Learning Russian through Fairy Tales

Posted on March 22nd, 2013

This post is kindly provided by the Russian Store.

Why not enjoy a good old fashioned Russian fairy-tale while you have fun learning the language?

In Russia, a fairy tale is called сказка, which translates to story. Сказки is plural. Сказка can be magical (волшебная сказка), about animals (сказки о животных), or about life (бытовые сказки).

One popular and very fun Russian story is Kolobok, Round Bun («Колобок»). In this story, a baked piece of bread in the shape of a ball comes to life and travels through town, trying not to get eaten. Eventually, Kolobok does get eaten and the moral (мораль) of the story is ‘don’t be so gullible.’

Another great tale to learn in Russian is The Giant Turnip, or The Great Turnip (“Репка”). This particular fairy-tale is so much fun to say in the Russian language (the English translation loses some of its flow) and it has a lot of repetition which is essential for learning something new. It is about a family trying to pull out a very large turnip from the ground. The family consists of репка (turnip) – дедка (informal for grandfather) – бабка (informal for grandmother); внучка (granddaughter) - Жучка (the name of the female pet dog); кошка (she-cat) – мышка (she-mouse).

One of the most popular Russian fairy-tale characters is Баба Яга, the witch. She is not green nor wears a pointed hat (like the American witches), but she does have something about her… it is where she lives. The hut in which she lives is just about as famous as she is. It is a hut on chicken legs that she can move at will. As far as her looks go, well she is often seen as an old, haggard woman with messy, long, gray hair.

One more famous fairy-tale character is Snezhnaya Koroleva (Снежная королева), or The Snow Maiden. Not to be confused with Snegurochka (Ded Moroz’s granddaughter) even though they may have similarities. If you haven’t read The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen yet, what are you waiting for? It’s a classic!

Russian Fairy-tales…

  • are often depicted on nesting dolls and lacquer boxes throughout Russia. One of the most recognizable tales on Russian products is The Firebird («Жар-Птица»). It is hard not to notice a large, beautiful, and glowing bird!
  • sometimes overlap characters between different stories. (For example, Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka («Сестрица Алёнушка и Братец Иванушка»), shares Baba Yaga and the Wicked Geese («Гуси-Лебеди»).
  • can have many different versions. (For example, Ivan Tsarevich and the Grey Wolf («Иван Царевич и Серый Волк») is a version of The Firebird («Жар-Птица»).
  • are not as “candy-coated” as American fairy tales; usually ending the story simply with a lesson, as oppose to a “happily ever after.”
  • written by famous Russian author, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Александр Сергеевич Пушкин), are The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish («Сказка о Рыбаке и Рыбке»), The Tale of the Golden Cockerel («Сказка о Золотом Петушке»), The Tale of Tsar Saltan («Сказка о царе Салтане, о Сыне Его Славном и Могучем Богатыре Князе Гвидоне Салтановиче и о Прекрасной Царевне Лебеди »), and Ruslan and Ludmila («Руслан и Людмила»).
  • written by Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev, (Александр Николаевич Афанасьев) the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm, include over 600 folktales. His collections make by far the largest folktale collection by any one man in the whole world! His first collection was published in eight volumes from 1855–67.
  • have many talking animals. Foxes, wolves, and bears are most popular.
  • have no fairies!

Do you have a favorite fable that you want to try to learn in Russian? Check out these popular American fairy-tale equivalents:

Beauty & The Beast = Scarlet Flower, or Crimson Flower («Аленький Цветочек»)
Cinderella = Zolushka («Золушка»)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs = Belosneghka («Белоснежка»)
Goldilocks and the Three Bears = Masha and Three Bears («Маша и Три Медведя»)
Little Red Riding Hood = Krasnaya Shapochka («Красная Шапочка»)
Sleeping Beauty = Spyashaya Krasavitsa («Спящая Красавица»)

Check out this great site to buy Russian fairy tale books for fun learning the Russian language!

Vocabulary

Сказка [SKA-ska] story
Мораль [ma-RAL’] moral
Герой [gee-ROY] character
Принцесса [preen-TSE-sa] princess
Принц [PREENTS] prince

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