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5 Mistakes Speakers Make When Translating From Russian to English

There are more than 157 million native Russian speakers across the world, while a further 60 million speak it as a second language.

Now, with the demand for Russian-speaking personnel across the globe soaring to around 125 million people, there’s even more incentive for language learners and businesses to improve their Russian language capabilities. 

But, with two different alphabets and a ton of different grammar rules to tackle, mistakes are common when translating Russian to English. Keep reading to find out some of the most common errors. 


1. Overlooking Noun Endings

Russian is notorious for its six cases, with each case affecting noun endings depending on the amount and gender of the nouns in question. These cases allow for more flexibility with word order since it’s the noun endings rather than the syntax that transmit a lot of the meaning.

But, this can be a double-edged sword! While the same words in a different order remain grammatically correct, overlooking the noun ending changes the entire meaning of a sentence. 

2. Missing the Mark with Untranslatable Words

From Danish’s hygge to Japanese’s koi no yokan, there are many foreign words without an English equivalent. One such example in Russian is Тоска, an expression of a feeling encompassing everything from depression or melancholy to a moment of boredom.  

Without a native speaker on hand to help you, understanding and conveying these linguistic concepts can be tricky. If your business depends on precise communication, using this service can help you get the right message across. 

3. Translating Word for Word

Translating word for word is a big mistake with almost all language pairs, and Russian and English are no different. 

One of the unwritten rules of being Russian is to look for the reason behind everything. While syntax isn’t as strict in the Russian language, sentence variation can change the intention or mood of a sentence. So, rather than translating word for word, you’ll need to decide what reason the original text wanted to convey and whether that means changing the sentence structure or not. 

4. Ignoring the Context

The Russian language only has around 200,000 words while the English language has around one million words. This disparity means that many Russian words have several meanings and that context matters a lot when translating. 

A good example is Стать which means ‘become’, ‘begin’, and ‘start’ in English. While these English translations are interchangeable in some contexts, in others, ‘become’ can convey more of a process than the other two options. 

5. Not Expressing the Aspect

While English uses 12 tenses to transmit time, Russian only uses three – past, present, and future. But, Russian also uses вид (aspect) to add layers of meaning and detail about the how, when, why, and so on of the action performed.

While economy is important in translation, precision is even more so. As such, an excellent translation service must know how to navigate the web of subtle clues and hints within the aspect to express the fullest yet most succinct meaning of a text. 

Common Mistakes When Translating Russian to English

As any native speaker will tell you, the intricacies of the Russian language can make it complicated to learn, understand, and translate. 

But, as this list of common Russian to English translation errors shows, once you know what mistakes to avoid, it becomes a lot easier to get to the heart of a text and convey its true meaning to your audience. 

Want more tips and insights like this? Be sure to check out our latest blog posts for hacks, how-to guides, and news on everything from tech to travel. 

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