Chekhov’s language is fascinating, but it has a reputation for being difficult to learn. The Cyrillic alphabet is one of the special features of this language that sometimes scares learners. However, understanding the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet is not impossible. Let’s look at how to make this stage of learning Russian go smoothly.
1 – Distinguishing consonants, vowels and signs
Among the 33 characters that make up the Russian alphabet, there are:
- 21 consonants;
- 10 vowels;
- 2 signs.
Here is a list of the consonants of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. In order for you to become familiar with the letters, you will find an example of a similar pronunciation in English for each of them.
- Б б – “b” in box
- В в – “v” in voice
- Г г – “g” in go
- Д д – “d” in day
- Ж ж – “zh” in pleasure
- З з – “z” in zebra
- Й й – “y” in boy
- К к – “k” in koala
- Л л – “l” in lamp
- М м – “m” in mum
- Н н – “n” in number
- П п – “p” in pet
- Р р – “r” in radio
- С с – “s” in sun
- Т т – “t” in table
- Ф ф – “f” in flower
- Х х – “kh” in loch
- Ц ц – “ts” in tsunami
- Ч ч – “ch” in chat
- Ш ш – “sh” in short
- Щ щ – “sch” in fresh_cheese
- А а – “a” in far
- Е е – “ye” in yet
- Ё ё – “yo” in yoga
- И и – “ee” in meet
- О о – “o” in not
- У у – “oo” in moon
- ы – “ih” in ill
- Э э – “e” in end
- Ю ю – “you” in use
- Я я – “ya” in yard
The hard sign and the soft sign are part of the particularities of the Russian language. Their purpose is to slightly modify the pronunciation of the preceding consonants.
- ъ – hard sign
- ь – soft sign
2 – Identifying false friends in the Russian alphabet
When you read the 33 letters presented in the previous paragraph, some of them may have surprised you.
This is because there are characters that are written in the same way as in the Latin alphabet, but pronounced in a completely different way. We recommend that you focus your attention on these false friends, as our brain needs more time to learn them and not confuse them with their Latin “twins”.
Here is the complete list:
- В в → is pronounced like the English “v”
- Н н → pronounced like the English “n”
- Р р → pronounced like the English “r”
- С с → pronounced like the English “s”
- Х х → pronounced like the English “kh”
- Е е → is pronounced “ye”
- Ё ё → pronounced “yo”
- У у → pronounced “oo”
📌 Are you interested in learning Russian, but still have questions about the language? Check out our article Learning Russian: a fitness course or an obstacle course?
3 – Practising writing the different characters
Knowing the Russian letters and their pronunciation is the first step. But for your learning to be complete, you will also need to learn how to write each of the characters in upper and lower case.
Handwritten Cyrillic differs somewhat from the typed version. So it will take some time to get used to it. But don’t worry, you will soon get the hang of it..
For the quickest way to learn, practise by making “lines”, just like when you were at school.
- Start with lines of single letters in lower case.
- Do the same with upper case letters.
- Then make lines of words to learn how to connect the letters.
You don’t need to write miles of Cyrillic letters: 1 to 2 lines per character is more than enough.
This exercise may seem tedious, but it will help you progress at top speed!
💡 Good to know: with handwriting, new false friends appear. The и [i], for example, is written like the letter “u”.
Bonus – Using an online Cyrillic keyboard
Once you’ve mastered the Russian alphabet, you’ll probably want to use it in your emails to write to a Russian-speaking colleague, for example. The problem is that all you have is a QWERTY keyboard.
You have two options.
You can set up your keyboard in Russian and put stickers representing the Cyrillic characters on each corresponding key. But this is a bit time-consuming…
The other option, which we recommend, is to write using an online Cyrillic keyboard. With the Lexilogos keyboard, for example, you can type your texts with your normal keyboard and the letters will automatically be converted into Russian characters. Alternatively, you can simply click on the Cyrillic keys below the text field.
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