Russian as foreign: reading 101

We know you’ve been there: you see a word written in Russian, then your teacher reads it to you, and it sounds nothing like you assumed it would. Is your teacher mocking you, lying shamelessly to your face? Maybe. Here is the information that will help you decode Cyrillic script and call that know-it-all teacher out.

1. Consonants

- Voiced/voiceless

All consonants in Russian can be either voiced (б, в, г, д, ж, з) or voiceless (п, ф, х, к, т, ш, с). They make pairs: б – п, в – ф, г – х (or к), д – т, ж – ш, з – с.

At the end of words voiced consonants become voiceless: бог /boh/, дуб /doop/, глаз /glas/, год /got/, муж /moosh/.

When there are two consonants stacked together in a word, the second one will affect the first, making them both either voiced or voiceless: футбол, /foodbol/, сделка /zd`elka/, как бы /kagby/, гладко /glatka/, мужской /mooshskoi/, подпись /potpis’/, мозг /mosk/.

- Those-that-must-not-be-named

Don’t be discouraged, if you see several consonants together, chances are one of them sould not be pronounced anyway: “стн” (радостный – /radasnyj/), “стл” (счастливый – /shasleevyj/), “здн” (поздний – /pozneej/), “рдц” (сердце – /sertse/), “нтск” (гигантский – /geegansk`eej/), etc.

- Г in “его”, “ого”

When г is between е and о or two о-s, it sounds like в (v): его /jeevo/, хорошего /haroshəvə/, сегодня /s`eevodn’a/, большого /bal’shova/.

Моего хорошего друга зовут Борис.

- “тся” and “ться”

Both are pronounced as ца (tsa): Приятно познакомиться /paznakomeetsa/, готовится /gatoveetsa/, мне нравится учиться /nraveetsa oocheetsa/.

- ч, сч, жч, зч

In some words ч is pronounced as ш: что /shto/, чтобы /shtoby/, конечно /kaneshna/.

Сч, жч, зч all sound like щ: счастье /shastje/, мужчина /moosheena/, счёт /shot/, резче /reshe/, грузчик /groosheek/.

2. Vowels

- о or а?

That is the question. To which we answer: when not stressed, o sounds like a. For example: молоко /malako/, города /garada/, хорошо /harasho/, борода /barada/, что-то /shtota/.

- vowels that sound like и (ee)

When е, я and э are not stressed, they sound like и: сестра /seestra/, мечта /meechta/, далеко /dal`eeko/.

- е, ё, ю, я

These vowels make the consonant before them soft: мяч /m’ach/, Люда /L’ooda/, деньги /d’en’gi/, няня /n’an’a/.
However, in the beginning of a word, after another vowel or after ь/ъ they sound just like in the alphabet: е - /je/, ё - /jo/, ю - /ju/, я - /ja/.

Ёж хочет съесть яблоко /jozh hoch’eet sjes`t’ jablaka/.

There you go! You are now equipped with an arsenal of rules to practice reading in Russian to your heart’s content. You wait, ‘War and Peace’!

And if you are up for some feedback, you are very welcome to take a class here at ALMA School!