Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Is it important to speak with a proper Russian pronunciation?
So, why is it actually important to speak with a good pronunciation in Russian? And I am not speaking about accent. Having an accent is completely fine but speaking with a wrong pronunciation of words can cause some misunderstanding between you and Russian people. I know that many foreigners believe that pronunciation is not really that important. And I partially agree, because Russian people will try to understand you and will be very patient if you speak slowly or with some mistakes in pronunciation.
But I believe that there are more advantages of speaking with a proper Russian pronunciation. And here they are:
- You will feel more confident speaking Russian language because you will be proud of your pronunciation;
- You will not put yourself in some awkward situations if for example you mispronounce a word and it will mean a completely different thing that you wanted to say;
- Russian people will admire your pronunciation (and will not secretly laugh at it), because yes Russian people are very happy when foreigners speak their language but it makes us smile anyway to hear some really obvious mispronunciation.
- You will improve your comprehension of fast spoken speech, because if you have some wrong fixed patterns of pronunciation in your head, you will find it more difficult to understand words with correct natural pronunciation.
And if you think that it’s impossible for a foreigner to learn proper Russian pronunciation, I will prove you that it is more than possible because Russian language has fixed pronunciation rules. Yes, it takes time to learn and practice them but you will see that it’s better than to constantly wonder why some patterns in Russian language are not pronounced the same way as they are written.
Key tips to improve your pronunciation in Russian
1) Naughty Russian vowels
If you want to speak with a proper Russian pronunciation, you need to know about naughty Russian vowels: these are the vowels that are not pronounced the same way as they are written IF they are unstressed. That is why learning Russian words with a correct stress is also very important. So, if unstressed some Russian vowels will be pronounced less strong or completely differently. The ones that can be pronounced completely different are the vowels: Е, О, Э, Я.
Well, you probably already know about a vowel О. In all, really ALL cases when a vowel О is not stressed in a word, it should be pronounced as А. Хорошо, молодец, молоко, холодно.
окно́ [акнО] - a window
Москва́ [МасквА] - Moscow
молоде́ц [малад′Эц] - achiever
пого́да [пагОда] - weather
у́тро [Утра] - morning
ско́лько [скОл′ка] - how much / many
отли́чно [атл′Ична] - excellent
хо́лодно [хОладна] - cold
It’s also very important to note that if you have a word with a preposition that contains a letter О, you will pronounce it as А because prepositions are not stressed but we read them together with a word that comes after. For example in a word ‘до свидания’. It will not sound natural.
от кого́ [аткавО], по по́чте [папОчт'э], про тебя́ [прат'иб'А], о не́й [ан'Эй],
обо мне́ [абамн'Э], об Оле́ге [абал'Эг'э].
You have also probably noticed that a vowel Е when unstressed is pronounced as И. There are also some situations when unstressed Е is pronounced as ЙИ. But in some cases an unstressed Е is better to pronounce as Е or Э with a softened consonant. Don’t worry, it is easy!
Let’s look at these words:
Лес [л'эс] – леса [лисА]
Лето [л'Эта] – летать [литАт']
Евро [йЭвра] – Европа [йиврОпа]
But if you have an unstressed Е in the end of words, you will notice that it should be pronounce as a very short Е or Э with a softened consonant.
Like, in в Америке [вам'Эрик'э].
2) Transcription in Latin
The next important thing that you need to know if you want to sound more natural in Russian is that you have to stop relying on the transcription of words in Latin. First of all, it’s not a transcription, it’s a transliteration – which is a way to represent how each letter sound separately, but not in word. Latin letters cannot show you how to pronounce Russian letters. Period! It only makes it worth. Yes, there is an International phonetic alphabet which I don’t really like and I never use simply because I don’t trust anything International. Russian sounds are completely different from English sounds and therefore you need to use transcription in Cyrillic not in Latin. Let’s admit, when you start learning Russian language, the first thing you do is to learn Russian alphabet. Right? You learn how to pronounce each letter so you can perfectly use a transcription in Cyrillic. So, when you learn a new word but it’s not pronounced the same as it’s written – you can write its transcription yourself in Cyrillic. This is the way Russian people do as well when we are at school. We learn letters and sounds. And believe me, it’s not only easy, it also can be fun to analyze how to pronounce each word even before hearing how to pronounce it correctly. Easy!
3) Tricky vowels
And here comes one of the main reasons why Latin transcription for Russian words…sucks…
There are some tricky vowels in Russian language that make foreigners who learn Russian language sound…funny. Really, I have already seen even some advanced learners who made this mistake. So, these tricky vowels are Е, Ё, Ю, Я. I’ve already mentioned them in my video on a Russian hard sign.
So, these 4 letters are very tricky. They are letters and not sounds, which is very important. Separately, each of them make up two sounds.
The problem arises from here because some learners believe that these letters are pronounced this way everywhere. And this is a fault of Latin transcription of Russian words.
Just look at this table. As you can see the pronunciation of these vowels depend a lot on its position in a word. After vowels, after a soft and a hard sign, as well as in the beginning of words, these vowels will be pronounced as a combination of two sounds, where the key element is a sound Й.
BUT! After consonants they should be pronounced without a sound Й. And it’s a very common mistake of Russian language learners, when they pronounce Меня, люблю, тебе and so on.
And it’s not their fault! It’s a fault of Latin transcription, because in the majority of Russian textbooks with a Latin transcription you will find this sound Y where it should and where it shouldn’t be. Because again, it’s not a transcription but a transliteration – the representation of each letter separately.
So, look at this phrase
Жела́ю тебе́ сча́стья! [жылАй'у тиб'Э щАст'йа]
Let’s analyse. First, желаю. Well, here we have a mix of rules actually. Normally this е should be pronounced as и because it is not stressed, BUT it comes after a consonant Ж which is always hard and it also turns this и into a hard ы. A letter Ю is pronounced as a combination of Й+У because it comes after a vowel. Тебе – the first Е is not stressed and pronounced as И, but the second one is stressed and comes after as consonant so it should be pronounced as Э with a softened consonant Б. And the last word – счастья, сч is pronounced as щ (and it’s another rule that concerns consonants) and then we have a vowel Я that comes after a soft sign and therefore it should be pronounced as a combination of two sounds. You see, it’s really that easy!
If you want to learn more Russian pronunciation rules, you can check out my Russian Pronunciation Course, which will help you not only improve your Russian pronunciation but also to enhance your comprehension of a fast spoken speech in Russian.
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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