Russian as foreign: Ъ
In the Russian alphabet there are letters with next to nothing remarkable about them: simply “А”, simply “Б”… A whole other story can be told about the letter “Ъ” (hard sign). It stands for no sound at all, yet we need it. What for? What is its story?
“Ъ” has not always been silent. Until the XII century it marked the sound that can be described as short Russian [o] or [y]. Afterwards the sound disappeared, however, the letter remained silently in use and was written at the end of words after hard consonants up until 1918. At that time the maths was done and it turned out that printing the letter cost the country about 8 million extra pages of text yearly! It was then temporarily outlawed and changed to the apostrophe (‘).
Today we use it in writing to separate the prefix from the stem word, in which case the latter will start with [й] sound: съесть, подъезд, объятия; as well as in some foreign words: адъютант. Moreover, the hard sign is indispensable in words that can be confused for others: подъарочный (that, which is under the arch (арка)) и подарочный (having to do with gifts (подарок)).
How fun was that?? For much more foreign language related fun and some controlled practice join ALMA School in classes of Russian or Ukrainian as foreign! We teach at our little school in the center of Kyiv and via Skype :)