There is a stereotype about Russian that it’s one of the most difficult languages in the world. Not only does it have a scary Cyrillic alphabet, but its grammar seems insurmountable. Because of this, a lot of people are afraid of learning it. But is this really true? Let’s try to find the truth behind those myths.


1. Cyrillic Alphabet


Yes, it looks different from the Latin alphabet used in many countries around the world. And yes, it has more letters and signs (33 in total). But, look at the script. Can you see that Russian does have a lot in common with the Latin alphabet? Please check out these five letters:


А, О, Т, К, М.


They are absolutely identical to their Latin counterparts and are pronounced in the same way. So, even if you don’t know anything about Russian, you still can read the following simple words ([  ́ ] - this sign means the vowel is stressed):


КОТ (cat), МА́МА (mum), ТАК (so), ТАКТ (tact), КАК? (how), КТО? (who), ТОТ (that), ТАМ (there), АТА́КА (attack), МАКА́КА (macaque).


Secondly, there is a group of letters which exist in the Latin alphabet, but are pronounced differently in Russian:


В [v], Е [ye], Н [n], Р [r], С [s], У [u], Х [h].


This difference might look misleading at first, but they are just seven letters, so it won't take a long time to get used to them.


Can you read these words?


ОН (he), НОС (nose), СОК (juice), ВОР (thief), ХОР (choir), НЕТ (no), МЕТР (meter), У́ТКА (duck), РОСТ (height), МА́СТЕР (master, expert).


And, the last part of the alphabet consists of the signs which do not have equivalents in the Latin alphabet. They may look puzzling and unusual at first glance, but there is a certain mysterious beauty about them, don’t you agree?


Б, Г, Д, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, Л, П, Ф, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ь, Ы, Ъ, Э, Ю, Я.


Don’t feel intimidated by the amount of those unknown signs. The good news is that when you start learning Russian, you won’t need all of them. The trick is to learn the most commonly used ones that’ll allow you to read more than 60-70% of words.


From this list I’d say seven are essential:


И [ee], Ы [hard ee], Я [ya], П [p], Л [l], Б [b], Д [d].


Have a look at the new words you can read now!

Я (I), ДА (yes), МЫ (we), ТЫ (you), БАНК (bank), ПА́ПА (dad), МО́ДА (fashion), ЛА́МПА (lamp), РЫ́БА (fish), СУ́МКА (bag), АПТЕ́КА (pharmacy), ВИ́СКИ (whisky).


By the way, you can check the pronunciation of these words on If you still find the Russian alphabet very scary, that means you need to practice a bit more. Usually, it takes between three days and a week to master all of the letters and rules, and learn to read correctly. Not bad, is it? Especially if you compare it with such scripts such as Arabic, Thai or Chinese.


2. The Grammar


On the other hand, the Russian language is constantly blamed for its complicated grammar. I’d lie if I said it was complete rubbish. However, there is some good news, too. First, there are no articles in Russian. You don’t have to doubt when choosing between a, an and the or no article at all.  Forget about countable and uncountable nouns. Nouns exist just as they are without any articles:


БАНА́Н (a banana), ЛА́МПЫ (lamps), ВЕ́РА (trust)


Besides, Russian almost doesn’t use auxiliary verbs, and its tense system is very simple. We have just one present tense, two future tenses and two past tenses. Sounds like a piece of cake, doesn’t it?


Have a look at the examples in the chart:



Он смо́трит фильмы каждый день.

Он (сейчас) смо́трит фильм.

Он смо́трит фильм уже час.

He watches films every day.

He is watching a film now.

He’s been watching the film for an hour.

Imperfective Past

Он смотре́л фильм вчера.

Он смотре́л фильм вчера в 10 часов.

He watched a film yesterday.

He was watching a film yesterday at 10 O’clock.

Perfective Past

Он уже посмотре́л 2 фильма.

He's already watched two films.

Imperfective Future

Он бу́дет смотре́ть фильмы каждый день.

Он бу́дет смотре́ть фильм завтра

в 10 часов.

He’ll watch films every day.


He’ll be watching a film tomorrow at 10 O’clock.

Perfective Future

Он посмо́трит 2 фильма завтра.

He’ll have watched two films tomorrow.


So, as you can see, basically, in Russian we distinguish two forms of future and past — perfective (result: one action) and imperfective (process: multiple actions = a habit).


And that’s it, roughly! A lot of other details, such as whether an action will be going on at a certain point of time or will be finished before another action takes place, which are important in English, are irrelevant in Russian.


Last but not least, Russian has a relatively free word order. That means more freedom when expressing oneself and less rules to memorize! Compare these three possibilities to say the same message (I get up at 7 o’clock in the morning):


Я встаю в 7 часов утром.

Утром я встаю в 7 часов.

Я встаю утром в 7 часов.


I get up = я встаю

at 7 o’clock = в 7 часов

(in the) morning = утром


So, are you in? When are you going to start learning Russian?


Hero Image by Ivan Batishchev