08 January 2011

Russian Sign Language

This is our most frequent view of St. Petersburg - our classroom's marker board. When we leave class, we go home and study. When we go out to dinner or drinks, we break out our flashcards (which are cut up squares of paper - index cards do not exist in Russia). However, being able to walk around and read the signs, albeit slowly, makes us fel like it's all worth it. Here are a few signs spotted on the streets of St. Petersburg, to give you an idea of the language we're up against.
Some signs look simple to pronounce. While there are a handful of characters in the Cyrillic alphabet that look like Roman letters, they don't correspondent with the same sounds. This word actually reads 'Res-toe-ron,' which means - you guessed it- Restaurant. My new dream is to open a Russian restaurant in NYC and name it Pectopah. I'd give a 10% discount to anyone who gets the joke.
Other signs look completely indecipherable, like this one, but wind up sounding and meaning something completely familiar. It's really exciting to look at a sign, sound it out and begin to hear familiar words emerge. The second line here reads: Een-for-mats-eon-ye Stend. Information Stand!
This sign seemed to work the same way at first: ma-ga-zeen. Magazine! Unfortunately, магазин actually means 'shop' and the word for magazine is pronounced journal (журнал). Awesome.
Iconic branding always aids in a quick translation.
Yes, that is how you spell Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie using Cyrillic. These names don't actually exist in the Russian language, so these are basically phonetic approximations.
Don't be fooled, most Russian words sound absolutely nothing like English. So, while I can probably read the above sentences aloud, I wouldn't be able to tell you what most of it meant. We've been having fun coming up with hints to remember the fifty or so words we've learned so far. For example, the word for 'parents' is родителей (pronounced roditaly). One of our classmates is from Italy, so we remember the word for parents by thinking "What did Manola do when she wanted to communicate with her parents? She wrote Italy. Roditaly!"
The Golden Arches are a language all their own.

Note from the blogger: Americans need an invitation from the Russian Consulate in order to apply for an entry visa. To obtain ours, we decided to sign up for a two week Russian language class. We figured the ability to read Cyrillic while driving around Belarus and Ukraine will be extremely helpful anyway.

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