Russian is very difficult, when I come to Russia, do I have to learn the language? Is it possible to communicate with Russians in English?
These are the questions many people coming to Russia ask very often.
Russian can be difficult to learn, but English is also difficult for Russians. Very few people in Russia speak English, as well as any other foreign language. How come no one speaks English if almost everyone studies it in schools and universities or colleges? Well, in order to understand and being able to speak the language, you need to actively practice it. And practice outside the classroom is nearly impossible to find. Studying foreign language also requires big deal of self-motivation and for most students passing the class is just good enough. On top of things teaching techniques and teachers themselves often are not very efficient.
In Russia, everywhere you go, everything will be only in Russian and all people will be able to understand only Russian. If you are planning a short tourist trip, and you do not speak any Russian, that is fine, especially if travel agency organizes your trip well. If you are planning live in Russia for longer period, say as expat, learning Russian is essential. I have seen people not speaking any Russian who have been living in Moscow for many years. For the most part they were absolutely helpless without someone by their side who spoke Russian. As alternative they live a “bubble” lifestyle, which again is fine, but it is somewhat limited existence.
You probably do not need full Russian proficiency, but knowing even basic words, phrases and some vocabulary for specific situations helps. Otherwise even basic activity like buying groceries can turn into an issue. Making order in a restaurant can be difficult. Many cafes and restaurants have menus in English. I noticed however, menu translations are not always very accurate. Waiters do not speak English (with very few exceptions) and the best you can do is just to point at what you want from the menu. In majority of other situations you will have to use Russian, unless you have interpreter by your side.
Where you can use English in Moscow.
There are people in Russia who speak English as a second language. In some places you have higher chances of bumping into someone speaking English. Obviously employees of international companies in Moscow speak English, so if you work for one, you are pretty much all set from 9 to 6 on work days. Concentration of English-speaking employees is higher in the places where international companies have offices. That is “Moscow city”, “Krilatsky hills”, “Belaya loshad”, some other office complexes, downtown in general, including Tverskaya street and surrounding areas. Typically you meet people speaking English in chain hotels, meaning receptionists and other staff serving guests. I notices many workers in Starbucks speak English. Not that they will be able and willing to have conversation with an English-speaking customer, but they would take order in English for sure. There are few places where expats meet and there you can speak English too. I noticed that in Moscow subway, on some lines, station names now announced in English. Street navigation is available in English mostly in central parts of Moscow. There are English resources about Moscow – in print or on the web.