t say that I’m sad about that.
The more languages I study, the more I find that sometimes I can express myself in another language more clearly than my own.
Each multi-lingual speaker’s list will be different, since language usage is rather subjective. However, students of any language will find that the deeper they delve into a foreign tongue, the more they will discover the joy of code-switching and the burden of explaining themselves, as they discover more and more words they wish existed in English.

Why AFLS?

English translation of other languages won’t get the proper context when you use an artificial intelligence-based machine translation tool. Like Russian to English for instance, when you translate text, it won’t mean exactly what was meant. Though Google can be useful for casual situations, such as asking around, the English translation won’t be useful enough for business documents or files, for a web page, academic papers, product brochures, or even studying search history or patterns. To get a more meaningful Russian English translation, or for any language such as Chinese or other languages, then you need a dedicated translator to do the job for you to achieve the quality you need.

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AFLS understands the power and importance of language, and we seek to support the unique linguistic diversity of the world by providing bilingual language interpreting and translation in over 400 different languages, from Afaan Oromoo and Afar to Zulu and Zuni. Do we have your language? Take a look at our language list to find out! And contact us today for a free quote!
 

  About the Author: Anne Hutchens

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