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Lesson Transcript

Eddie: Pronunciation. Lesson 1. General overview. Hi everyone! Eddie here. Welcome to RussianPod101’s overview of Russian pronunciation.
Oksana: And I'm Oksana. So, let’s get straight to it. The first thing we’d like to do is dispel a few myths.
Eddie: Absolutely. People sometimes get very fearful about Russian pronunciation; they see what is to them, a strange alphabet: the letters "-r" and "-n" written backwards, and they think, what’s that all about!
Oksana: True, but it isn’t the case. The reality is that Russian pronunciation isn’t as difficult for an English speaker compared to, for example, French pronunciation.
Eddie: Oh my goodness, that’s so true. Lots of French sounds simply don’t exist in English.
Oksana: And this simply isn’t the case for Russian.
Eddie: The set of Russian sounds is very similar to the set of Italian (and to lesser degree, Spanish) sounds; that’s why Italian speakers often have very good pronunciation in Russian and vice versa.
Oksana: So if you’re familiar with those languages, that’ll be an advantage. I actually know someone who has always said Russians are the only foreigners that have the perfect Italian accent!
Eddie: And I’m sure the same can be said the other way around. However, let’s stick with English speakers, and again, it really isn’t difficult.
Oksana: You know, I’d actually go as far to say that it’s easier to learn Russian pronunciation than in many other languages!
Eddie: Really?
Oksana: Because you don’t have the same alphabet. You have nothing already in your mind to compare it to and get confused with. You just initially take the time to learn it, and after a little practice, you’ll see there is no confusion, as it isn’t overlapping another set of linguistic areas.
Eddie: Wow, when did you get a psychology degree?
Oksana: Well, I know someone that has and that is what he says!
Eddie: That’s good enough for me.
Oksana: Let’s look at the main challenges with regard to Russian pronunciation.
Eddie: I like that, let’s get the worst bit over with first!
Oksana:Actually, you’ll see the worst isn’t actually that bad at all!
Eddie: Very true.
Oksana: Okay, number one - There are some sounds that don’t exist in English, for example, the vowel "-ы".
Eddie: That sounds like people from…..
Oksana: "ы," I suppose it does, good way to remember it!
Eddie: Number two - Some sounds are similar to English sounds but are pronounced slightly differently, for example, the English "-l" sounds softer than Russian "-л."
Oksana: Yes, Russian "-l" sounds a bit harder - "-ла"
Eddie: Number three - Some sounds change depending on the word stress and the position of a letter in the word, for example, "-o" is pronounced almost like "-a" when not stressed.
Oksana: That’s right, the Russian letter "-o," like the English "-o" in the word "not," always sounds the same in Russian when stressed, but when it isn’t, it literally is pronounced like the letter "-a," just like the "-a" in the word "father".
Eddie: This shows that many of the sounds we’re talking about, Russian sounds, really do exist in English.
Oksana: They really do, it’s just a case of being able to isolate them in your mind and take them out of the word, like that "-a" in “father”. Almost sounds like the word "are."
Eddie: It does!
Oksana: Okay, so number four - There are clusters of consonants that you don’t normally meet in English, for example, the word "встречать", which is "to meet", begins with four consonants!
Eddie: We certainly don’t have that in English, but again, when you listen to it, it’s not that impossible.
Oksana: Well, given that Russians manage to say these words every day, I’d say it isn’t impossible at all.
Eddie: There is that too! Good point! (laughs)
Oksana: Point number five - Words are generally longer than in English and therefore, can take a little more practice to pronounce.
Eddie: Yes, but it really is a case of practice. Not only that, as you practice, you’re also learning the alphabet at the same time.
Oksana: Exactly!
Eddie: So having outlined these points we’ll now put your mind to rest by explaining what makes Russian pronunciation easier than many other languages!
Oksana: I said that earlier!
Eddie: Which is why it’s worth mentioning again!
Oksana: With regard to Russian pronunciation, you really can’t learn it without mentioning and knowing the writing system.
Eddie: The alphabet.
Roxanna: Yes, as we said earlier, it’s called the Cyrillic alphabet and nothing to be scared of.
Eddie: Yes, any person who has already started learning Russian will tell you that the alphabet is certainly NOT the most difficult thing as far as Russian is concerned.
Oksana: Far from it, each letter corresponds to just one sound and if you know the thirty-three Russian letters and a few basic pronunciation rules, you’ll know how to pronounce any word written in Russian.
Eddie: And there aren’t many languages that can boast that!
Oksana: Very true! There are hardly any exceptions.
Eddie: Actually, when you think about it, English is much more difficult in this aspect because you basically have to "memorize" how to pronounce every word! For example, think of words "head" and "meat."
Oksana: I know! They have the same vowel combination but they are not pronounced in the same way. This simply doesn’t happen in Russian, everything stays the same.
Eddie: Fabulous! So let’s summarize here why Russian pronunciation is easy.
Oksana: One - each letter generally corresponds to one and the same sound. Look at English words "cat" and "rice." They have the same letter "-c" in them, but in the first example, it’s pronounced "-k" and in the second case it’s pronounced "-s." In Russian, "-c" is always pronounced like "-s."
Eddie: Two - there are no vowel combinations, like "-oo" in book, or "-ea" in lead. There is one letter for each sound, and the sound is always symbolized by this letter. Easy!
Oksana: Three - there are no slight intonation differences that change the meaning of the word, like in Mandarin, for example. There are no "short" and "long" vowel sounds like in English. Everything is constant.
Eddie: That actually shows that there is really nothing to be scared of!
Oksana: Exactly. Now, let’s have a closer look at Russian sounds.
Eddie: As we’ve already mentioned, there are thirty-three letters in the Russian alphabet, but only thirty-one correspond to actual sounds.
Oksana: The others are so-called "мягкий знак" and "твёрдый знак" (the "soft sign" and the "hard sign"). These two characters don’t have a sound of their own but they are used to show how pronunciation of other sounds in the word should be modified.
Eddie: Okay, so we’re going to cover each letter of the Russian alphabet. Admittedly, it might be a little confusing, as you do need to see the letters, so this works perfectly alongside the PDF that goes with this podcast.
Oksana: We’ll give you the Russian sound itself, followed by the English equivalent, although remember that some English sounds could be similar to Russian sounds, but still are not exactly the same.
Eddie: Yes, as we said earlier, some of these sounds simply don’t exist in English, so the Latin equivalents just give you some idea of how to pronounce them, but not the exact pronunciation. Don’t worry, there aren’t that many like this.
Oksana: Okay let’s start. So, the first letter is "-А" like “a” in "father."
Eddie: Used in the word "да", which means "yes."
Oksana: Then there’s the letter "-Б".
Eddie: Which is similar to English "-b".
Oksana: Yes, like the Russian verb "быть", which is "to be".
Eddie: The next Russian letter looks just like an English capital "-B" for Bravo.
Oksana:Yes, but, unfortunately, it has a "-v" sound. Sounds like the English “v”. For example, "Ваш", which means "your" in Russian.
Eddie: Next, we have the Russian letter "-Г", which almost looks like a small "-r".
Roxanna: Yes, almost, but it’s at right angles. This is pronounced like a hard "-g" in the word "good." The Russian example is "год" ("year").
Eddie: Excellent.
Oksana: Next, we have "-Д", which is pronounced similar to "-d" in English.
Eddie: And a Russian word with that letter, please..
Oksana:"Дом", which is "a house".
Eddie: Next we have the Russian "-E", which looks just like the capital English "-E".
Oksana: And this is pronounced [ ye ], for example, "есть" ("to eat").
Eddie: Okay, now the letter "-Ë" that is again, like the English letter "-e" but with two dots above it.
Oksana: This is pronounced [ yo ]. For example, "ëлка" is Russian for "Christmas tree."
Eddie: Now the next letter almost looks like a big asterisk. It’s like an "-x" with an extra vertical line along the middle.
Roxanna: Yes, "-Ж". The English equivalent here is like the "-s" in the word "pleasure."
Eddie: Oh yes, I’ve never noticed that before.
Oksana: A Russian word that has it is "жить," which is the verb "to live".
Eddie: Right, the next letter simply looks like the number "3"!
Oksana: And that is pronounced like a "-z". "Зима", which is "winter".
Eddie: Now that backwards capital letter "-N" for Norman.
Oksana: And this is like the vowel sound in “green”. "Или", which is "or" in Russian.
Eddie: The next is again like a backwards "-N" but it has a curve floating above it.
Oksana: This sounds like the "-y" in the word "boy." "Мой", which is "my" in Russian, has this sound in it.
Eddie: Now we have what looks and sounds like the letter "-k". For example, "кто", which means "who".
Oksana:The next letter, which looks like a table with a little curved foot on the left, is an "-l" sound in Russian. And the example is "лето", which means "summer".
Eddie: Then we simply have the letter "-m", which looks and sounds the same as in English. In Russian, "мама" is "mom".
Oksana: The "-n" sound in Russian looks like the English capital "-H". And our example is "нет", which means "No".
Eddie: Easy again for me. The letter "-o" looks and sounds like an "-o" in English but remember, only when it is stressed. Otherwise, it sounds like "-a". And the example is "он", which is "he" in Russian.
Oksana: The sound "-p" in Russian looks like a very square small "-n" in English. "Привет" and I’m sure we’ve all heard that means "hi".
Eddie: Привет Оксана! What`s the next letter?
Oksana: What looks like a capital letter "-P" in Russian is actually a rolled "-r" the way Italians or the Spanish do. And our example is "ручка" ("a pen").
Eddie: What looks like the English capital "-C" in Russian simply sounds like an "-s". And our example is "собака" ("a dog"). The next one is also easy. The "-t" sound in Russian is represented by what simply looks like the English capital "-T". Unsurprisingly, "телефон" is "a telephone".
Oksana: What looks like the English letter "-y" in Russian sounds like a double "-oo" in book. And our example is "ухо", which is "an ear".
Eddie: Now we have what looks like a capital "-O" but with a vertical line running straight through the middle.
Oksana:This has an "-f" sound in Russian. "Фильм" ("a movie").
Eddie: Now, the next one looks like the English "-x", but sounds like a Scottish "-h", like "Loch!" And the example is "хороший", meaning "good".
Oksana: The next letter looks like a very square capital letter "-U" in English with a little tail! It’s pronounced like a "-ts", like the two "-z"`s in pizza!
Eddie: Next, we have what looks like the number four on a digital clock! This is pronounced [ ch ] as in cheese. And in Russian a good example is "чай" means "tea".
Oksana:What looks like a capital "-W" is the Russian alphabet although it is made up of vertical and horizontal lines only, sounds like "-sh" like “shovel”. We find this letter in "шапка", which is of course "a hat".
Eddie: Then we have what looks like the same square looking capital "-w" again, although this time it has a little tail. This is a softer "-sh".
Oksana: And example is "щи", which is a "cabbage soup".
Eddie: The two letters that look like very small "-b"`s in English are the "hard sign" and the “soft sign”. The “hard sign” is the one with a little tail at the top. They are there to tell you to make the letter preceding them harder or softer than usual. Oksana, can you give us an example, please?
Oksana: Ok, here is one with the hard sign - "подъезд" ("an entrance").
Eddie: Thanks. And have one more with the soft sign.
Oksana: маньяк.
Eddie: What does “маньяк” mean?
Oksana: Means “maniac”.
Eddie: I hope you won't thinking of me then. Ok, let`s move on to the next one. What looks like two letters, a small "-b" and a small "-l", is actually one letter. It’s a hard "-i" sound.
Oksana: It’s important to get this right, as there is no real equivalent. The formal "you" in Russian has this sound, "вы". Another example is "мы", which is "we".
Eddie: What looks like a backward letter "-c" but with a little horizontal line that nearly makes it look like the number 3, is the [ e ] sound in the English word "met." An example word for this in Russian is "это".
Oksana:The next letter is a symbol that looks like an English capital "-I" and "-O" linked together by a little horizontal line. This has the sound just like the English word "you." And our example is "любить" ("to love").
Eddie: Finally, we have that backward looking capital "-R". This has the sound of [ ya ] like the "ya" from the word "yard".
Oksana: For example, "яблоко", which is "an apple".
Eddie: Great! That sums up the Russian alphabet, but it is difficult without seeing the letters so we really encourage you to use the PDF file that accompanies this podcast!
Oksana: It is really important to see what the letters look like.
Eddie: Ok, that just about does it for today. Premium members, use the review track to perfect your pronunciation.
Oksana:Available in the Premium section of the website,
Eddie: ...the learning center,
Oksana: ...and through iTunes via the Premium Feed,
Eddie: ...the Review Track gives you vocabulary and phrases followed by a short pause so you can repeat the words aloud.
Oksana: The best way to get good fast!
Eddie: From all of us at RussianPod101.com, see you next time.
Oksana: Bye for now!


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Monday at 6:30 pm
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What's the most difficult letter for you to pronounce?

user profile picture
Wednesday at 12:50 am
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Hi Catherine,

Thank you so much for your comment and suggestion. We are always working on improving our materials, and your opinion is highly valuable!

We have also information on the Russian Alphabet in our Russian Resources page:


Hope to see you often here!



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Catherine B
Monday at 10:00 pm
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Dear Cristiane,

The series you mention, "Russian Alphabet Made Easy" goes into the details of the letters while forgetting the alphabet itself.

Adding the alphabet would considerably upgrade this excellent course.

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Monday at 8:08 pm
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Hi Jason,


Thank you for your message.

Please check out our special series Russian Alphabet Made Easy


In this video series, you will learn the Russian alphabet, known as alfavít. We will teach you Russian alphabet using simple steps, showing you the correct stroke order, helpful tricks for memorization, and proper usage in common Russian words.

In case of any questions, please feel free to contact us!



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Sunday at 8:38 pm
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They have FINALLY, recently posted a couple videos on Youtube putting the alphabet in order, for free! You guys ought to post links to those videos on here, somewhere! Or did I miss them, somewhere?

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Catherine B
Sunday at 6:07 pm
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In which lesson can we hear the Russian alphabet? I would like to learn it by heart. Thank you!

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Friday at 11:19 am
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Hello michael noreika,

It effects the letter "т".


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michael noreika
Wednesday at 4:06 am
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твёрдый знак Ъ отъезд отезд - знаю что отезд не существует

what letter does the hard sign effect and exactly how?


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Wednesday at 6:23 pm
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Hello Tom,

Thank you for your explanation!


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Tuesday at 1:49 am
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Instead of "sheet" and "shock" where you're thinking of the "sh" sound in each, stop short and think of "she-" and "sho-". This won't be exact, but will get you closer, until your ear can hear the differences.

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Monday at 5:40 pm
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Hello Katelyn,

I wish you good luck.

I think its just a matter of time and practice. :smile:


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