Any language should be studied starting from the alphabet (алфавúт), and many of our readers asked us for such a lesson. Today we prepared it for you. Learn the Russian alphabet and pronunciation rules and see how hand-written Russian is different from the printed version of Russian you may already be familiar with.
Update: we have created a whole new website to help you learn the Russian alphabet easy and free. The lesson below is good, but the whole website is much better. Check it out now!
About the Russian language
The Russian language belongs to the Indo-European family and is one of the four living members of the East Slavic languages. It’s closely related to the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages.
Russian is an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and many other territories. In countries like Ukraine and Latvia, as well as in other countries on post-Soviet territories, it’s not official but also is widely spoken.
Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. In Russia, Ukraine and Belarus alone the number of Russian native speakers reaches 144 million.
On top of that, Russian is the second most widespread language on the Internet after English.
The Russian alphabet uses Cyrillic symbols and consists of 33 letters: 10 vowels, 21 consonants and 2 letters which do not have a sound (instead, they just make the preceding letter sound harder or softer).
Let’s learn Russian letters one by one:
 – approximate pronunciation. Listen to the audio to hear the real sound of each letter.
|ъ||the hard sign|
|ь||the soft sign|
Follow the audio file for correct pronunciation.
Pronunciation of Russian Ы
The biggest difficulty that English speakers who learn the Russian alphabet usually have is with the letter Ы, which does not have an equivalent in English. It will take you some time to learn to differentiate this letter from other close sounds.
To make the sound of Ы, you need to place your tongue between the positions that it takes for the English sounds i (like in “kit”) and u (like in “sugar”).
Russian hard sign (Ъ) and soft sign (Ь)
These two letters of the Russian alphabet don’t have their own sounds. Instead, they change the sound of preceding consonants.
The hard sign (Ъ) makes the preceding consonant sound hard in the positions before the vowels И, Я, Ю, Е, Ё.
The soft sign softens the preceding consonant.
The difference between soft and hard consonants can be seen, for example, in the English letter N in such words as “new” and “not”.
Hand-written Russian alphabet
The letters of the Russian alphabet look different between the printed and hand-written versions. Even if you are not going to write in Russian by hand any time soon, it’s always useful to have at least a basic understanding of it.
Let’s study the hand-written Russian letters one by one:
Russian language keyboard
Russian pronunciation rules
In certain cases, the letters of the Russian alphabet are not pronounced as you learned them in the alphabet.
Let’s learn some basic rules that will help you to start reading in Russian:
[Правила произношения: гласные]
- In unstressed positions, Russian letter O is pronounced like unstressed Russian A. But when stressed, it sounds like О in more.
- In unstressed positions, and usually not at the end of the word, Russian letters Я, Е, Э are pronounced like an abbreviated Russian И.
- The letter Ё is always stressed in Russian words.
|а||ма́ма (mother)||каранда́ш (pencil)|
|o||по́мощь (help)||молоко́ (milk)|
|у||ру́ки (hands)||уро́к (lesson)|
|э||э́хо (echo)||эта́ж (floor)|
|ы||ры́ба (fish)||краси́вый (beautiful)|
|и||кри́к (scream)||игра́ (game)|
|е||ме́бель (furniture)||семья́ (family)|
|ё||зелёный (green), жёлтый (yellow)||—|
|ю||ю́бка (skirt)||любо́вь (love)|
|я||я́щик (box)||тяжёлый (heavy)|
[Правила произношения: согласные]
A few of Russian consonants form some sort of pairs between each other. The two consonants in a pair sound very similar with the difference that the first one is voiced and its counterpart is voiceless.
Pairs of consonants. Пары согласных.
|г||к / х|
- Russian voiced consonants are pronounced as their voiceless counterparts when they appear at the the very end of the word.
Example: обе́д – (dinner) – [abе́t]
- Voiced consonants become voiceless when they are followed by other voiceless consonants.
Example: ю́бка – (skirt) – [yúpka]
- Voiceless consonants sound voiced when they are followed by voiced consonants.
Example: футбо́лка – (t-shirt) – [fudbólka]
- If a consonant is followed by one of these vowels – Я, Е, Ё, Ю, И, soften the consonant to achieve more natural pronunciation. For example, the word нет consists of sounds N, IE, and T. To avoid many beginners mistake of pronouncing “нет” like “ниет“, soften the Н, and it will allow you to go over Е much smoother.
Now you know the Russian alphabet and can start reading Russian words.