The Russian alphabet pronunciation is not the most difficult in the world. It uses the Cyrillic script to write the Russian language, which has 33 letters (seven more than the Latin alphabet). And do you know what the best part is? Almost all Russian words can be pronounced in the same way they are written.
Once you have mastered the Russian alphabet, you will be able to pronounce the vast majority of Russian words. So let us all work together to solve the alphabet’s mysteries.
A brief history Russian language
Russian is an East Slavic language and one of the world’s major languages; it is one of the six official UN languages and the world’s eighth most spoken language, with 260 million speakers.
Furthermore, Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the unofficial language of Ukraine and many other former Soviet republics.
Until the Middle Russian period, Russian and the other East Slavic languages (Ukrainian, Belarusian) were very similar (late 13th century to the 16th century). In fact, the term “Old Russian” is commonly used to describe East Slavic languages spoken prior to the Middle Russian period.
Russian has been heavily influenced by Old Church Slavonic and, since Tsar Peter I the Great’s westernizing policies in the 18th century, by the languages of Western Europe. The subsequent development of the Russian language was determined by the 19th-century poet Aleksandra Pushkin. His writings, in which he combined colloquial and Church Slavonic styles, were pivotal in determining the best literary style.
The Cyrillic script
In Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Northern Asia, the Cyrillic script is the national script of various Slavic-, Turkic-, and Iranic-speaking countries.
The Early Cyrillic script was commissioned in the 9th century AD by Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great to replace the Glagolitic script, and it became official in 893. It was named after the two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Glagolitic alphabet, and is derived from the Greek uncial script, augmented with letters from the older Glagolitic alphabet.
The Cyrillic script used in Russia was heavily reformed in the early 18 century by Peter the Great. Several archaic letters were removed, and others were designed by Peter the Great himself. As a result, the updated letters became more similar to those of the Latin alphabet.
This was about the history associated with the Russian alphabet. Now, let us move toward the Russian alphabet pronunciation.
How to pronounce the Russian alphabet
There are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet. 10 vowels (а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и), 21 consonants (б, в, г, д, ж, з, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ, and the consonant й which is sometimes a semivowel) and 2 pronunciation signs (the “soft sign” ь and the “hard sign” ъ).
This is the dictionary order of the Russian alphabet: А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я.
If we were to compare the Russian alphabet to the English alphabet, we would find four types of letters: those that look and sound (almost) the same as in English, those that sound the same but look different, those that look the same but sound different, and those that look the same but sound different.
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Russian letters similar to English
- А а sounds like “a” in “father” or “after”,
- Е е sounds either like “ye” in “yes”,
- К к sounds like “k“ in “kept”, “kite” or “like”,
- М м sounds like “m” in “mother” or “mobile”,
- О о sounds like “o” in “bore” or “more” (without the ‘r’ sound),
- Т т sounds like “t” in “top” or “task”.
It is easier for you to learn the Russian alphabet if you start by looking at Russian letters that are similar to the English language. It allows the learners to relate to both languages in a systematic manner.
Russian letters that sound the same as in English (but look different)
- Б б sounds like “b” in “bad” or “blue”,
- Г г sounds like “g“ in “go” or “guard”,
- Д д sounds like “d” in “done” or “double”,
- Ё ё sounds like “yo” in “your”,
- Ж ж sounds like “s” in “usual”, “pleasure”, “measure” or “treasure”,
- П п sounds like “p” in “potato” or “compassion”,
- Ф ф sounds like “f” in “face” or “fact”,
- И и sounds like “ee” in “see”, “free” or “meet”,
- Й й sounds like “y” in “toy” or “oyster”,
- Л л sounds like “l” in “lamp” or “chill”,
- Ц ц sounds like “ts” in “sits” or “that’s”,
- Ш ш sounds like “sh” in “shrimp”,
- Щ щ is a softer version of Ш and it sounds like “sh” in “shoes”,
- Э э sounds like “e” in “met” or “edit”,
- Ю ю sounds like “you” or “use”,
- Я я sounds like “yu” in yummy or “ya” in “yard”.
Learning the Russian language needs to be a well-planned idea. There are some basic steps to learning Russian. Following proper steps always makes learning easier and also helps you retain information for a longer time.
Russian letters that look the same as in English (but sound different)
- В в sounds like “v” in “van” or “voice”,
- З з sounds like “z” in “zoo” or “zodiac”,
- Н н sounds like “n” in “no” or “noon”,
- Р р sounds like “r” in “run” or “rest” (but rolled).
- С с sounds like “s” in “stone” or “sale”,
- У у sounds like “oo” in “tool”,
- Ч ч sounds like “ch” in “chat” or “church“,
- Х х sounds like “ch” in “loch”,
- Ы ы sounds like “i” in “ill” but with a “rounder” pronunciation (said with your tongue slightly back in your mouth)
Have you noticed that there are several letters that are similar to English but sound differently while there are some letters that are different from the English language but sound similar?
Russian letter with no English equivalent
Ь – This is known as the “soft sign,” and it is used to soften the preceding consonant’s pronunciation (palatalized)
Ъ – This is known as the “hard sign,” and it prevents the preceding consonant from being palatalized* or acts as a “silent back vowel” that separates a succeeding “soft vowel” (е, ё, ю, я, but not и) from a preceding consonant.
Rules for learning the Russian alphabet
- In Russian, there are three tenses: past, present, and future; each verb has two aspects: perfective and imperfective;
- Russian has three genders, which are indicated by the spelling at the end of the word: feminine, masculine, or neuter.
- There are six cases in Russian: nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental, and prepositional.
- The names of the days of the week (or months) or words indicating nationality are not capitalized in Russia.
- The standard sentence structure is subject-verb-object, but the word order can vary.
- Russian is primarily phonetic, and only the complex stress system complicates Russian word pronunciation.
- The stress system is not very strict, and stress is movable.
Russian is not the most difficult language to learn. As you can see, the Russian alphabet pronunciation is quite friendly once you get to know it. Languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic, on the other hand, are much more difficult to learn. Furthermore, once you learn the alphabet, you will be able to read in Russian, which will be a huge motivation boost! To get along with native speakers, you can also learn Russian greetings. Learning these greetings will help you understand the celebrations of native speakers.