Sunday, 08 April 2012 20:15

Russian Alphabet

The CYRILLIC ALPHABET is the official alphabet of the Russian Federation. When coming to Russia, one might be very intimidated by the strange letters and words that are written everywhere. There is no need to worry anymore. We would like to educate everyone on the Cyrillic alphabet, and how to read it, understand it, and love it. So that by the end of this article you will be able to read and understand the tricky Russian alphabet hands down. =)

The Cyrillic alphabet was first developed in the 10th century AD in the area known as Bulgaria today. The alphabet has gone through a lot of changes over its history, and looks somewhat similar in some aspects today, as it did so many years ago. Cyrillic is the official alphabet of several Slavic countries such as: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Serbia. But it is also used in several other post-Soviet countries. The alphabet is derived from the ancient Greek script. The usage of Cyrillic nowadays is that it serves as one of the three official alphabets in the European Union. 

In the Russian alphabet, there are 33 letters and 43 sounds (6 vowels and 37 consonants) as opposed to the 26 letters of the English alphabet (Latin alphabet) with the total of 52 sounds. Both alphabets contain similar letters such as A, E, K, M, O, and T, which are pronounced not exactly the same but quite similarly:

The Russian T, K, and M are the equivalents of the respective sounds in English.

The Russian A is always pronounced as in "car" and never as in “came”.

In a stressed position the Russian O is pronounced as in “Awesome” or as in “dog”, and never as in “Coke”. In an unstressed position, some reduction of the stress takes place and the Russian “O” is pronounced very fast and resembles the sound “a”. So КОЛОБОК (the Russian well-known kids character of a fairy tale) is pronounced more like “ka-la-bok” and not “ko-lo-bok”. 

The Russian E is pronounced as in “bed” and never as in “beef”. If a word ends in “e” it is unlike in English, the final –e in Russian must still be pronounced. Compare the English “nope” and the Russian “море” (pronounced: morye)

Examples: Море = sea, Катя = Kate, Колбаса = sausage, Лес = forest, Тoлько = only

There are a few letters in the Russian alphabet that are written the same way as in English, but have entirely different pronunciation. These letters are: В, H, P, С, X, and Y:

The Russian B is always the equivalent of the English “V”. e.g. Восток (= east) is pronounced as “vastok”

The Russian H is always the equivalent of the English “N”. e.g. Нет (=no) is pronounced as “Net”

The Russian P is always and equivalent of the English “R”. e.g. Рай (=paradize) is pronounced as “raj”

The Russian C is always and equivalent of the English “S”. e.g. Сок (=juice) is pronounced as “Sok”

The Russian X is always and equivalent of the English “H” or rather “kh”. e.g. Хорошо (=good) is pronounced as “khorosho”

The Russian Y is always and equivalent of the English “U” and is always pronounced as in “bush” and never as in “bud”. E.g. Душа (=soul) is pronounced as “dusha”.

This can be very confusing at first when getting to know the Russian alphabet, but don’t get discouraged - it is not so hard to remember the differences after a short period of time, and you will be speaking like a Russian in no time. 

The following letters need to be memorized as they are either written differently in English or have no English equivalents:  Б, Г, Д, 3, Л, П, Ф, И, Й.

Б = B as in “boy”

Г = G as in “good”

Д = D as in “dog”

З = z as in “zoo”

Л = L  as in “let”

П = P as in “poke”

Ф = F as in “fake”

Ч = ch as in “check”

Ш = Sh as in “shape”

Й = has no equivalents in the English language and is pronounced as the English sound j as in yes.  

Ж and Ц have no English equivalent letters but they do have equivalent sounds. So the first is always pronounced as the sound "sure" in the word “pleasure”, whereas the latter is a combination of the English t and s as in “wits” 

The Russian Ё letter is almost like E but with a slight difference in pronunciation. Ё is always pronounced as j and o put together. Всё = vsjo 

Щ is very similar to Ш. The sound is practically the same, but it has a slightly longer “shhh” sound. The letter can be somewhat found when pronouncing “sheep”. 

Russian Alphabet The letter "Ь" is also a letter in the Russian alphabet, but it does not serve as a sound. Called the “soft sign” in English (Russian: мягкий знак), this letter is placed after certain consonant letters to make them sound softer in speech. It is very difficult for English speakers to pronounce this sound correctly as there is no such sounds in the English language. Russian usually has some harsh parts in speech, but with the help of this soft sign, some words can be different just by this soft sign. And the letter Ъ represents the hard sign and is not used very often. Always coming after consonants and before some certain vowels and functions to produce a “j” sound in between the consonant and the vowel. Подъем pronounced as podjem.  

The difference between the Russian sound E and Э is same as the difference between the E and A sounds in the English words "bed" and "bad". The latter is more open. 

Я = ja as in ya

Ю = ju as in you   

Russian Alphabet The Ы sound is probably the most difficult sound for someone to master when learning Russian. It sounds sort of like a deep “i”, but it’s hard to explain how to correctly explain this without listening to a sample of the sound. Start making the sound in the bottom of your throat and then pronounce it somewhat harshly. You should hear a "oowii" sound, like the glide that happens between the "o" and the "i" when you say "doing".

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