: Lesson 0
This is a course of the Cyrillic alphabet, particularly as applied to Russian. You’ll not only be exposed to the alphabet, but you should pick up some Russian words along the way too. Let’s begin!
The good news is, you already know a lot of it. For example, look at this:
This is the Russian word for atom. It is pronounced similarly to the the English word atom, except that а is pronounced more like a in car. Also stress is at the end of the word.
So, without having learnt much, you can already write in Russian the moto part from the word motocross. Please do it.
Оkay, let’s add something to that. The letter n in Russian looks like an h:
You can easily remember N is Н in Russian if you remember that both N in English and Н in Russian consist of three lines.
Also, do you remember how the letter t in Russian looks just like the English T both when it is minuscule and majuscule (so, Russian has Т and т while English has T and t). The same happens with M. It also happens for K, for the minuscule K in Russian looks just like it’s bigger copy:
Okay, knowing this, you can write the name of a tiny country in Europe (note that it's spelled with a k and not a c in Russian):
Pretty similar, isn’t it? Let’s get to something more original. The Russian letter for D is a bit different.
It looks similar to d except that it has legs. Also, it looks a bit like a duck with its head missing. You can remember that the Russian letter D has legs by remembering that ducks always have two legs.
Now, let’s try to put this into practice. The Russian for a house is dom. You should know that Russian has no word for a, so a house is just written as "house". How do you write it in Russian?
Russian for code is kod. Write it.
Okay, let’s continue. This one is pretty interesting. Here is the Russian letter L:
It looks almost like two Ls just the first one is looking to the other side and the second one is turned upside down.
A channel is kanal in Russian, and Russian for a boat is lodka. Write them down please.
Okay, by now, you know at least 8 letters from the Cyrillic alphabet. This means that you know about 1/4 of the whole alphabet.
Let’s continue with our lesson. The Russian letter for S looks like a C:
You can easily remember that because the English letter S is just two Russian C connected together.
The Russian word for a class is pronounced almost the same: klass. Also, I will want you to write the Russian word for juice which is sok. Garden in Russian is sad. Elephant is slon. Try writing them:
Let’s add one more weird occurrence. The Latin letter R in Russian looks like а Р.
It’s easy to remember because just one line is missing. You can now write words like "glad" in Russian because it is rad. Do it:
Okay, now you remember that elephant? To say "elephant is glad", you just simply say "elephant glad" in Russian. If you forgot, elephant is slon and glad is rad. So, we can write this full sentence in Russian. Do it!
Let's consolidate the letter с. Shame in Russian is sram. Write it.
Now, look at this word. You should understand all letters but one:
The word is spelled "ris" and it means rice. I am sure you can pick up that i is и in Russian. Look at it:
It looks like two capital letters I connected with another diagonal letter I.
This letter also forms a word, which is among the shortest words in Russian. That is because this letter alone means "and". Also, if you remember, elephant is slon and a boat is lodka. Write this:
Let's have one more sample with the letter и. Talking about elephants, what about a whale which is kit in Russian. Write that.
Let’s not stop there. I’ll introduce to you another word. Again, you should understand all but one letter:
This word means "a guide" and it’s spelled gid. I think by now you pretty much know what a g looks like. It looks a bit like T except that the left part of T is missing. You can remember G and T are linked together by remembering the word "gate".
In fact, now you know enough to write "gymnastics" in Russian. It’s gimnastika. Try:
You should know about 1/3 of the alphabet by now. Let’s continue, however.
Here is another word which is the same in English:
It means, of course, a bar. So, now you know what the Russian b looks like:
Also, this letter is slightly different when it’s in minuscule (when it’s not CAPITAL). It looks like this:
Yet, it’s still very recognisable.
There is no problem remembering this letter because both of them looks like the minuscule English letter b. The knowledge of this letter makes you able to write even more words. Bank is the same, bank, in Russian. Can you write it?
First, for an easier one, try writing the word for ball (i.e. an event where people gather up to dance) in Russian, which is simply: bal. Then you can write the name of the sport badminton in Russian:
For a more funny one, the Russian word for a drum is baraban. Write it in Russian:
We are ready to roll on. Look at the Russian letter P:
It is almost the same as the Greek letter π, which denotes the circumference of a circle and is close to 3.14.
Having this knowledge, you can write the Russian words "punk" and "park" which are literally pank and park:
Let’s move on and learn the letter for z. Now, the letter Z in English has three lines. Russians probably noticed that when they came up with their letter for Z because the Russian letter Z looks just like a number 3.
The Russian word for a puzzle (like a jigsaw puzzle) is simply pazl. Write it in Russian:
You can write that and also now you can write the Russian word for "rose" which is roza. Moreover, "gas" is gaz. A zigzag is just the same: zigzag. Try them all:
The word base is baza in Russian. Could you try to write it too?
Finally, let’s learn one more letter. There is one Russian letter which is pronounced something similar to "je". You can see it, for example, in the English word yet. Well, it’s not exact, but close. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy to pronounce. For the purposes of this course, I’m going to call it the letter je.
At any token, the Russian letter for je is this:
In its minuscule form it looks like this:
Don’t get mistaken: it is written just like the English letter E but it’s not e, it’s je.
This letter is used a lot in Russian. For example, it’s even used in the word metro which is m-je-tro in Russian. Try to write this.
A river in Russian is rjeka. Try writing this:
In fact, aside from the Russian words (where the letter je is common), it allows us to write international words, such as garderobe which is gardjerob, or the Russian word for Mathematics matjematika:
Now we know 16 letters out of the 33 letters in the Russian alphabet which is rougly a half of the alphabet. But we still need to learn more.
The Russian word for a factory has to do with the word fabricate, because it is almost the same as the English word fabric. It’s fabrika. Here is how fabrika is written in Russian:
So, the letter f looks like:
You could look at it as two letters F standing back to back to each other.
You can use this letter immediately to write the Russian word for a fan (as in a football fan) because that word is the same in Russian as in English. Write it:
The Russian word for background is fon. And "a fund" is fond). They're of course written:
Okay, now, look at the Russian letter for V:
The minuscule (small version) of the letter is just literally a smaller version of it. So, v is:
Just like the letter V, this letter consists of two equal parts so it is easy to remember that it is v.
Russian word for favorite (in the sence of a preferred player in a sports game) is favorit. You can now write this word in Russian:
The Russian word for foot sounds similar in English and in Russian. Perhaps the sound is a bit deeper in Russian. Moreover, in Russian, unlike English, the word is written actually as it sounds. The word is fut, and in Russian it is written:
So, as you can see, the letter U in Russian is:
The letter looks like a letter v extended a bit to the bottom. It is interesting to know that letter v was used to mean u when writing Latin (that’s why sometimes you see lingva Latina instead of lingua Latina).
Use this letter and write football which in Russian is futbol.
Use this letter у again to write the Russian word for duck, which is utka.
The word for a cube is just a transliteration: kub. Same for focus, which is fokus. Write them please:
Well, let’s get some more interesting ones. Look at this letter:
It’s actually the English letter R turned backwards and you can link JA with R by remembering the word YARD.
Talking about it, look at how yard (as in the unit of measure), which is pronounced the same as in English, is written in Russian:
The letter in English would be written like ya or maybe ja. It is the same sound as for ya in yard. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to this letter as ja.
This letter pronounced, in Russian, means I.
So, now let’s try something really fun. Let’s write a very short sentence in Russian.
You already know that я means I. Now, the Russian word for "am going" when it is used by the first person form is idu.
So, you can combine this knowledge and you can write this short sentence in Russian alphabet:
Here we go, you now know how to do it.
Try some more words with ja.
For example, try writing the Russian word for a kayak, written kajak:
Try writing a name of the river in North Carolina which is Jadkin in Russian.
We are lucky because there is little left to learn the alphabet. We have one problem, though: some of the remaining letters don’t have equivalents in English. We’ll start with the easier ones.
Believe it or not, Russians have a letter for sh (the sh just like in the word shield). Here is what it looks like:
Before we go, did you know that a dog in Russian is pronounced sabaka. It has a stress in the middle and it’s written собака. Oh, nevermind.
A scarf is sharf in Russian. Would you please be so kind as to write it down in the Russian alphabet:
Now write a shaman:
A shock (the electric kind) is simply shok. What is it?
Talking about letters, here is another one you might like.
This letter is the letter ch (as in chili). In fact, chili is written the same as in English. Write it.
Let’s learn some history. There is a city in Southern Russia which is now called Orenburg. However, for the period between 1938 to 1957, it was called Chkalov (you don’t necessarily have to remember this, unless you want to be well-accepted in cocktail parties). Anyway, write the name of the city in Russian:
Your next mission is to go there. For no reason. Seriously, I mean, go there. Go to Chkalov. How nice it would be to say “I have gone to a city in Russia just because the Russian alphabet course I found today told me to go there”… Anyway.
Let’s get some more useful words with the letter ч.
One very useful word is chas, which means “an hour”. You’ll hear it all the time in Russia.
Another one is the word for often which is chasto.
The last one. A point in Russia is tochka.
Why don’t you write it all down:
Okay, now I don’t want to scare you, but I must introduce a new letter in Russian, which is:
The difference is only the little tail on the right. What about this letter? Well, it is like ш version 2.0, because it is like the letters ш and ч combined. It is pronounced shch.
There are few words with this monster, but do try some.
For example, a cheek is shchjeka (that's only four letters in Russian) and you can write it down:
A shield is shchit.
A very important word which gets used a lot with this letter is that for food, which is pishcha.
That would be:
You remember how the Russian letter sh (ш) has its version 2.0 shch (щ). Well, there are a few more letters that have versions 2.0. Let’s get to one of them.
The first one with the second version is je. Do you remember how to write it?
It has a version two as well. Here is the letter jo:
The majuscule version of this letter is:
For example, the Russian word for ice is ljod. This would be:
The word for a Christmas tree in Russian is jolka. You can write it as well.
There are other words that use this letter as well. Take a look at two examples:
Honey is mjod.
A roar is rjov.
Let’s get back to version 2.0. Remember the letter i?
This letter has a version two as well. It looks like this:
In Russian, this letter is called и краткая which means – the short i.
It is short because it is pronounced just like y in boy. I’m just going to write the short i as j.
Let’s start with an uncommon example. The word for nightingale in Russian is written solovjej. You can write it:
Here's another example. The word for war is vojna. This is:
A word which sounds exactly like the English word boy (it is written boj) is actually the word for a battle in Russian. Can you write this word?
This letter is also used in names of languages. For example, the Russian language is called russkij. It is written:
Could you try to write the name of the English language and Lithuanian language, which are angliskij and litovskij
We are almost done with the letters. We are going to learn the few remaining ones now.
Look at the letter zh:
It is pronounced like the sound s in pleasure. It is transcribed zh.
For example, the Russian word for a bug is zhuk. I would love to have it written.
The word for a pity or even for the whole expression what a pity is zhalko.
Another word with the letter ж is journal - or rather – a magazine which is zhurnal.
This should be easy for you:
However, the word magazine is a faux ami because magazin in Russian actually means a store. Just for the fun of it, write it:
The letter ж sometimes goes together with another letter, which is the epitome of the Russian language and alphabet. This letter has no equivalent in English, nor do the English ever say it. The letter looks like this:
This is a bit hard to pronounce, and it might take some getting used to. For this course, I will simply write this letter as y.
This letter is awesome.
Some pronouns in Russian have this letter.
For example, we is my.
The informal version for you is ty.
Here is the formal version for you – vy:
That would be:
For example, the Russian sentence for he lived is on zhyl. You can now write this sentence:
He lived at home would be on zhyl doma. This is:
It is also used in words like he was, which is byl. He was at home would be on byl doma. That would be:
Let’s have three more examples before I throw another letter in.
A word for an ox (or a bull) is byk.
The word for fast is bystryj.
Interesting is intjerjesnyj.
Give them a try:
Fine. Since this is going very well, I’ll throw one more letter in today.
It’s going to be the letter ju. Look at it:
It produces a sound just like ew in new.
This is not a letter that is encountered very often. It’s pretty easy to remember as well because it looks different from everything else.
The word Jupiter uses this letter in the beginning as well, it's written Jupiter. You can now write the name of the planet in Russian.
Other words also include this letter. Words such as Juan (a famous
dynasty of China):
The Russian word for South is Jug, and it uses the letter ю as well. I expect you to write it:
As usually, three more examples.
First, write a package which is tjuk in Russian:
Second, ljuk is a hatch.
Third, Luxembourg is written Ljuksemburg.
The Russian letter e looks just like the english capital E but backwards. This is the Russian e as in bed:
The Russian word for this (it is actually the word for that as well) uses this letter because it is eto. Write it:
Another word that uses the letter э is the name of the mountain Everest because Russians write it Evjerjest. Try writing it:
Exam is ekzamjen.
An experiment is ekspjerimjent.
Finally, an excursion – ekskursija also uses the same letter:
You know what, we can add one more word – Economics – ekonomika and we’ll be able to make a sentence with these alone. Write Economics first.
Imagine, that you wanted to say Economics – now that is an experiment. In Russian, you would simply say Economics – that is experiment but you would omit the word is (Russians loooove to omit the word is) so it would come out as Economics – that experiment. You can look up how to write all these words in this lesson. And now you can write this fully understandable short sentence in Russian.
We only have four letters left and two of them are not even full letters but rather signs. Let’s first read the two remaining letters and then the two signs.
Our first letter is very easy. It’s the letter:
This letter is pronounced like the H in Hanukkah. This letter could also be transcribed as kh and that is exactly what I am going to be transcribing it as.
There are many cool words in Russian with this letter. One of them is khata which means a peasant house. These are the little houses which people do not usually live in anymore unless they live in rural areas. This word is still used a lot as a slang term for home, whatever type of home one is referring to. Our concern is not the word itself but the letters, though. Write this word:
For something fun, try writing a sentence moja khata s kraju. This sentence means roughly my house is on the side (literally: my peasant house (is) from edge), but it actually is an idiomatic expression which means "it’s none of my concern". That’s kind of ironic, and that’s a nice example of Russian humour as well: it implies that one's house is away from the center of the conflict, and thus the house is not at danger, and because of that the conflict is none of their business.
By the way, I just want to remind you that you don’t need to be learning all these words and expressions. What concerns you is the alphabet. I have just thrown everything else in for the fun of it.
And, for the alphabet, let’s get a few more words with kh.
A lot of English words which start with ch in English use this. For instance, chaos is khaos. Get it:
Character is kharakter, and charisma is kharisma. Try these ones:
For a real Russian one, write the word for air which is vozdukh.
Another Russian one is the word for a cshepherd which is pastukh.
Finally, the word for a poem is stikhotvorjenije.
Write those and we will be done with kh.
As we are done with learning kh, there is the last real Russian letter waiting for you. The rest are only half-letters. Look at the last letter
Meet the Russian letter ts. The same ts from sits. In fact, the same Russian ts from tsar. You can’t write a tsar yet, though, because you need to learn one of those missing signs, but you’ll be able to write it in a few minutes.
Try to write a name of a tree. Acacia. In Russian, it’s simply akatsija.
A color in Russian is tsvjet, whichi is:
A similar word is that for a flower which is tsvjetok. Write this one as well:
Just two more. One that you will encounter sometimes is that for center which is tsjentr.
Finally, let’s learn to write a word that you will see A LOT if you go to Russia. The word is price and it is tsjena.
Let’s go for the signs now. There are just two. The signs themselves are very easy.
However… to understand them, you need to understand something about consonants. This is not needed to speak Russian, but this is useful to know. Bear with me.
First, let’s learn what a consonant is. Basically, consonants are sounds where your breathing is stopped at least for a bit while you are pronouncing it. Because of that, you can’t keep pronouncing a consonant continuously.
Consonants can be contrasted with vowels. Your breathing is not stopped, and you can hold it while you are pronouncing it. The vowels in English are letters a, e, i, o, u. Try pronouncing them – you can just keep on for a minute if you have enough air. While consonants, if continuously pronounced, will simply turn into vowels. The consonants are b, p, d, k and so on. Try holding in a p for some time and you will see what I mean.
Now, in theory, there are two kinds of consonants. The first kind is hard – where you stop breathing completely, the second kind is soft – where you stop breathing almost completely. Whether a consonant is hard or soft depends on the vowel that goes after it. You have the same thing in English. For example, you say a soft consonant in new (you see how that nj sound makes it softer?) and a hard one in net.
Russian has this as well. In Russian, a consonant is always hard if the vowel after it does not make it soft.
The only vowels that make a consonant soft are the ones that have a j (as in yet) sound in them. These vowels are я, е, ё, и, ю. They would be written ja, je, jo, i and ju the way we wrote them. You can see that all of them have this j sound, and this j sound makes the consonant before it short! (Well, all of them except i, but in i the sound is still present, just not written; we could as well write it as ji.)
So, bottom line: unless a consonant has one of the softening vowels (я, е, ё, и, ю) after it, it is hard.
But what are the signs we were going to learn for? Well, of course, to break the rules!
The signs are two. Look at the first one:
This is called the soft sign (мякий знак). What it does is… it makes the consonants that come before it short regardless of what follows them.
In theory, this sign is not pronounced, but, in practice, it comes out as j, because, as we have already learned, the j sign makes consonants soft.
I will mark the sign ь with ’.
Let’s have a few words with this sign. First of all, let’s return to tsar. It is actually written tsar’. Write it.
It is also very noticeable in the word mother which is mat’. Write this one down:
Also, almost all Russian infinitives have this soft sign, because they want to have soft consonants in the end (they are all hard consonants by default, remember?). See a few of them:
To be is byt’.
Also, to see is vidjet’.
We can do even more. Let’s combine some of our knowledge and write a sentence I want to take it. which is Ja khochu eto vzjat’. Take your time.
A lot of words in Russian use this soft sign, because it is useful for having soft consonants. In any case, let’s move onto the hard sign, which is the last symbol of the Russian alphabet that you need to know.
The hard sign (твёрдый знак) looks like this:
This sign is used pretty rearly, though. It looks very similar to the soft sign, but it has a tail on the top. I am going to mark it as ’’ to distinguish it from the soft sign. You can just think that this extra ’ is used because of the extra tail in the letter.
The hard sign acts in a way contrary to that of the soft sign: the hard sign makes consonants before the sign hard, regardless of what follows them.
In theory, this sound should have no sound of its own. In practice, here is a tip that the Russian have understood: the best way to make a consonant hard is to add a short pause after it!
So, basically, all the Ъ sign does is it acts as a pause in the word. It just splits the word into two. That’s it. Because of that, the consonant going before the hard sign sounds hard, and you can hear the letter going after the hard sign better as well (because there is no hard consonant before it, but rather there is a pause now).
Enough theory. Let’s get some practice. I’m thinking, four examples and we are done with learning all these letters.
First, a doorway is pod’’jezd in Russian.
Next, an object is ob’’jekt.
The word for filming is s’’jomka.
Finally, the word for a convention is s’’jezd.
Try writing all of these words:
Well done! Now you have studied all the letters. Let's now recap:
The soft sign ь it makes the letter before it soft. You pronounce the sign like the letter y in yet.
The hard sign ъ makes the letter before it hard. You pronounce the sign as a pause in the word.
To consolidate all of our knowledge, let's write a full sentence in Russian. It will be: Ja uzhje znaju russkije bukvy.
This last sentence meant: I already know the Russian letters.
We are done! Congratulations, now you have learnt all the letters of the Russian alphabet! You probably won’t remember them all at once, but it’s just going to be a matter of practice.
But… we are not done with the alphabet yet. Stick with me for one more lesson, because I will explain a few important rules so that you can read Russian as well.
You see, you can read most of Russian if you know the letters. But… the letters are not always pronounced the way they are written.
Why? Well, there are three major exceptions to know when letters are pronounced differently. Don’t worry, they are pretty easy and we are going to learn them all now.
Let’s begin with the major thing. This is a bit tricky but it is really the most difficult of them all.
You see, Russian words have stress.
This is nothing new, though. English words have stress as well. You hear stress by listening to speech.
For example, the word understandable is stressed on stand. You don’t stay UNderstandable (that would sound weird) or unDERstandable or any other way but you say underSTANDable. That’s the stress.
Even short words such as EAsy have stress (you don’t say eaSY – unless you speak with a thick French accent).
In Russian, you can sometimes find how the words are stressed in dictionaries, or sometimes the word is even stressed for you in a text (it is usually done by putting a stress sign such as ´ on the letter the word is stressed on).
So that’s the first thing to know. Russian words have stress and you learn it by listening to the words.
This is needed in order not to sound weird and to distinguish better between the words. This also helps about the second of the three rules we are going to be learning.
The second one is…
The letter o in Russian is pronounced like a short a (as in similar), unless it is stressed. |154
This is evident from words like milk, which in Russian is:
What happens with it? Well, the word is stressed in the ending so it would be written with stress:
Thus the word is pronounced malako.
Another example is the word for early in Russian which is:
It is stressed in the beginning of the word (and not on the o) so the word is pronounced rana (with the first a being way stronger than the second because it is stressed).
Not so hard, is it?
The last thing you need to learn to be able to read Russian is even easier. Do you remember the letter g - г?
It is pronounced like g (as in good), right? Well, yes. Except... except when it is in the ending ого.
It is not pronounced like a g in this case, because… in the ending ого, г is pronounced like a v.
So, for example, we have a word of interesting which in Russian is:
The word is stressed on рес (so we can apply the second rule we learnt here, and thus both оs will be pronounced as as).
So, the way this word would be pronounced is interjesnava.
Now you know the rules. Russian words have stress, stress affects the way о is pronounced, and г between two o’s is pronounced like a v. That’s it.
We’re done with this alphabet course. Go on and read some Russian now.