July 3, 2009 | Russian

Russian Grammar Gifts

Russian grammar is hard, but there are a few freebies.

One great thing about this project is that it makes good use of my unfortunate recent tendency to watch too much television, some of it quite bad. In pursuit of higher language goals, my bad habits essentially become virtues.

In any circumstances, however, there are limits to what kind of bad television I will watch. I hate soap operas in English. I also hate them in Spanish, Russian, or any other language. (They actually make me feel nauseated.) Unfortunately, one of the Russian channels I now subscribe to runs a Spanish-language soap called Tierra de Pasiones, meaning Land of Passions. The weird thing is, as the dialogue proceeds, you hear both the original Spanish and the Russian translation, simultaneously! So, for example, a glamorous woman will start talking melodramatically in Spanish, and then a Russian voice translating her begins moments later, covering over but not totally obscuring her voice. The entire show is like that, with dual voices dueling each other. It is disturbing to watch.

A huge relief today: I was reminded that Russian has no articles. No “the.” No “a.” No “an.” I feel as though someone just gave me a big gift card for Niketown.

In addition—and this is something I never realized before—there is no verb for the present tense of “to be.” Therefore, instead of saying “The woman is a doctor,” all you have to say is the Russian equivalent of “Woman doctor.” Two words instead of five, and no grammar to decide. Your only task is to remember two nouns.

I feel up to that challenge.

Comments (6)

BSA • Posted on Mon, April 12, 2010 - 2:40 pm EST

This style of dubbing may be a Russian thing.  I saw a movie in Moscow in the mid-80s; I can’t remember the original language, but the dubbing was done exactly this way - low but audible volume on the original language, with loud Russian over it.  Not really a duel - the original language never stood a chance.  I wonder if that means it was Ukrainian.  Or Polish.  or Bulgarian…

Katherine • Posted on Tue, May 18, 2010 - 4:44 pm EST

The simultaneous dubbing is pretty common in Russia nowadays, it is just the cheapest and fastest way to dubb something.  Back in the Soviet days, the dubbing was done so well you couldn’t tell it had been dubbed at all.  It was really impressive.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, May 19, 2010 - 11:41 pm EST

Interesting - thank you for the information!

Jenoye Stewart • Posted on Sun, April 27, 2014 - 2:49 pm EST

hey Ellen, am enjoying your blog. makes me feel like i ought to start one. but i liked your comment on the soaps, “hate them in Spanish, Russian or any other language…” lol

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, April 27, 2014 - 2:58 pm EST

Ha, Jenoye! It’s still so true. I had the TV on two days ago and passed a soap by accident as I was switching channels, and I got the shivers!

Mike • Posted on Thu, July 02, 2015 - 2:49 am EST

Even worse on TV nowadays. One of the channels here airs Big Bang Theory in Russian. Which would be great fun, except that it is dubbed by a Russian male who does ALL the parts, even the women’s parts!

And you can still hear the English, which is distracting.

When in Moscow, the wife and I learned that the DVD said it was дублирован, then it meant it would be a horrible dubbing job with the English still audible. But if it simply mentioned a Russian track, then that was the movie to buy!

Nothing more fun than watching a movie for language training. I’d start by putting it in Russian with English subtitles. Then I’d watch it months later in Russian w/o the subtitles.  If I felt like working on my reading, then I’d put it in English or Russian with Russian subtitles.

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