Updated: Nov 8, 2020
So, you have decided to learn Russian language. My congratulations!
The first thing you need to do is to familiarize yourself with the Russian alphabet. Russian alphabet can look weird and daunting the first time you see it. But don't worry! I will walk you through and we will learn the words that will help you remember these Russian letters and their sounds. You will see that some Russian letters are actually identical to their English equivalents.
It is not that hard to learn it especially due to the fact that Russian and English languages both come from the same Indo-European family. There are indeed some letters which look and sound the same as in English language. Though, there are also some false friends like the letters B (equivalent to an English V) and P (equivalent to an English R). Have I intrigued you? Well, that is the purpose.
Let's first look carefully through the whole list of Russian letters. Try to guess how they might sound. By the way, there are 33 letters in a Russian alphabet.
Ok, how are you so far? Hope you are not discouraged. Let's analyze these letters by groups:
Russian letters that are (almost) the same.
А а - Pronounce it like the English "a" in words like "bar" or "partner".
К к - Pronounce it like the English "k" in "kit" or "kayak".
М м - Pronounce it like the English "m" in "mother".
O o - When it is a stressed vowel, it is pronounced like the "o" in "bog". If un-stressed should be pronounced more like the letter "a".
Т т - Pronounce it like the "t" in "table" (Please, note that its hand-written (and italic) form is written this way "т" (Yeah, I know it looks like the English "m").
Russian letters that look like English letters but sound different.
В в - No, it is not the English "B". It is rather an equivalent to the English letter "v" and pronounced like the "v" in "vacation".
Е е - No, it's not the English "E". It sounds like the "ye" in "yes".
Н н - No, it's not the English "H". It is rather an equivalent to the English letter "N" and pronounced like the "n" in "nobody".
Р р - No, it's not the English "P". There is a common mistake of people who don't know Russian alphabet to read a Russian word "Ресторан" as "pectopah". Have you guessed what this word is? Ресторан = restaurant in English. So, the Russian letter "P" is rather an equivalent to the English letter "R". It is pronounced like the "r" in "rabbit", but it is rolled (with a Russian accent).
С с - No, it's not the English "C". It is rather an equivalent to the English letter "S". It is pronounced like the "s" in "stay".
У у - No, it's not the English "Y". This letter should be pronounced like the "oo" in "look" or "moon".
Х х - No, it's not the English "X". It is pronounced like the "h" in "hat".
Russian letters that look strange, but have familiar sounds
Б б - Well, this letter looks almost like its English equivalent in its lower case form -"b". It is pronounced like the "b" in "bar".
Г г - This one is equivalent to the English letter "g". It is pronounced like the "g" in "get".
Д д - Equivalent to the English letter "d". It is pronounced like the "d" in "day".
З з - No, it's not a number 3. This letter is equivalent to the English letter "z". It is pronounced like the "z" in "zap".
И и - This letter is sometimes equivalent to the English letter "i", the short 'ee' sound. Pronounced like the "i" in "mix". Please, note that a hand-written form for "и" looks a little like the English "u").
Л л - Equivalent to the English letter "L". It is pronounced like the "l" in "letter".
П п - Equivalent to the English letter "p". Pronounced like the "p" in "parrot".
Ф ф - Equivalent to the English letter "f". Pronounced like the "f" in "father".
Э э - Pronounced like the "e" in "Ted".
Russian letters and sounds that don't exist in English
Ю ю - This letter is pronounced exactly the same as the English pronoun "You".
Я я - It is pronounced like a combination"ya" in "yard".
Ё ё - It is pronounced like "yo" in "your". (please, note that nowadays this letter is often written simply as Е е. Russian people are lazy)
Ж ж - It is pronounced like "s" in "pleasure"
Ц ц - This one is similar to the "ts" sound in "sits" or "its".
Ч ч - It is pronounced like the "ch" in "chair".
Ш ш - It is pronounced like the "sh" in "shout".
Щ щ - It is pronounced like "sh" in a word "shit", you should put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. You can find it difficult to differentiate"ш" and "щ".
Ы ы - It is pronounced like "i" in "sit". (say it with your tongue slightly back in your mouth.)
Й й - This letter is used to form diphthongs. So "oй" is like the "oy" sound in "toy" or "aй" in "sight".
These letters have no sound on their own, but are still considered letters. There have been some attempts throughout history when these letters were about to be replaced by an apostrophe but it didn't happen. So, essentially what you need to know is that they basically serve almost the same role as an English apostrophe but with certain peculiarities.
Ъ ъ - The 'Hard Sign'. It is rarely used in words. It indicates a slight pause between sylables. Examples of words: подъезд, объявление, съёмка (without a slight pause these words would sound completely different and people might not understand what you mean).
Ь ь - The 'Soft Sign'. It makes the previous letter 'soft'. Think of the "f" sound in the word "few".
This is it! I guess you wonder now how exactly you should memorize Russian letters. Well, there is a very effective way to do this. Instead of learning a bunch of random words that start with this letter, I recommend you to watch the video below where I provide some interesting words that reflect Russian culture and mentality. This way you will have some vibrant associations with each letter and get some insights into the life of Russian people.
Are you ready? Поехали!
Hello! My name is Mila and I am a founder of Hack Your Russian language platform. You can find me here:
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