Lesson 1.0 – Basic – The Russian Alphabet

Lesson 1.0 – Basic – The Russian Alphabet 

    – (lower case typed form and what sound each letter represents.)

Where we are at in the process:

  • Previous lesson: –  Lesson Organization –
  • This lesson: Basic – The Russian alphabet.
  • Next lesson: Basic – Vowels


Welcome all, lets get to it!

For the absolute beginner, let’s make this as simple as possible.

 “Russian words (and letters) should sound exactly as they are written.”

– If you stick to this rule for now, you will always be understandable.

As you advance, you will find it is more correct to say “Russian words sound mostly as they are written.” If you try to emulate perfection before knowing the rules, it is likely that you will confuse your listener to the point that you will no longer be understood. Unfortunately quite a few of the first words I learned had some kind of exception or pronunciation variance which I felt added to the confusion of trying to understand what is meant by a phonetic alphabet.  I’ll get around to explaining some of these variances in the very next lesson.

Right now, your goal as a beginner is to make one consistent sound for each letter in the word.

There are three main reasons I endorse this approach.

  1. The vowel sound for each letter can vary depending on which syllable is stressed within the word. If you use the wrong sound in the wrong place, you will not be understood.
  2. Deciding which syllable should be stressed is not easy.
  3. There are more than a few characters that appear similar to English letters. You will naturally confuse them, and it takes time to get this aspect straight.  It just overly complicates matters if you try to learn all the possible variances at the same time.

There are 33 symbols (letters) in the Russian alphabet, and they appear in lower case type as:

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.

All 33 letters have symbols and names.

But only SOME symbols have –

  • a sound. (Some symbols modify the sound of the preceding symbol.)
  • an upper and lower case version.
  • a similar appearance when the lower case type is compared to the cursive, or italic’s form.

To hear what each letter sounds like when spoken by a native speaker, check out page 3 of the embedded audio Ebook: – Russian for the Absolute Beginner  – Book I

You can get a free copy by signing up to my newsletter / email list:  http://www.russianpath.com


The Russian Alphabet:

а – ‘father’ б – ‘bet’ в – ‘vet’ г – ‘get’ д – ‘debt’
е – ‘yesterday’ ё – ‘New York’ ж – ‘pleasure’ з – ‘zoo’ и – ‘seen’
й – ‘boy к – ‘kangaroo’ л – ‘people’ м – ‘man’ н – ”never’
о – ‘score’ п – ‘pet’ р – ‘error’ (rolled) с – ‘sit’ т – ‘tan’
у – ‘cartoon’ ф – ‘fat’ х – ‘Bach ц – ‘its ч – ‘church’
ш – ‘shut’ щ – ‘fresh cheese’ ъ – no sound ы – ‘sit’ ь – no sound
э – ‘end’ ю – ‘you я – ‘yacht’


Just like a musician reading sheet music can play the correct note on his instrument without thinking, you will need to learn this alphabet to the point that it becomes second nature.

  • Be able to recite the alphabet in order. Memorize the character and associated sound.
  • Randomly be able to identify the sound each character represents.
  • Be able to randomly identify the typed character when you hear its sound.
  • When you see a Russian character, can you list the English example from the above table without looking?

Your test for this lesson:

In English, the vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.

In Russian, the vowels are а, е, ё, и, о, у, ы, э, ю, and я.


Now when you read the list of Russian vowels above, what did you hear that voice in your head say?

Was it saying ‘a‘, ‘ye‘, ‘yo‘, ‘ee‘, ‘o‘, ‘oo‘ . . .

Or did you hear yourself say: ‘a‘, ‘e‘, ‘e with two dots‘, ‘a backwards N‘, ‘o‘, ‘why‘ . . . ?

When you see the Russian characters, you should automatically think of the Russian sound they make rather than the name of what looks similar in the English alphabet.


In the next lesson I’ll be taking a closer look at each letter, starting with the vowels.


Jim (джим)

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