Russian Alphabet

So you are here to learn Russian! The first step to learning Russian is to learn the Russian alphabet. It may seem daunting to learn a new alphabet, but it is relatively easy. In fact, the great thing about Russian is that almost all words can be sounded out as they are written. Unlike English where the pronunciation of a word may not be clear from its written form. Russian also has one letter to one sound, unlike English where two letters often make one sound. (Example “sh”).

Either before or after this lesson we recommend you print the alphabet table, and stick it up next to the computer (or around the house), to help you with the following lessons.

The Russian alphabet is known as the Cyrillic alphabet. There are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet. 11 vowels, 20 consonants, and 2 pronunciation signs. Here is what the Russian alphabet looks like (in dictionary order).

А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я

Now let's have a look at these letters in detail. For your reference we will make some notes about unusual hand-written forms, however this will be covered in another lesson so don't worry too much yet.

Russian letters that are (almost) the same.

Pronounced like the "a" in the word "father" or "car". It is not the 'flat' "a" sound you sometimes hear in words like "cat" or "flat". А а
Pronounced like the "k" in "kitten" or "kangaroo". This letter replaces the english "c" sound in words like "cat". К к
Pronounced like the "m" in man. (Note: Unlike english, the hand-written "м" should always start from the bottom) М м
When stressed, it is pronounced like the "o" in "bore". When un-stressed it is pronounced more like the letter "a". (See later notes.) О о
Pronounced like the "t" in "tap". (Note: The hand-written (and italic) form is "т". It should always start from the top, as it looks quite similar to the letter "м") T т

Russian letters that look like english letters but sound different.

Pronounced like the "v" in "vet". (Equivalent to the english letter "v"). В в
Pronounced like the "ye" in "yes". Е е
Pronounced like the "n" in "no". (Equivalent to the english letter "n"). Н н
Pronounced like the "r" in "run", but it is rolled. (Equivalent to the english letter "r"). Р р
Pronounced like the "s" in "see". (Equivalent to the english letter "s"). (It might help to remember that it's used like the "s" sound in the english words "centre" and "cent".) С с
Pronounced like the "oo" in "boot" or "root". У у
Pronounced like the "h" in "hello". However, this is often pronounced more like the "ch" in the Scottish "Loch" or German "Bach", or the spanish "x" in "Mexico". Х х

Russian letters that look unusual, but have familiar sounds

Pronounced like the "b" in "bat". (Equivalent to the english letter "b"). Б б
Pronounced like the "g" in "go". (Equivalent to the english letter "g"). Г г
Pronounced like the "d" in "dog". (Equivalent to the english letter "d"). Д д
Pronounced like the "z" in "zoo". (Equivalent to the english letter "z"). З з
Pronounced like the "i" in "taxi". (Sometimes equivalent to the english letter "i", the short 'ee' sound.). (Note: The hand-written form for "и" looks a little like the english "u"). И и
Pronounced like the "l" in "love". (Equivalent to the english letter "l"). Л л
Pronounced like the "p" in "pot". (Equivalent to the english letter "p"). П п
Pronounced like the "f" in "fat". (Equivalent to the english letter "f"). Ф ф

New Russian letters and sounds

Pronounced like the "u" in "universe". (Pronounced much like the english word "you"). Ю ю
Pronounced like the "ya" in "yard". Я я
Pronounced like "yo" in "yonder". Ё ё
Like "s" in "measure", "pleasure" or "fusion" or like "g" in colour "beige". (As there is no english symbol for this sound, it is usually represented as "zh") Ж ж
Similar to the "ts" sound in "sits" or "its". Ц ц
Pronounced like the "ch" in "chips" or "church" . Ч ч
Pronounced like the "sh" in shut. Ш ш
Pronounced like "sh" but with your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Try putting your tongue in the same position as you would to say "ch" but say "sh" instead. English speakers may find it hard to define the difference between "ш" and "щ". Щ щ
Pronounced like the "i" in "bit" or "ill". (Said with your tongue slightly back in your mouth.) Ы ы
This letter is used to form diphthongs. So "oй" is like the "oy" sound in "boy" or "aй" is like the "igh" in "sigh". Й й

Pronunciation Symbols

(These letters have no sound on their own, but are still considered letters.).
The 'Hard Sign' is rarely used. It indicates a slight pause between sylables. Ъ ъ
The 'Soft Sign' makes the previous letter 'soft'. Think of the "p" sound in the word "pew". (Try inflecting a very slight "y" sound onto letter before it.) Ь ь