Breaking Down the Language Barrier in Russia

Breaking Down the Language Barrier in Russia

As I sunk into one of a handful of plush leather sofa's scattered around the basement of a hip bar in a happening corner of Moscow, we exchanged smiles that masked a whisper of apprehension.

Five minutes earlier we'd said goodbye to a trio of Russian businessmen my husband and I had met over dinner at a rustic restaurant set on a quaint, cobbled courtyard off Bond Street’s Russian rival, Stoleshnikov Lane.

The conversation ran smoothly throughout the meal as the fine details of a business deal were thrashed out over fine food and vodka under the guidance of one of the men who spoke perfect English.


The waning winter bite that snapped as soon as we stepped foot out of the restaurant was warmed by their hospitality when they offered to escort us to a nearby bar before they made their way home.

But as we turned to go inside, English-speaking Dmitry told us his colleague – non-English speaking Fillip – would join us to make sure we got the best out of our night in the Russian capital.

As super as this sounded, there was one slight problem: the language barrier.

As we walked down the metal stairs into the uber-cool, whitewash-walled basement, I knew the same thoughts were galloping through our minds: “How on earth are we going to communicate?”

After five minutes of playing the usual useless game of pretending shouting a word slowly magically makes it comprehensible, we resorted to a combination of the good old game usually reserved for Christmas Day, charades, and the latest game to take the app market by storm, Draw Something. 

Armed with a pen and a stack of paper serviettes, we spent the next three hours happily discussing politics, economics, wages, living standards and geography. OK, so it was aided by alcohol but we ended up having one of those memorable nights you just know you’re going to carry with you forever.

A bit like the time we spent night after night in Turkey drinking vodka with a group of Russians despite not being able to exchange a single word, or the evening spent sitting on a street in Barcelona discussing Catalonia’s fight for independence with politics students whose English was marginally better than my non-existent Spanish.

In fact, a common thread in most of our travels has been breaking down those language barriers using every means possible, and in almost every case it’s proved possible.

So here’s to language barriers and the fact you really don’t always need words.


Travel tip shared by marisjc