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.

АаPronounce it like “ar” in car. Other examples: father, calm, palm, hard, card
ЕеYou can read it as “ye”. For example, yellow, yesterday
КкPronounce it like “k”. Examples: kitten, king, kill
МмWe can hear it like”m”. Examples: mother, many
ОоPronounce it like “o”. Examples: hot, cold
ТтWe 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.

БбPronounce it like “b” in English words: brother, Batman
ГгPronounce it like ‘g’ in girl, game, glass
ДдWe can hear it like ‘d’ in desk, dance, dentist
ЁёPronounce 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
ЖжWe read it  like ‘s’ in treasure, Asia
ПпPronounce it like ‘p’ in people, parrot
ФфPronounce it like ‘ph’ in phone, photo, elephant
ИиWe read it like  ‘ee’ in deer, tree, see
ЙйPronounce it like ‘y’ in: yes, Yemen
ЛлPronounce it like ‘l’ in little, leg, later
ЦцPronounce it like ‘c’ in central
ШшPronounce it like ‘sh’ in: shirt, she, shower
ЩщWe read it like ‘shch’. And really, there is no close sound in English.
ЭэPronounce it like ‘e’ in elephant, egg.
ЮюPronounce it like ‘u’ in the UK, uniform
ЯяPronounce 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.

ВвPronounce it like ‘v’ in ‘vase’
ЗзWe pronounce it like ‘z’ in ‘zoo’
НнPronounce it like ‘n’ in name, new, nose
РрPronounce it like ‘r’ in: red, rose, read
СсPronounce it like ‘s’ in sea, sale, start
УуWe pronounce  like ‘oo’ in book, cook
ЧчPronounce it like ‘ch’ in chair, challenge
ХхWe 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.

ЫыThis letter doesn’t have English equivalent but Pronounce it  like more open ‘i’
ЪъThis letter is named ‘hard sign’. It is always silent. We use it to prevent palatalization of the preceding consonant.
ЬьThis 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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