Our guide for translating Russian

Russian-speakers are almost twice as many as German and four times as many as Italian. The Russian language is special because it’s the language of space, the Internet, and the finest traditions in the arts. Russia is one of the largest producers of natural resources and raw materials such as gas, diamonds, precious metals and the 11th world’s largest economy.

Russian people, unfortunately, are not taught English in public school. Only 3% of the population can communicate in English. This is the reason why Russian translation is a must for any foreign business to set its footstep in this growing economy.

I. The importance of Russian translation

The Russian language is the official language of Russia with about 150 million native speakers and 110 million using it as the second language. It is mainly used in the former part of the Soviet Union including Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Lithuania, Latvia, Kazakhstan, etc.

These countries include Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Turkmenistan. Outside of the Slavic area, Russian is found spoken by immigrants in Israel, the USA, China, and Scandinavia.

According to  British Council, Russian is ranking in the top 10 most important languages in the UK. It is also one of the UN’s six official working languages. In 2018, Russian is the second most popular in terms of Internet content.

II. 4 problems when translating Russian

1. Time and action

Verbs in Russian express time differently from English. In English, we rely on 12 tenses to tell the audience the exact time. Russian has three tenses, настоящее (present), прошедшее (past), and будущее (future). In addition to tenses, it also uses вид (aspect) to add another layer to the meaning, whether it was finished, repeated, or done with a specific purpose, etc. 

When translating to English, translators can take advantage of phrasal verbs, adverbs although it’s sure to make the text longer than expected (which designers probably don’t prefer)

For instance, “Я гулял” (I strolled) is direct and finite, but “Я погулял” tells the reader more, which can be translated to “I strolled around for a while.”

2. Superlatives

In English, superlatives have only “the most” of something. Russian has two types of superlatives: составная and простая (hard and soft) which is quite abstract to translate. 

The “hard” superlatives are quite similar to “the most” in English. For example, Самый крупный refers to “the biggest.” The soft superlative form is slightly more like “one of the biggest.” In Russian, the soft form is often used to express that something is impressive and remarkable, but not the “most”, and it can be used without quantitative comparison. 

Though the difference between these two seems small, mistranslations can result in untrue statements, this may be one of the most dangerous pitfalls a Russian translator can face.

3. Diminutives

Russian people use many уменьшительные слова (diminutives) in literature and daily conversational, such as names: мамочка/mommy; папочка/daddy. However, others, such as “Я хочу заказать столик” (I want to reserve a [little] table), is almost impossible to fully translate.

Of greater concern are people’s names, for example, that Саша (Sasha) can be short-form of both Александр (Alexander) and Александра (Alexandra). Therefore, when encountering a case like this, it could take translators a lot of time and experience to consider it in context.

4. Punctuation

Russian has very definite rules of the positions of comma, period, or other punctuation. For example, “Сейчас в России 650 ресторанов «Макдоналдс,» which is translated as “There are 650 McDonald’s in Russia” without any quotation marks, but if you say “There are 650 ‘McDonald’s’ restaurants in Russia.” it may carry an added meaning that those McDonald’s were probably fake. In Russian, the quotation simply refers to the fact that they are all branded the same. As a translator, bear in mind that you are not only translating words but translating punctuation as well.

Russian is considered a hard language to translate. A thorough understanding of Russian culture, as well as the language, is required for successful translators.

If you need to translate into Russian, give us a call today!

Facts about the Russian language

  • It’s a requirement for NASA applicants to know the Russian language and the computer system of the ISS uses both English and Russian.
  • In Russian, the verb “to be” is not used in the present tense in general.
  • All words in the Russian language that begin with A are borrowed from other languages.
In Russia, your middle name is Your father’s name.