Постсловаризм/The Post-Dictionary Age
If you want to learn Russian properly, then reading regularly is an absolutely must. When we read, not only will we undoubtedly find new and unfamiliar words, but we also have the chance, unlike in real-time conversation,s to record these new words so they stick with us. Unfortunately for some, this very possibility can make reading quite a frustrating experience. Perfectionists like myself who need to know the meaning and nuances of every single word they meet may find themselves spending more time looking up new words than they do reading the actual book.
What can you do then if you just can't bear to let a single word pass by unknown? Looking them up in a dictionary takes too long and, much as it has improved in recent years, google translate is still neither the most reliable nor the most competent translator in the world. Here are few sites and apps you can use to help yourself understand new texts perfectly, as quickly as possible.
Google translate по-русски, Yandex translate is a digital translator from the Russian search engine, Yandex, which is also known for its cheap taxis, useful maps and basically any other service you can think of. Yandex is a Russian company and therefore, as you might expect, their translator is pretty good at understanding Russian. Yandex translations both of single words and longer phrases tend to be more accurate than translations provided by google. In addition if you translate just a single word in Yandex translate, it will provide you with a whole bunch of extra information which you might not find on other digital translators, for example, grammatical gender, synonyms, word type classification, etc.
The Yandex Translate mobile app is particularly useful. First of all it has a function which allows you to directly translate text from other apps without specifically opening the Yandex app. To do this just copy the text you would like to translate and press the button that appears. This will cause a basic translation to appear in a box in the centre of your screen, from there you have the option to open the app to find out more or to continue reading. The app also allows you to save useful words and then to create flashcards out of them.
Yandex will be enough to get you through most basic texts but as soon as you get to anything more complex you might start to notice that the translations Yandex gives you start to sound a little bit off. At this point you may wish to turn to Multitran. Multitran allows you to search single words and occasionally short phrases and see what those words might mean in a variety of different contexts. Ask Yandex what "собачка" means and it will tell you it means "dog", "little dog", or "doggie". It's only when you ask Multitran that you'll find out that it's also the Russian name for the “at” sign (@). If you're planning on reading any documents related to technology, business, law or any other specialised subject, then Multitran is a great tool to have in your belt.
Understanding individual words is all well and good, but what about when you're stuck on an idiomatic phrase where all the words are clear but the true meaning still eludes you? It these cases turn your attention to Reverso Context. Simply copy the phrase you want to understand into the search bar and hit the search button, Reverso Context will then provide you with several examples of that phrase in use in different texts along with translations of those texts which use analogous phrases. Just try to keep the phrases short; Reverso Context will also try to search for phrases which it thinks are similar to yours if it can't find a direct match. Unfortunately, what it thinks are similar phrases do not always match up with what any sane human being would think are similar phrases, so by searching for shorter phrases you are much more likely to find a relevant translation.
Even after you've looked up all the words and phrases you need to know, you still might find yourself unable to use them very effectively. You've found an imperfect verb, but do you know its perfect form? You've found a nice new noun, but how does it decline? You've found a complicated participle, but what verb is it formed from? You can find the answers to these and other questions on the Wiktionary site. If you know the nomative form of a noun/adjective or the infinite of a verb them you can search for them on the site to find out more about conjugation, declination and other important grammatical information. You'll also sometimes find information about pronunciation, synonyms and antonyms, and other aspects of the word too. Should you ever fail to find a word on the English language Wiktionary, you can always swap to the Russian version of the site, Викисловарь, where you should be able to find it.
The great thing about all of these resources is that they are equally useful for writing as they are for reading. Don't know how to say a certain simple word in Russian? Find out by using Yandex. Need to use some specialist vocabulary or a longer phrase? Hit up Multitran or Reverso Context respectively. Declination or conjugation troubles? Wiktionary has your back. One final tip for those who want to write their own texts: should you ever need to know the name of a historical event, a less common animal or plant, or even a scientific concept, it might well be worth searching Wikipedia for that thing and then changing the language of the page to Russian. This is a surprisingly reliable way of finding names for things, events, and concepts that traditional digital translators struggle with.