February 01, 1996

Excuse my Russian



Excuse my Russian

There’s nothing like the immersion method if you want to speak Russian like a native. One must choose carefully, however, with whom and where to immerse oneself: dialect and poor grammar abound in every nation. This chapter can’t point you to the ideal environment for immersion, but it can help you to recognize the wrong one.

For example, though Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was immensely popular internationally, he’s no role model in the elocution department. It is a little-known fact in the West that, despite his prestigious and much-publicized university education, the Soviet Union’s last leader regularly stressed the wrong syllable and abused Russian grammar in public speeches, much to the chagrin of intellectuals.

If Ronald Reagan or George Bush had practiced the immersion method with Gorby, in no time at all they would have been saying начать¸ instead of начать¸ (to begin). Other common examples of incorrect stress include позвонит (he will call) instead of позвонит, километр instead of километр, and квартал in place of квартал (quarter).


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