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Title: Lonely Planet Russian Phrasebook, 3rd edition
Authors: Jim Jenkin and Inna Zaitseva
Copyright: © 2000
Publisher: Lonely Planet
Relevance: According to the Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook, Russian is the first language of 220 million people living within Russia. It is also the second language of millions around the world in such countries as the former Soviet Republics and "East Block" countries, Israel, the United States and Canada. This phrasebook is, therefore, ideal for reporters, correspondents and ENG crews working on assignment in the Russian Federation and other places where Russian is spoken. The book's small size (3.5" by 5.5"), its exhaustive list of useful Russian phrases and its English/Russian and Russian/English dictionaries make Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook a worthwhile investment for almost every visitor to Russia
Review: We must admit to being a bit skeptical about the practical benefits of phrasebooks but the Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook made believers out of us. The small, but 313-page book, is crammed with useful phrases, a two-way Russian/English dictionary and littered with dozens of interesting cultural tips abut visiting Russia and communicating with its citizens.
The book begins with a list of abbreviations used throughout the book and some basics on how to use the phrasebook. Next up is pronunciation and grammar. Nicely, the book is organized very methodically so bouncing around from section to section is very easy. This means, for example, you can leap ahead to the section titled Shopping (detailed later in this review); then skip back to Grammar when you're unsure as to construct a new sentence based on words you've seen in the new chapter.
The first chapter that is directly useful for travelers is the one titled Meeting People. As one might guess, this chapter outlines hundreds of useful expressions when meeting friends, family and acquaintances. Greetings and good-byes, civilities, body language, making chitchat, understanding various nationalities, cultural differences, age, occupations, feelings, language difficulties and even writing letters.
Of course, Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook won't make a person completely fluent in Russian, and it certainly won't let a reporter work undercover in Russia on a story. On the other hand, the phrasebook is very well organized and gives the phonetic pronunciation for every expression. Both features enable anyone who has an ear and an eye for language to pick up key expressions quickly. Naturally, the Cyrillic is also given so new speakers can learn to recognize the same expressions in print, extremely useful for those spending some time in Russia -- or those trying to decipher city signs, store directions and other Cyrillic-only instructions.
Key expressions dealing with getting around and navigating one's way by air, bus, train, taxi, boat, car and bicycle are up next. Perhaps one of the most useful sections of the book -- at least for reporters -- deals with finding your way, asking directions, reading addresses and the bane of all Russian travelers: buying transport tickets.
Finding a place to stay is covered including how to book ahead, checking in at your hotel, checking out, extending your stay, and hotel paperwork. Making your way around town at the bank, at the office, sightseeing and making telephone and fax calls are up next. Not that reporters have any time for socializing while on assignment, but the book spends a quick chapter on going out and dating!
Likewise the chapter dealing with hobbies and interests aren't directly usable by reporters but in terms if making small talk and carrying on a conversation with new acquaintances it is invaluable. Shopping and purchasing are also covered with sections on looking for particular products, bargaining, buying groceries, different colors (useful for buying clothes), toiletries, and sizing and comparisons. Reporters and photographers will be interested to note the small but handy section on photography that includes such gems as "I'd like a film for this camera", "how much is it to process this film?" and "when will it be ready?"
Eating out, typical dishes, desserts, buying food at the market, spices and condiments, drinks, and amounts are explained next. Nicely, the chapter has sections on being a vegetarian (difficult, but not impossible, in Russia) and diets for people which special needs such as allergies. Although not particularly complete -- for example, we learn the translation for "does it contain eggs" and "is there a Kosher restaurant here" -- there is no translation for "I am a diabetic". To be fair, however, the word "diabetic" is contained in the English/Russian dictionary, but it's arguably more important to explain when one is a diabetic as opposed to one is a vegetarian.
Health concerns such as at the doctor's office, parts of the body and at the dentist are discussed as well as what to say when going into the country such as camping, hiking and being at the beach. More importantly for reporters researching a story, various geographic terms such as the harbor, the seas, valleys and footpaths and others are explained. Specific travel needs such as those faced by disabled travelers, gay travelers and traveling with your family are also outlined. Investigative reporters will appreciate the small section on tracing roots and family histories.
The chapter detailing Russian words for time, dates and holidays, including how to tell the time, the days of the week, months of the year, seasons, dates as well as the past, present and future tenses. National holidays, numbers and amounts and how to handle emergencies round out the book. Finally, the English/Russian and Russian/English dictionaries (each almost 50 pages long) occupy the last two phrasebook entries.
Overall: Clearly, Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook won't make you fluently bilingual. Nor does it claim to do so. It does, however, provide a basic grounding of key words and phrases for a myriad of situations for those traveling in Russia. While visitors to well-traveled places such as Moscow or St. Petersburg can often find English speaking people with whom to converse, those traveling further afield in this vast country can often not. It is, therefore, essential, to have a linguistic edge, such as Lonely Planet's Russian Phrasebook when visiting and reporting in Russia. Recommended.
End of Review
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