Dreaming of learning a new language?
Discover the secrets of speaking fluently.
The first step to learning Russian is to study its alphabet. For many English speakers, the Russian alphabet can prove somewhat intimidating. In this section, we’re going to break down the Russian alphabet and make it much simpler and easier to learn.
Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which was created in 863 by a Macedonian monk who spoke a Slavic language closely related to Russian and also knew Greek. He was later canonized as Saint Cyril, which is where the Cyrillic alphabet gets its name. (This is also why there are several letters that are common to both Greek and Russian.)
The Russian alphabet is comprised of 33 letters, and they look like this:
While the Russian alphabet may look a bit overwhelming, in this section, we’re going to break the letters down into four groups that are specifically designed to help English speakers more quickly and easily learn the Russian alphabet. These groups include the following:
Group 1) Looks like English, sounds like English
Group 2) Looks like English, sounds like a different letter in English
Group 3) Looks different, but sounds like English
Group 4) Looks different, sounds different
Let’s start with the first group, since it’s the easiest.
This group is comprised of five letters, as illustrated below. (In every case where letters of the Russian alphabet are provided, I’ll provide the upper case version followed by the lowercase version. For example, if the letter “Q” existed in Russian, it would appear like this: Qq. Notice how the lowercase differs from the uppercase? This is not the case for all English letters, nor is it the case for all Russian letters, but it’s worth noting.)
Russian Sounds like
Аа (a) as in apple
Кк (k) as in king
Мм (m) as in mother
Оо (o) half way between “no” and “on”
Тт (t) as in top
With these five letters, you can now read simple, common Russian words like these:
This group is comprised of seven letters that look like English letters, but convey different sounds in the Russian alphabet.
Russian Sounds like
Вв (v) as in van
Ее (ye) as in yes
Нн (n) as in not
Рр (r) as in right (with a rolling R sound)
Сс (s) as in sight
Уу (oo) as in boot
Хх (ch) the way “Mexico” is pronounced in Russian,
or “Bach” is pronounced in German
With these additional letters, you can now read the following words:
This group is comprised of thirteen letters. Some look similar to English letters, but all of these letters make sounds that are found in the English language.
Russian Sounds like
Бб (b) as in boy
Гг (g) as in gum
Дд (d) as in dark
Ёё (yo) as in yolk (Note: this letter is often written / typed simply as Ее.)
Зз (z) as in zero
Ии (ee) as in zebra
Йй (y) as in boy
Лл (l) as in light
Пп (p) as in park
Фф (f) as in far
Ээ (e) as in bet
Юю (yoo) as in universe
Яя (ya) as in yak
Here are a few words to practice these new letters and sounds:
мир earth or peace
самолёт air plane
This group only contains six letters; their appearances are not common in English, and their sounds require more than one English letter to produce.
Жж (zh) as in treasure
Цц (ts) as in bats
Чч (ch) as in chat
Шш (sh) as in sham
Щщ (sch) as in sheep
Ыы (i) as in bit
Additionally, the Russian alphabet includes two more symbols that never appear on their own. They always appear next to another letter, whose sounds they modify:
Ьь makes a consonant softer
Ъъ makes a consonant harder
And this is the Russian alphabet all together:
Name of letter
|(a) as in apple|
|(b) as in boy|
|(v) as in van|
|(g) as in gum|
|(d) as in dark|
|(ye) as in yes|
|(yo) as in yolk|
|(zh) as in treasure|
|(z) as in zero|
|(ee) as in zebra|
|(y) as in boy|
|(k) as in king|
|(l) as in light|
|(m) as in mother|
|(n) as in not|
|(o) similar to “no” or “on”|
|(p) as in park|
|(r) rolling sound|
|(s) as in sight|
|(t) as in top|
|(oo) as in boot|
|(f) as in far|
|(ch) like x in “Mexico”|
|(ts) as in bats|
|(ch) as in chat|
|(sh) as in sham|
|(sch) as in sheep|
|(i) as in bit|
|(e) as in bet|
|(yoo) as in universe|
|(ya) as in yak|
|makes a consonant harder|
|hardener||makes a consonant softer|
Here are a few more words you can use to practice what you’ve just learned:
журна́л magazine (journal)
счи schi (soup)
борщ borsh (soup)
It’s important to find the best way to speak Russian.Within the Russian language, consonants may be voiced or unvoiced. The difference here is also simple: voiced consonants are made by vibrating your vocal chords, while unvoiced consonants do not require any such vibration.
The voiced consonants include the letters б, в, г, д, ж and з. The unvoiced consonants are п, ф, к, т, ш and с. These two groups of consonants from pairs because you pronounce them with the same position of the mouth and tongue as each other; the only difference is whether they are voiced or unvoiced.
Voiced consonants become unvoiced before another unvoiced consonant or when they are final.
The following consonants are always voiced: л, м, н, and р. These consonants are always unvoiced: х, ц, ч and щ.
In addition to being voiced or unvoiced, consonants may be hard or soft. Hard consonants are pronounced normally, while soft consonants are “softened” when the tipe of the tongue touches the hard palate in your mouth.
This might sound confusing, but it’s not. An example of hard and soft consonants can be found in English. Say the following words out loud: thumb; them.
Did you just notice that the “th” in “thumb” is a bit harder than the “th” in the word “them”? The consonant sound in “thumb” is hard, and it is pronounced normally. The consonant sound in “them” is softened because your tongue is touching the hard palate inside your mouth when this word is pronounced.
Now that you understand the concept, let’s see how it’s applied to the Russian alphabet.
In the Russian alphabet, consonants are softened when they follow a vowel or when they are followed by the letter ь, which indicates a softening. All Russian consonants may be softened with the following exceptions:
These Russian letters are always hard; they are never softened by a vowel, and they are never followed by the letter ь to indicate that they may be softened. Generally speaking, the letter ъ only following prefixes and before vowels. Use of this letter shows that the consonant is not being softened by the vowel it follows.
Understanding how and where to stress a certain syllable in a Russian word can be very confusing. There are few patterns or rules that govern word stress in the Russian language.
To make matters more complicated, even when you learn the proper stress for a certain word, that stress can change based on its grammatical declination. (We’ll cover grammatical declination in later sections.)
Long story short, like when you learn any foreign language, you’re going to have to practice, learn and memorize stress on a case-by-case basis. To make things simpler, in this book, we’re using stress marks to help you better understand how to pronounce various words. Note that in written Russian, these stress marks are never used, and appear here purely for the purposes of instruction.
All that said, there is one simple tip we can provide. Whenever you see a word with the letter ё, stress falls on that syllable. (For that reason, you won’t see any stress marks above this letter.)
Dreaming of learning a new language? With OptiLingo, you can learn 20 languages in just 20 minutes per day. www.optilingo.com – Optilingo