Learning English for Russian speakers can be difficult sometimes. This is a list of 15 common English mistakes by Russian speakers.
1. I feel myself
Incorrect: I feel myself fine today.
Correct: I feel fine today.
Unlike Russian, English does not use the reflexive pronoun myself (себе) after the verb to feel. Hence, we say in English I feel well; I feel sick; I feel happy. Saying I feel myself to a native English speaker will sound strange, as it seems to express that one is physically feeling or touching one’s own body.
Incorrect: She spoke English enough well to get the job.
Correct: She spoke English well enough to get the job.
In general, word order in English is stricter than in Russian. This is a common mistake in English for Russian speakers. Correct placement of the word enough depends on whether the word is modifying an adverb, adjective or noun. If it’s modifying an adverb or adjective, it’s placed after the verb:
Do you think he’s old enough to watch that movie?
We’ve done enough today.
If it’s modifying a noun, it’s placed before the verb:
We had enough money to buy a ticket.
Incorrect: “How are you?”
“I’m normal, thanks.”
Correct: “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
In English, we don’t usually use the word normal (нормально) to answer questions about our mood or our day. Instead, one should use words such as fine or okay. Normal in English means 'average' or 'not strange'. Saying that you are normal in reply to these questions sounds like you are trying to say that you are a normal person and not a strange or even crazy person (this may or may not be the case, but it probably is not what you are intending to say!).
4. ученый (scientist, scholar)
Incorrect: Scientists study history so that humanity can learn from the past.
Correct: Scholars study history so that humanity can learn from the past.
In English the world ученый can be translated as scientist or scholar, but each word has a different meaning. A scientist is someone who is an expert in a science, especially what are called the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) or the social sciences (psychology, sociology, political science, etc.).
A scholar is a term that is used more broadly to mean someone who is an expert in a certain area of knowledge and has a profound understanding of this subject gained through in depth study. The word scholar isn’t used for an expert in the sciences, but it can be used for subjects such as history, languages and art.
Scholar can also be used for a student who has received a scholarship (стипендия). Here’s another way to understand the difference between scientist and scholar: a scientist is able to use the scientific method (hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion) to study subjects, while a scholar does not necessarily need to use scientific experiments to study a subject.
Incorrect: I was waiting David on the theater.
Correct: I was waiting for David at the theater.
One of the most common mistakes in English for Russian speakers is confusing or omitting prepositions. This is often difficult because English and Russian expressions often have prepositional phrases that seem to be the same, but are in fact different. Here is a list of commonly confused prepositions:
Depends on зависеть от
Tired of устал от
Divide into разделить на
In addition to using the wrong preposition, often English expressions do not use a preposition when one is necessary in Russian and vice versa. For example:
To wait for someone ждать кого-то
To graduate from school закончить школу
To listen to someone/music слушать кого-то / музыку
To be afraid of someone/something бояться кого-то / что-то
Explain to someone объяснить кому-то
To answer a question ответить на вопрос
Finally, there are some common categories of prepositions that can be helpful to understand:
Surface: on (table, wall, floor, plate, roof, face, shelf, etc.)
Technology: on (computer, TV, radio, screen, DVD, hard drive, CD etc.)
Large transport: on (train, bus, tram, plane, ship, ferry, etc.)
Inside a physical object/structure: in (book, newspaper, hat, drawer, pocket, box, room, etc.)
Places: at/in (office, stadium, shop, supermarket, station, theater, park, etc.)
6. How and What
Incorrect: How do you call this in English?
Correct: What do you call this in English?
How and what are often confused by Russian speakers, because they make the mistake of directly translating phrases like “Как это называется?” from Russian to English. Remember that this is not always the case.
Incorrect: I am from Moscow city.
Correct: I am from Moscow / the city of Moscow.
Usually, one can say the name of a city (Moscow, New York, London) without including the word city. One should include city when stating the official name of the city. Most cities use the construction the city of…( the city of London, the city of Boston, the city of Moscow), but some cities use the word city directly after the proper noun (New York City). It’s also sometimes necessary to use city to make clear that one is referring to a specific city and not a geographical area with the same name.
I grew up in a small town in the state of New York, but now I live in New York City.
Although I have lived in Moscow for several years, my parents still live in a small town outside of the city but still in Moscow Oblast.
Finally, remember that some cities include the word city in their name. For example, Salt Lake City and Mexico City. For these cities, it is of course always necessary to use the word city, since it is part of their name.
I visited Salt Lake City this summer.
8. Plural and Singular
Incorrect: The professor gave us several useful advices for our researches.
Correct: The professor gave us several useful words of advice for our research projects.
Russian and English both have countable nouns (chair, apple, glass) and uncountable nouns (water, time, rice), but Russian speakers often confuse nouns that are countable in Russian but not in English.
Here’s a list of commonly confused uncountable nouns in English:
Advice, research, knowledge, accommodation, baggage, equipment, furniture, garbage, information, luggage, money, news, pasta, progress, travel, work
Remember that if you want to express uncountable nouns in plural form, you must use a word such as piece, glass, chunk.
We just bought several new pieces of equipment for our lab.
I’ll have three glasses of lemonade, please.
She cut off a large chuck of meat and fed it to her dog.
Finally, there are a few expressions that should be singular in English, but Russian speakers often make plural.
Correct: Thank God, we have each other.
Correct: No problem!
Incorrect: No problems!
Correct: We have no comment about the case.
Incorrect: no comments
9. Possibility and Opportunity
Incorrect: I will have the possibility to go to the conference next year.
Correct: I will have the opportunity to go to the conference next year.
Russian speakers often overuse the word possibility when trying to use the word возможность in English. While возможность can mean both possibility and opportunity, it depends on the context.
Remember that possibility means that something might be capable of happening or might be true. Opportunity means favorable circumstances that make it possible to do something or the chance for advancement or promotion.
There is a possibility that it will rain tomorrow, so you will have an opportunity to use your new umbrella.
There is a possibility that we will have enough funding for another research assistant position. If so, you will have an opportunity to apply for this position.
10. Say and Tell
Incorrect: Can you say me how to tell this in English?
Correct: Can you tell me how to say this in English?
Say is used in general to speak about something that has been said by someone. It’s used to report what someone else has said. Tell is used in a more specific sense to mean the process of instructing or informing someone about something. This is a one-way process, and the verb tell must be followed by a direct object (tell us/him/her/the audience).
At lunch John told his coworkers about his business trip to China.
John said that the business trip to China went very well.
Remember these collocations:
Say yes or no, a few words, something.
Tell a story, a lie, a secret, a joke, the truth.
11. Learn and Teach
Incorrect: Can you learn me to speak English better?
Correct: Can you teach me to speak English better?
Learn and teach are often confused because, depending on the context, they can both mean учить. However, in English their meanings are completely different. Learn is what a student does (научиться). Teach is what a teacher does (преподавать).
"I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening." --Larry King
Incorrect: I want to speak English freely.
Correct: I want to speak English fluently.
If one wants to express being able to speak a language easily and accurately, we use the word fluent not free (cвободно). Free can also mean something which costs nothing (бесплатно). However, when free is placed after a noun (smoke-free, car-free, alcohol-free), it means this thing or action is prohibited.
This is the smoke-free bar. If you want to smoke, you must go outside.
13. Do and Make
Incorrect: I think I did a mistake
Correct: I think I made a mistake.
Do and make can both be translated as сделать in Russian, which leads to the confusion for Russian speakers. The good news is that there are a few guidelines about when to use make and when to use do.
We often use do for daily activities or jobs that do not produce a physical object.
Do homework, do the dishes, do the laundry, do a job, do the shopping
We also use do when we speak about things in general but don’t specifically name this activity. Instead, we use words like something, nothing anything, everything, etc.
He has done nothing all day.
She would do anything for her Mom.
Is there something I can do for you?
Make is often used to express constructing, building and creating something you can touch.
Make food, make a cup of tea, make clothes, make a mess
However, there are many make and do collocations that do not follow these guidelines and must simply be memorized.
Make money, do someone a favor, do business, make a decision, do good, make a plan
14. дорогой (expensive, dear)
Incorrect: That computer is too dear for me to buy.
Correct: That computer is too expensive for me to buy.
The word дорогойcan be translated as expensive or dear. Both words mean something that is valuable to a person, but usually in different senses. Although dear can mean something that is valuable in a financial sense, most speakers today use it to mean something that is valuable in emotional or personal sense.
This necklace isn’t very expensive, but, since it belonged to my grandmother, it is very dear to me.
Expensive refers to something that is valuable in a financial sense.
I wish I hadn’t dropped my new iPhone in the toilet. It was really expensive!
Incorrect: It’s time I bought a new computer, since he is very old.
Correct: It’s time I bought a new computer, since it is very old.
Russian speakers often use the pronouns he or she when they should use it. Remember that in English we only use he or she when referring to people. It is appropriate to use he or she for animals, such as dogs, cats, or other animals whose gender is easier to determine. We often do this for pets or other animals for which we have personal affection and tend to personify:
I have fond memories of my dog, Spot. He was a great dog.
We also can use gender for intimate objects for which we have great personal affection or attachment such as cars, ships, or even countries:
Look at that sports car! Isn’t she a beauty?
"God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above." --Irving Berlin
There are some words in English that are gender specific. These words refer to natural gender, the actual sex of a person or animal.
Feminine: women, girl, mother, daughter, aunt, niece, nun, goddess, empress, queen, princess, heroine, actress, waitress, lioness, cow
Masculine: man, boy, father, son, uncle, nephew, monk, god, emperor, king, prince, hero, actor, waiter, lion, bull
In modern usage, for some of the masculine forms of these words such as waiter, actor, hero, it has become acceptable for them to include both male and female genders. This makes it easier to be gender inclusive. One can add male or female before the word, if it’s necessary to denote gender.
During Shakespeare’s day, female actors were forbidden from preforming on the stage. Therefore, male actors played all female roles.
Although ancient Greek myths tend to focus on exploits of male heroes, scholars have tried to demonstrate that many of the female characters in these myths can also be interpreted as heroes.*
*In English the word hero usually does not just mean the main character in the story. Instead, a hero is a person, real or fictional, who shows great courage or sacrifice, often for the greater good.
For more information on common mistakes made by Russian speakers, check out these resources:
- OTUK’s blog has some good in depth explanations of confusing words, more confusing, words and yet more confusing words, prepositions, gender, and singular vs plural
- Some of Tim Kirby’s Война слов! videos like this one here.
- Blab club’s videos
- And finally, you can practice your English pronunciation with President Vladimir Putin here!