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Murillo Costa
Professional Teacher
To Russian learners: Can you really read Russian?

Hello everybody! I'll try to be straight forward!


When you google " Is it easy to read Russian ", lots of sites say that the easiest part of Russian is reading it, they say one can learn the alphabet and how to read within 30-60 minutes.


I agree! They can learn the alphabet even in a shorter time.


Knowing the alphabet is something, reading is another!


My challenge is, I've been learning Russian for a few months now, I already have the sense of grammar and already can speak some stuff. But I have a #$%¨& hard time with the reading skill. Even though I know the alphabet, my brain takes too much time to process the letters and make them make sense, which makes my reading very slowly. I read like a retard, I cannot grab a text in Russian and read it fluently, whenever I see Russian sentences or texts, my eyes get focused and I have headaches. My question is: Can you guys really read Russian at a normal speed without any effort?

I'm not talking about understanding vocabulary or grammar, I'm simply concerned about the skill of reading a different alphabet. If you can, how long did it take you to get to the point that written Russian looked normal and familiar? What do you guys recommend besides reading and reading and reading? Thanks in advance! 

Jan 7, 2015 2:33 AM
Comments · 13

It is possible to read Russian at a normal speed without immense difficulty. Although I am not a neurologist by training, my personal experience from learning the alphabet is that there are several neurological processes at work. One of them is a subconscious mode, and the other is a conscious mode.

I tried learning the alphabet by traditional means – through reciting each letter of the alphabet, through transcribing from Latin to Cyrillic, and once I tried some exercises from a textbook. (e.g Write the Latin equivalent: Нью-Йорк). None of these methods helped me read actual texts.

My mind was struggling to remember the symbols, and reading was a pain. Reading then was like cobbling mismatched stones together, and hoping that I'd made a work of art. The point is that I was approaching the alphabet from a conscious mode. I was also using my short term memory, which is unreliable for learning a language. It dawned on me that I needed to somehow associate the letters with their actual sounds


I then tried listening to audio and reading a text simultaneously. After a week, it became quite easy to recognize the letters – they were connected with a sound, rather than with their Latin equivalent.

This solved the problem of poor recall and also improved my subconscious understanding of the symbols. In addition, reading and listening became much easier. I also had a better knowledge of how words were pronounced – when you know how natives read sentences and pronounce words, reading at a normal pace becomes a lot easier. 


January 7, 2015

Nothing will come by itself. You need a good Russian textbook in phonetics. I am majoring in German (first language), English (second language) and translating. We are learning German, English phonetics and Russian phonetics in order to avoid pronunciation mistakes in German and English.

Russian is difficult for reading because it has two degrees of the vowel reduction of the unstressed vowel sounds 'а', 'o' and 'э': the word 'молоко' is read [мълʌко], so you have three different 'о' in this word: [ъ] - the strong vowel reduction of the unstressed vowel sound; [ʌ] - the weak vowel reduction of the pretonic vowel sound; [о] - the stressed vowel sound. The unstressed vowel sounds are pronounced after hard, soft and hard hush consonants differently but there are rules.

The stressed vowel sounds are pronounced after and before hard and soft and consonants differently as well: тётя [т'öт'ʌ'], тётка [т'ӫткʌ], тот [тот] -> [ö] - ö between two soft consonants; [ӫ] - after soft but before hard consonant; [o] - between two hard consonants; [ʌ'] - after soft consonant; [ʌ] - after hard consonant.

I don't understand how you can remember the stressed vowel sound of every Russian word and how you can distinguish: руки - руки; луга - луга and so on.

I didn't mention the pronunciation of the Russian consonants here.

January 7, 2015

Maybe you are facing this problem because you are continuing thinking in English while reading? Let's take a word... For example 'brake', you read it giving long sound 'a', because vowel-consonant-vowel give a long sound, but in Russian we don't have such a rule. We read words how we see them. brake- брэйк. And it is definitely the easiest part of Russian language. We haven't absolutely any difficulties in reading but I understand you. The Russian words are very long, much longer than English. This is maybe the second reason. (In the very beginning of my studying English I didn't understand why we must read this word like that but that one like that, I just tried to remember them, that's it. Then I studied the rules. Anyway I can't always read new words because too much exceptions in English and dividing to syllables is not always the same like in Russian grammar). I think listening will help you a lot. Try to listen audiobooks (for children first), then you will easily read them. 

January 7, 2015

I know Russians may tell you that o is a or that this or that is not pronounced, but I honestly think you shouldn't give a f!@#K and just pronounce it how you see it. Even though it may sound weird at times it technically won't be wrong and certainly not something to cry over when you're a foreigner in the first place.

For instance Пожалуйста. Think you shouldn't pronounce й, huh? But try to ask a random russian why, he won't have any idea. Etymologically, this word is a contracted version of пожалуй ста рублей, give me a 100 roubles. Sо Пожалуй Ста = Give me 100. Why should the full, logical pronunciation be wrong, makes no sense to be so. 

Moreso the more trivial. Хорошо... you think someone will give a flying fridge if you don't pronounce it as хАрАшо? In fact, even as a native speaker and particularly when speaking slowly I often ignore the habit of changing the pronunciation. When you become more fluent though, you'll understand that this changing of sounds exists simply because it's much easier to speak faster when you mispronounce or ignore letters.

January 16, 2015

Don't drain yourself in the reading process, just a small dialogue per day till you get that sense of the letters. Try not to think in the Latin letters and then the sound of them in the Russian letters.

I don't know if I'm making any sense to you, but this site helped me a lot in the reading process, check it out, it might help you!

January 7, 2015
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Murillo Costa
Language Skills
Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Learning Language
Arabic, German, Italian, Russian