43 Simple Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Russian
43 Simple Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Russian

43 Simple Mistakes to Avoid When Learning Russian

Privet, kak dela? Do you want to learn how to read Russian? I have spent quite a few years learning Russian and have traveled extensively to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. The Cyrillic script is essential for understanding Russian and Russian culture. So here is a brief guide to help guide you on how to read Russian.

The Russian alphabet, also known as the Cyrillic alphabet, is derived from the Greek alphabet, and it boasts a rich history that can be traced back to the 9th century. It comprises 33 letters, including hard and soft consonants, vowels, a semivowel, and a unique letter, the hard sign, which has no sound of its own but alters the pronunciation of other letters. Each letter has a distinct sound, making pronunciation relatively straightforward once the rules are known. This alphabet is not only used for the Russian language but also serves as the basis for many other Slavic and Eurasian languages, making it an immensely influential linguistic system.

The Alphabet

The first step in knowing how to read Russian is to know all the 33 letters in the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian:

  1. А а (a)
  2. Б б (be)
  3. В в (ve)
  4. Г г (ge)
  5. Д д (de)
  6. Е е (ye)
  7. Ё ё (yo)
  8. Ж ж (zhe)
  9. З з (ze)
  10. И и (i)
  11. Й й (short i)
  12. К к (ka)
  13. Л л (el)
  14. М м (em)
  15. Н н (en)
  16. О о (o)
  17. П п (pe)
  18. Р р (er)
  19. С с (es)
  20. Т т (te)
  21. У у (oo)
  22. Ф ф (ef)
  23. Х х (kha)
  24. Ц ц (tse)
  25. Ч ч (che)
  26. Ш ш (sha)
  27. Щ щ (shcha)
  28. Ъ ъ (hard sign)
  29. Ы ы (yeri)
  30. Ь ь (soft sign)
  31. Э э (e)
  32. Ю ю (yu)
  33. Я я (ya)

Each of these letters has a unique sound, allowing for a rich variety of pronunciations in the Russian language.

Letters that are the same

Both the Russian alphabet and the Latin alphabet share several letters. Common letters found in both scripts include:

  1. A/a
  2. E/e
  3. K/k
  4. M/m
  5. O/o
  6. T/t

English speakers will not have much difficulty pronouncing Cyrillic letters as they look and sound just like English letters.

False Friends

BUT there are letters in the Russian alphabet that visually resemble Latin letters, but have different phonetic values. These false friends can mislead you:

  1. B/b: In the Cyrillic script, this sounds like the “v” sound, which is different from the “b” sound in the Latin script.
  2. H/h: In Cyrillic, this letter sounds like the “n” sound, unlike the Latin “h”.
  3. P/p: This Cyrillic letter sounds like “r”, not as “p” in the Latin script.
  4. C/c: This letter sounds like “s”, which contrasts with the “c” sound in Latin.
  5. Y/y: This letter sounds like “u”, different from the “y” sound in Latin script.
  6. X/x: In Cyrillic, this letter sounds like “kh” or the “ch” in “Bach”, not as “x” in Latin.

Beware of these false friends! These Russian letters look like English letters but they are pronounced differently.

Russian Words That Can Be Misleading

  1. Магазин (magazin) – This sounds like ‘magazine’ in English, but it means ‘shop’ in Russian.
  2. Брат (brat) – It’s pronounced like ‘brat’ in English, but it means ‘brother’ in Russian.
  3. Роман (roman) – It sounds similar to ‘Roman’ in English, but it refers to a ‘novel’ in Russian.
  4. Фамилия (familiya) – It’s pronounced like ‘family’ in English, but it means ‘surname’ in Russian.
  5. Смокинг (smoking) – Despite sounding like ‘smoking’ in English, it refers to a ‘tuxedo’ in Russian.
  6. Банк (bank) – This Russian word sounds exactly like ‘bank’ in English, but it means a ‘jar’ or ‘can’ in Russian.
  7. Соус (sous) – While it sounds like ‘sauce’ in English, it means ‘gravy’ in Russian.
  8. Чек (chek) – It sounds like ‘check’ in English, but it refers to a ‘receipt’ in Russian.
  9. Арт (art) – Although it sounds like ‘art’ in English, it stands for ‘artillery’ in Russian.
  10. Лук (luk) – This sounds like ‘look’ in English, but it means ‘onion’ or ‘bow’ in Russian.
  11. Рат (rat) – Pronounced like ‘rat’ in English, but it refers to ‘war’ in Russian.
  12. Мир (mir) – It’s pronounced like ‘mere’ in English, but it means ‘world’ or ‘peace’ in Russian.
  13. Тон (ton) – Despite sounding like ‘ton’ in English, it refers to a ‘tone’ or ‘shade’ in Russian.
  14. Кок (kok) – This Russian word sounds exactly like ‘coke’ in English, but it actually means a ‘chef’ in Russian.
  15. Мат (mat) – While it sounds like ‘mat’ in English, it means ‘checkmate’ in Russian.
  16. Бит (bit) – It sounds like ‘bit’ in English, but it refers to a ‘beat’ in Russian. This word is also used in the context of music, where it means a ‘bit’ or ‘measure’ of music.
  17. Дом (dom) – Pronounced like ‘dome’ in English, but it means ‘house’ in Russian. It can also refer to a building or a home.
  18. Зима (zima) – Despite sounding like ‘zima’ in English, it means ‘winter’ in Russian. This word is often associated with snow and cold weather.
  19. Ночь (noč) – It sounds like ‘notch’ in English, but it refers to a ‘night’ in Russian. This word is also used to express the concept of darkness or nighttime.
  20. Река (reka) – This seems like ‘rake’ in English, but it actually means ‘river’ in Russian.
  21. Мост (most) – Though it sounds like ‘most’ in English, it refers to a ‘bridge’ in Russian.
  22. Карт (kart) – Pronounced like ‘cart’ in English, but it means ‘map’ in Russian.
  23. Банк (bank) – While it sounds like ‘bank’ in English, it simply means a ‘jar’ or ‘can’ in Russian.
  24. Лист (list) – It sounds like ‘list’ in English, but it refers to a ‘leaf’ in Russian.
  25. Вин (vin) – Pronounced like ‘win’ in English, but it means ‘wine’ in Russian.

Pronunciation Errors

  1. Wrong stress placement: English speakers often stress words differently than they would in Russian. For instance, the word ‘молоко’ (milk) is stressed on the final ‘o’ in Russian, not the first one.
  2. Silent consonants: In English, some consonants in words are often silent. When pronouncing Russian words, English speakers might carry this habit over, and ignore pronouncing some consonants that should be pronounced.
  3. Consonant hardness: Russian has a distinction between hard and soft consonants, something that doesn’t exist in English. This often leads to English speakers not differentiating between the two when speaking Russian.
  4. Vowel reduction: In the Russian language, unstressed vowels are often reduced, but English speakers usually pronounce them with full value, which can lead to misunderstandings.
  5. Rolling ‘R’: The Russian ‘R’ is rolled, unlike in English. English speakers often struggle with this and pronounce the ‘R’ as in English.
  6. Ignoring ‘Ы’ sound: The Russian ‘Ы’ sound doesn’t exist in English, and English speakers often pronounce it as ‘I’, which is incorrect.

Now you can go read those Russian subtitles and communicate with your Russian friend.

До свидания.

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