Russian is the main language in Russia. This language belongs to the East Slavic language family and is closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian. Other Slavic languages such as Bulgarian, Croatian and Czech are not mutually intelligible, but still bear a slight resemblance. Russian is considered one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn, mainly because of its very complicated grammar. You won’t learn the language in a short time; focus on learning a few key “pleasantries” and the Cyrillic alphabet (e.g. “ресторан” is spelled “restoran” in the Latin alphabet, meaning “restaurant”) so that you have a chance of recognising street names, labels and public signs. Familiarising yourself with the Cyrillic script is extremely useful and not very difficult, not only for Russia but also for a number of other countries.
Learning Russian is quite difficult. The script, Cyrillic, uses many letters of the Latin alphabet but gives them different sounds. The language uses three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neutral), six grammatical cases and falling stress, which makes it difficult for native English speakers to gain perspective.
English is becoming more and more of a requirement in the business world, and many Russians in the cities (especially in Moscow or St Petersburg, but also elsewhere) know enough English to communicate. Elsewhere, English is generally non-existent, so take a phrasebook with you and be prepared for slow communication with lots of interpretive gestures.
Russia has hundreds of languages and claims to support most of them. Soviet linguists documented them in the first decades of the USSR and made sure they had Cyrillic writing systems (except Karelian, Veps, Ingrian, Votic and Ter Sami). Some have become co-official local languages. Southern Russia is bordered by Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic languages, the north by Finnish and Samoyedic languages. In the south-western corner there are a variety of Caucasian languages, and in the north-east some Chukotko-Kamchatk languages. However, a small amount of Russian is very useful for travellers wherever they are.
The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large number of adherents, although it was suppressed during the communist period. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox services is Old Church Slavonic, which differs significantly from modern Russian.