Russian Alphabet and Pronunciation


As you may know, Russian alphabet (Cyrillic alphabet) is not the same as the English one (Roman alphabet). That is why if you can’t read it, it may be challenging for you in the beginning. I will explain each letter in alphabetic order.

I have highlighted in green letters that are similar or almost the same as English ones, in orange those which sound (almost) like English ones but look differently, in red those which look like English letters but sound differently and in blue those which don’t exist in English.

Letter

Comment Example

А а

Sounds like ar in star

 

Ангел (Angel)

Б б

Sounds like b is balloon

Бабочка (Butterfly)

В в

Sounds like v in veil

Время (Time)

Г г

Sounds like g in game

 

Гвоздь (Nail)

Д д

Sounds like d in dark

 

Дом (House)

Е е

Sounds like ye in yet

 

Европа (Europe)

Ё ё

Sounds like ya in yacht or like yo in yogurt

 

This letter is rarely used nowadays, and is almost always replaced by “е” without dots, even though is still pronounced as “ё”

Note that ё is always stressed

Ёлка (Conifer tree)

Ж ж

Sounds like s in measure

 

Жук (Beetle)

З з

Sounds like z in zoo

 

Зонтик (Umbrella)

И и

Sounds like ea in meat,

 

or like i in still

Искра (Spark)

 

Й й

Sounds like y in yoga or in oyster; it is used to form diphtongs with vowels

 

Йод (Iodine)

К к

Sounds like k in key

 

Клей (Glue)

Л л

Sounds like l in love

 

Лимон (Lemon)

М м

Sounds like m in man

 

Мука (Flour)

Н н

Sounds like n in night

 

Ночь (Night)

О о

Sounds like o in oil when stressed

 

When this letter is not stressed, it sounds like a

Молоко (Milk)

П п

Sounds like p in pay

 

Понедельник (Monday)

Р р

Sounds like r in rock, but Russian р is rolled

 

Роль (Role)

С с

Sounds like s in sister

 

Сестра (Sister)

Т т

Sounds like t in time

 

Тарелка (Plate)

У у

Sounds like oo in moon, or u in full

 

Улица (Street)

Ф ф

Sounds like f in frame

 

Фасоль (Bean)

Х х

Sounds like h in hate

 

Храм (Temple)

Ц ц

Sounds like ts in its

 

Царь (Tsar)

Ч ч

Sounds like ch in cheese

 

Чай (Tea)

Ш ш

Sounds like sh in shoes

 

Шрам (Scar)

Щ щ

Sounds similar to sh but palatalized one, it means you shoud put your tongue on the roof of your mouth (“soft” ш)

 

Щетка (Brush)

Ъ ъ

This letter is called the Hard Sign and it has not a proper sound. It is rarely used and serves to separate the prefix and the rest of the word

Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Въезд (Entrance for vehicles)

Ы ы

Sounds like i in ill; It is similar to Russian и but with your tongue put slightly back in your mouth

 

Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Мышь (Mouse)

Ь ь

This is the Soft Sign. It is called like this because it makes the previous sound ‘softer’.

 

Compare:

тwithout the Soft Sign

тьwith the Soft Sign

Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Скамья (Bench)

Basically, when you see the Soft Sign, you should pronounce it as if there was a slight sound [i]  instead of it

Э э

Sounds like a in day

 

Этаж (Floor)

Ю ю

Sounds like the word you

Юбка (Skirt)

Я я

Sounds like ya in yard

 

Яма (Hole)

Stress and vowel reduction. Stress in Russian words is not fixed even within the same word – it may depend on the form of the word. It is important to know which syllable is stressed because words may be understood completely differently depending on how we stress them. For example:

  1. Мукá – flour 

    Мýка – agony 

    Vowel reduction. Stress affects the way we pronounce vowels. In Russian stressed position of vowels is called a strong position. Vowels in strong position are pronounced as they are given in the alphabet. Vowels in weak position are shorter and slightly change their sound. For example, letters я and e sound like a short и when unstressed, and the letter о is pronounced like а when unstressed. Quite a brain-teaser, right?
    Stress in Russian is not marked, that’s why it is important to remember which syllable is stressed in a certain word. Don’t be afraid, it will come to you with practice, and soon you will stress syllables naturally even in a new word.

    Some examples of о reduction:

    Корóва – Cow 

    Моркóвь – Carrot 

    Дорóга – Road 

    As you could see from those examples, the first о which is unstressed sounds like а. Before listening to the next example, try to pronounce it yourself first and then see if you did right:

    Мáсло Butter 

    Some examples of я and е reduction:

    Яма – Hole

    Яйцо – Egg

    Мелочь – Pocket money

  2. Consonant Assimilation. Maybe you have noticed that Ж letter in the word ЭТАЖ didn’t sound as it was presented in the alphabet. It happens because some Russian consonants change their sound depending on where they are placed in the word. For example, voiced consonants (Г, Б, В, Д, Ж and З) at the end of the word change its sound and become voiceless consonants. For example, the letter Б (voiced consonant) in front of р is not devoiced:

    Брат — Brother

    But it is devoiced at the end of the word and sounds like its voiceless pair (П):

    ГрибMushroom

    It was just a general explanation of pronounciation. Check a separate grammar course for more details.

    At this stage the most important thing is to practice reading by copying Russian speech. Just let your ears, brain and speech apparatus get used to the Russian sounds and to the way Russians pronounce words.

 

If you struggle with finding Russian letters on your keyboard, that’s what Russian keyboard layout look like:

Клава.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.