Russian alphabet

Surely, you are only thinking about learning Russian language. And you appeared at this page while you were searching an article about  Russian alphabet. Yes! Russian letters are different from Latin. But don’t be panic! A lot of letters are similar not only in writing but even sound the same. And now let’s find out a little history.

We should be grateful to the two brothers Cyril and Methodius, who created the Old Slavonic alphabet. In honor of one of these brothers, the name “Cyrillic” appeared.

Nowadays Russian alphabet has got  33 characters.

There are 10 vowels letters

  а, о, у, и, е, ё, э, ю, я, ы.

However, there are 21 consonants in Russian language such as

 б, в, г, д, ж, з, й,к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ.

Also, there are two letters which don’t have any sound. Those are ь, which is called the soft sign and ъ which is called the hard sign.

Some Russian letters look and sound the same as in English, some letters are really different.

 The letters which look the same as in English are A, E, K, M, O, T.

Аа Pronounce it like “ar” in car. Other examples: father, calm, palm, hard, card
Ее You can read it as “ye”. For example, yellow, yesterday
Кк Pronounce it like “k”. Examples: kitten, king, kill
Мм We can hear it like”m”. Examples: mother, many
Оо Pronounce it like “o”. Examples: hot, cold
Тт We can hear like “t”. Examples:  table, telephone, television

The letters Б, Г, Д, ё, Ж, П, Ф, И, й, Л, Ц, Ш, Щ, Э, Ю, and Я can be related to the second group, because they sound really close to English sounds, but look different.

Бб Pronounce it like “b” in English words: brother, Batman
Гг Pronounce it like ‘g’ in girl, game, glass
Дд We can hear it like ‘d’ in desk, dance, dentist
Ёё Pronounce it like ‘yo’ like in yogurt and yoga. As well, this letter we can read like ‘o’, for example like ‘o’ in ‘holiday’. It depends on its position in the word
Жж We read it  like ‘s’ in treasure, Asia
Пп Pronounce it like ‘p’ in people, parrot
Фф Pronounce it like ‘ph’ in phone, photo, elephant
Ии We read it like  ‘ee’ in deer, tree, see
Йй Pronounce it like ‘y’ in: yes, Yemen
Лл Pronounce it like ‘l’ in little, leg, later
Цц Pronounce it like ‘c’ in central
Шш Pronounce it like ‘sh’ in: shirt, she, shower
Щщ We read it like ‘shch’. And really, there is no close sound in English.
Ээ Pronounce it like ‘e’ in elephant, egg.
Юю Pronounce it like ‘u’ in the UK, uniform
Яя Pronounce it like ‘ya’ in: ‘yard’

The letters В, З, Н, Р, С, У, Ч, Х will be related to the third group, because they look the same as English letters but sound quite different.

Вв Pronounce it like ‘v’ in ‘vase’
Зз We pronounce it like ‘z’ in ‘zoo’
Нн Pronounce it like ‘n’ in name, new, nose
Рр Pronounce it like ‘r’ in: red, rose, read
Сс Pronounce it like ‘s’ in sea, sale, start
Уу We pronounce  like ‘oo’ in book, cook
Чч Pronounce it like ‘ch’ in chair, challenge
Хх We can read it like ‘h’ in: hotel, hippo

And the last group is the group with letters which aren’t in the English alphabet. Those are Ы, Ъ, Ь.

The last two letters don’t even have any sound.

Ыы This letter doesn’t have English equivalent but Pronounce it  like more open ‘i’
Ъъ This letter is named ‘hard sign’. It is always silent. We use it to prevent palatalization of the preceding consonant.
Ьь This letter also doesn’t have an English equivalent. Russians named it as ‘soft sign’ and it is always silent, too. We use it to palatalize the preceding consonant if it is phonologically possible.

Look at the picture below to see how the Russian handwritten letters look like. They are really different from those which are printed. So, however, you have to be really attentive and hardworking if you have a desire to learn how we usually join Russian letters. I think it will take some time to learn how to write Russian cursive writing.

Letters and Sounds

As well, we can group all Russian letters into two classes. We name them “soft’ class and ‘hard’ class. For sure, this depends on the type of letter which goes after these letters. That’s why all 20 Russian consonant letters can be sounded like 37 separate sounds.

However, we also can divide all vowels into ‘soft-indicating’ and ‘hard-indicating’ letter’s groups.

А, Э, Ы, У, О can be referred to the «hard-indicating» vowels and to make these letters ‘soft-indicating’ we just need to add the sound of ‘y’ in front of each letter.

Therefore, the letters Я, Е, Ё, Ю, И can be referred to as «soft-indicating» vowels.

Usually, students ask me «what is the best way to start learning Russian?» I recommend starting from sounds and reading rules. We can do it together on my course «Russian reading course«. You are welcome. I will be happy to teach you.

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