Accents are notoriously hard to write. As a life-long lover of language, I know the struggle personally. That’s why I’m going to share with you everything I’ve learned to hopefully make writing Russian accents a little easier for you.
How to write a Russian accent?
You can write a Russian accent by occasionally including a Russian expression, misusing related English words, misapplying verb tense, skipping articles such as “a,” and “an,” and replacing “th” sounds with “s” or “z” sounds. Avoid stereotypes or equating second language skills with intelligence.
Of course, writing accents is easier said than done.
That’s why I’m going to cover the 7 best tips for writing a good Russian accent, how to write a believable Russian accent and three things you always want to avoid.
Along the way, I’ll share plenty of examples so that you know exactly how to write a Russian accent.
And, because I’m committed to providing the most accurate content, I hired a Russian language expert to review everything in this article.
How To Write a Good Russian Accent? (7 Best Tips)
Just knowing how to write a Russian accent isn’t good enough. If you want your characters to really stand out in your story, you need to write a good Russian accent.
And that starts with following these seven tips:
1) Study the Russian language, culture, and history
You write a good Russian accent by knowing Russian, Russian culture, and Russian history. These things will help you better understand the Russian accent and how Russians speak English.
Russian is a Slavic language so it has some similarities with other Slavic languages such as Polish or Czech.
Once you develop a better understanding of Russian culture, you can then apply those lessons to writing Russian phrases, exclamations, and words.
2) Misuse verb tense
If you want to write Russian accents properly, then it’s crucial that you occasionally show your Russian character misuse verb tense.
Russian (even highly intelligent Russians) often struggle with using the correct verb tense when speaking in English. For example, a Russian might use the wrong verb tense when describing an action or observation.
Instead of, “The clock ticked on the wall,” a native Russian speaker might say, “The clock tocked on the wall.”
3) Russian syntax
Understanding the Russian syntax is very important.
Russian sentences are built with a different structure than English. For example, Russian nouns have gender and Russian has no indefinite article so you don’t write “a” or “an.”
You need to know these kinds of rules for writing a Russian accent properly.
Here are three examples of English sentences written without indefinite articles:
- I have car.
- This is dog.
- I go to party.
4) Russian pronunciation
Of course, Russian pronunciation is another essential element of writing a Russian accent.
You should start by learning how to write Russian vowels and Russian consonants. Russian has 33 letters, 21 consonants, and 10 vowels so you shouldn’t skip this step.
As a practical example, in Russian, there is so “th” sound. Instead, Russians will often replace “th” with an “s” or “z” sound, as in “Zis is very good” instead of “This is very good.”
Also, Russians often pronounce “w” as “v,” as in “volf,” “vorm,” and “verevolf.”
5) Russian word order
Another way to write a Russian accent is to understand the Russian word order.
In Russian, word order is important. A Russian character might say, “I’m taking dog,” or “The dog I’m taking.” He or she might even go full Yoda and say, “Taking the dog I am.”
A Russian character might rearrange the word order to emphasize different parts of the message.
6) Understand the character’s mastery of English
You will write a Russian accent differently for someone brand new to the English language as opposed to someone with greater mastery. Knowing this difference will also help you flesh out your characterization.
Think about how a young child learns English.
The child’s language skills start out broken with words and meanings all jumbled together. As the child grows, they learn to form more meaningful sentences, use the correct words, and learn new words to describe their experiences.
7) Don’t always write in a Russian accent
Instead of a constant Russian accent, also write in perfect (or almost perfect) English with narrative reminders for the reader.
For example, you might occasionally say, “She said in Russian,” or use italics as a visual cue to readers.
By applying these tips, you can write a good Russian accent. If you want to take it a step further, keep reading to find out how to write an authentic and believable accent.
How To Write a Believable Russian Accent? (Examples)
To write a believable Russian accent, it’s important to apply both overt and subtle language strategies. When you write a Russian accent with these suggestions, native Russian speakers will likely be impressed.
Here are the giveaway traits of a believable Russian accent.
Use Russian expressions
A more overt strategy to write authentic Russian accents is to drop Russian expressions into your dialogue (both spoken dialogue and internal dialogue—also called thoughts).
When your character uses Russian vocabulary and slang, their culture bleeds out into the story. Your writing sounds and seems more realistic.
Try out these Russian expressions:
- Всё ништяк: This literally means “none” but it is used as a way to say, “It’s all good.”
- Чёрт: This literally means “devil” but is used to express “shoot” or “dang.”
- Мне до лампочки: This literally means “to me to lightbulb” but Russians use the phrase to mean, “I don’t care.”
Remember that slang terms come in and out of fashion. Be sure to always use slang intentionally to show character age, social class, personality, and backstory.
Use related but wrong words
Russians are more likely to use related words than completely wrong ones. Many writers unintentionally write less than believable Russian accents by making this mistake.
Example 1: A Russian might accidentally call a “gold digger” a “money digger,” if they know the expression.
Example 2: A Russian might say, “The smoke was death to our health” instead of “The smoke was hazardous for our health.”
Example 3: When asked, “How are you?” a Russian might accidentally say, “I’m normal,” instead of “I’m fine.”
Use false friends
Occasionally include “false friends” in your dialogue. False friends are Russian words that either look or sound similar to English words but have different meanings (sometimes very different).
False friends can provide your character (and story) with authenticity, humor, and misunderstandings. You can find an extensive list of false friends—also called false cognates—at onlineteachersuk.com.
Here are a few examples of false friends:
- Accord and Аккорд (chord)
- Brilliant and Бриллиан (diamond)
- Focus and Фокуc (magic trick)
Use formal words (that native speakers do not usually say)
When Russians speak English, they might use overly formal words that long went out of fashion.
For instance, Russian speakers might use the word “utilize” instead of “use.” Russian speakers might also say “I exited the building” instead of “I left the building.” Another example is, “I seldom go to the mall,” instead of, “I don’t go to the mall that very often.”
This is similar to how many native English-speaking people learn other languages such as Spanish or French. We often learn very formal terms, even if native speakers wouldn’t use those same terms.
Use overly repititive sentences
When Russians speak English, they might speak in long, overly repetitive or complicated sentences. They might crowd “this” and “that” into every phrase, stuffing their sentences with unnecessary words.
Here is an example: “I not like this place, Eddie. This place no good. This place not make me happy.”
One of the best ways to learn how to write a Russian accent is to listen to native Russians speak English. You can go to YouTube and find many examples.
This is probably the best (and shortest) video that demonstrates how to do a Russian accent (listening to her accent will help you write one):
3 Common Mistakes Writers Make When Writing a Russian Accent
There are also three common mistakes that you want to avoid when writing a Russian accent.
1) Overwhelming the reader with the phonetic spelling of every word
Don’t spell every word out phonetically. This is a sure way to annoy and alienate readers, distancing them from your story.
If you’ve ever read a book from 50 years ago with accents, you know what I mean.
You get difficult-to-read sentences such as, “Och, zere you are, Sharlie. I’ave been looking for you everyvhere!”
You might also run across something like this in a movie where the character is supposed to be Irish: “Oi’m starvin’! Oi don’t know wha’ happened to me boyfrien’. He was s’posed to be bringin’ me a bag o’ potato chips.”
Another problem with trying the phonetic route is that you’re going to have to do it for every word, including simple words such as “and,” “the,” and “will”. Unless you want your readers fast-forwarding through your story, don’t bother.
2) Playing into Russian stereotypes
Another common mistake is to overemphasize Russian stereotypes. You see this all the time in action movies where the villains are all bad guys wearing fur hats, drinking vodka, and speaking with thick Russian accents.
Stereotypes can easily offend an entire people group, whether those generalities focus on Russians or any other nationality. Avoid using them to lend authenticity to your story and to avoid unintentionally offending others.
3) Confusing language mastery with intelligence
You also don’t want to portray language mistakes as a lack of intelligence. Even highly intelligent Russians might speak in broken English.
This is especially true in non-Western cultures, where English is a second language and not everyone speaks it fluently.
For example, the Indian character Apu from The Simpsons has a strong accent and occasionally makes mistakes with his grammar, but he’s one of the most intelligent characters on the show.
Resources for Writing Russian Accents
- Russian Alphabet Made Easy: An All-In-One Workbook To Learn How To Read And Write The Russian Script [Audio Included]
- Easy Russian Phrase Book: Over 1500 Common Phrases for Everyday Use and Travel (Audiobook)
- Russian for Dummies
- Fake Russian Accent Generator (website)—You can enter English dialogue and this free tool automatically tranforms it into a Russian accent.
Final Thoughts: How To Write a Russian Accent
When writing any accents, I always say “less is more.” Understand the nuances, but don’t apply everything you know to every piece of dialogue in your story. Shoot for subtlety over “on the nose” accents.
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