How many people really speak Russian?

How many people really speak Russian?

by Ciara Gillan

Updated November 8, 2022

Did you know that Russian is the seventh most spoken language in the world? With roots in the prehistoric Indo-European migration of the late Neolithic era, the evolution of the language is a lengthy one. Drawing from the Eurasia nations and greatly impacted by the Balto-Slavic languages, Russian has evolved to great prominence as a language, one which is spoken the world over today. 

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How many people really speak Russian?

According to the 2019 edition of Ethnologue, an American-produced language reference guide, there are approximately 258 million Russian speakers worldwide. 153.6 million of those speak Russian as a first language, helping to rank it as number seven in the world. 104.3 million speak Russian as a second language. Altogether, this makes Russian the eight most spoken language in the world by total number of speakers. 

It is the official language of Russia, of course, as well as several other states, including Belarus, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan. It is considered the unofficial lingua franca in Estonia, Moldova, Ukraine and many other former Soviet countries. There are approximately 144 million people speaking Russian in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. 

The impact of Russia and the Soviet Union

Due to the extensive reach and lengthy existence of the Soviet Union, the language has greatly impacted many eastern European countries. In fact, Russia was the official language of the union right up until its dissolution in 1991. Russian is still used in official capacity and public life in many post Soviet Union nation states, however, countries like Latvia and Ukraine are moving towards reducing the presence of Russian in their everyday lives. 

With that said, the East Slavic language is still widely used throughout eastern Europe, the Baltic States, the Caucasus and Central Asia. And many Russian speakers can be found today in countries like the US, Israel and Mongolia. There is even said to be a noteworthy number of people speaking Russian in Finland, Hungary and Cyprus. 

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The Russian language in literature

If you’d like to learn more about the language, first learn about the culture. Great composers such as Tchaikovsky can tickle your ears with renowned Russian classics. Then you can dive into a trove of fantastic writers. From Tolstoy to Dostoevsky you will spend many days and nights enjoying the words of Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment, an historical insight into Russian culture. Of course once you’re ready to try and master this complex language, these books in their original tongue will be a great help.

Fun facts about the Russian language

  1. Not only is Russian one of the six official languages of the United Nations but it is the second most used language on the internet, ahead of German and after English. 
  2. One of the longest words in Russian is Достопримечательности = Dostoprimechatel’nosti meaning sightseeing. 
  3. It has six grammatical cases for you to learn: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative , Instrumental, Prepositional
  4. The verb “to be” only exists in the future and past tense.
  5. All adjectives have multiple syllables, bar one. The exception being for the word “angry” – злой.
  6. The way in which you pronounce a word can completely change the meaning of that word. For example to say “I’m praying”, you need to place emphasis on the second syllable. However, if you were to place the emphasis on the first syllable it would mean “I’m crying”.
  7. Very few words start with the letter A, as there was a rule made against this many, many years ago. 
  8. With just some of these things to consider, you may ask yourself why would I want to learn it? Well not only because it would help you communicate if you ever visit any of the former Eastern bloc countries but also, and here’s our last fun fact, if you want to be an astronaut you have to learn Russian! There you are now. Bet you didn’t know that! 

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Ciara Gillan is an Irish writer living in Berlin. An avid storyteller with a Masters in Creative Writing and love for crime fiction podcasts, she currently works as a copywriter for Lingoda. In her spare time, she writes audio fiction scripts, is brushing up on her high school German and is currently learning Spanish. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter and on her side hustle website, Reckless Fascination.

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