Lesson 1.1 – Basic – Vowels

Lesson 1.1 – Basic – Vowels

Where we are at in the process:

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

First a quick review.

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.


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.


Basically, a vowel is a sound that is made with the mouth and throat not closing at any point. That means that the sound is not stopped by your teeth, tongue, lips, or constriction of the vocal cords. It’s important to recognize vowels because that is what will identify the syllables of the word. There is only one vowel per syllable. You will be learning to pronounce unfamiliar words syllable by syllable.


а – normally sounds like the ‘a’ in father, but depending on syllable stress may sound like the ‘u’ in hut. As a beginner, always pronounce like ‘a’ in father.


e – this letter gave me plenty of trouble.  First of all it is not the English letter ‘E’ (as in ‘seen’), it is the Russian letter ‘e’ (as in yesterday). It will be properly pronounced one of three ways depending on which syllable is stressed. For the beginner or if the syllable is stressed, try to pronounce it as the ‘ye’ in ‘yesterday’. If it is before a stressed syllable, then it is pronounced as ‘ee as in ‘eel’, or if after a stressed syllable and in one syllable words, pronounced like ‘eh’ as in ‘tell’.  A good example of this is the word ‘неделе’ (week). For teaching purposes, the syllable to be stresses is identified as an accented vowel. In the word ‘не-дé-ле’, the middle syllable should be stressed. When pronounce by native speakers, each occurrence of the letter ‘e’ seems to be pronounced differently. For beginners or if your uncertain which syllable is stressed, go with ‘ye’ as in yesterday.


ё – as if the confusing ‘e’ wasn’t bad enough, this letter has the sound ‘yo’ as in ‘New York’. ‘yo’ is always in the stressed syllable. It is pronounced like ‘o’, as in ‘score’ only when it occurs after ч, ш, щ and ж. Native speakers will sometimes omit the two little dots above the symbol. In these cases it is still pronounced as if it was written ‘ё’.


и – this is the letter that sounds like the letter ‘E’ (as in ‘seen’). No exceptions, no confusion. It’s always pronounced the same.


o – this is the letter also has some variance depending on syllable stress. When the syllable is stressed it sounds like the ‘o’ in ‘score’. When it occurs before a stressed syllable it is pronounced as a hard ‘a’ as in ‘Hakeem’. If it is after a stressed syllable it sounds like the ‘o‘ in ‘Gibson’. When in doubt, go with the ‘o’ as in ‘score’. The word ‘мо-лó-ко’ (milk) contains all three variances.


у – pronounced as ‘oo’ as in ‘cartoon’


ы – this vowel has an unfamiliar sound. The closest equivalent is like the ‘i’ in ‘sit’, but the tongue is pulled back, and sound pronounced far further down the throat, as if being punched in the stomach


э – similarly this vowel is pronounced further down the throat and sounds like the ‘e’ in ‘end’


ю – when this vowel is stressed it is pronounced as ‘you‘. If not stressed it sounds more like ‘oo’ as in ‘cartoon’.


я – the last vowel also has multiple possibilities depending on stress. When the stress is unknown or if the syllable is stressed it is pronounced ‘ya’ as in ‘Yacht’. When it occurs before a stressed syllable it is pronounced like the ‘ee’ in ‘eel’, or if after a stressed syllable and in one syllable words it is  pronounced like ‘eh’ as in ‘tell’


Ten letters down, and only 23 more to go!

Catch you on the next lesson.



Jim (джим)

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