You’re 33 letters away from the journey of a lifetime.
That’s all it takes to start down the road to learning Russian.
Sure, that might be a few more letters than the alphabet you’re used to, but the Russian alphabet is actually a lot easier to learn than you might think.
The Russian alphabet uses Cyrillic script, which was first developed in the 800s. It was originally derived from Greek script, so if you’re familiar with any Greek letters, you’ll probably note some similarities.
In spite of the intimidation factor of learning any new script, learning the Russian alphabet only requires a brief time commitment and a little effort. If you’re looking to learn Russian fast, memorizing the alphabet is an ideal jumping-off point. Once you have the alphabet down, you’ll have a clear idea of pronunciations. Since some words are cognates (meaning they sound the same and have the same meaning between two languages), this will instantly enable you to understand some vocabulary words.
For instance, if you want to order food and notice пицца on the menu, you might be apprehensive about the strange and exotic dish. If you’ve learned the Russian alphabet, though, you’ll know that пицца means “pizza,” and you’ll enjoy your cheesy feast.
Perhaps the trickiest thing about the Russian alphabet is that the letters don’t always look the same between printed font, italics and handwriting. As you learn, your main focus should start on printed font, but you might also want to start working on italics, which sometimes look similar to handwriting.
If you’re ready to take the first step on your learning adventure, it’s time you leap into the Russian alphabet!
Learning the Russian Alphabet: As Easy as Д Б Ж!
Before we get into the actual letters of the alphabet, here are a few tips to help you learn it efficiently and painlessly:
- Pay attention to letters that are the same in English and Russian. There are several letters that are identical. For instance, the letter “A” is identical in English and Russian. Noting which letters are the same between languages will make them easier to remember.
- Associate letters with similar-looking letters. There are a number of letters in Russian that look like letters in English, but which actually have different pronunciations. For instance, the Russian letter “Р” looks like the English letter “P,” but the Russian letter “Р” is actually pronounced like the English letter “R.” These similar-looking letters with completely different pronunciations may seem confusing at first, but their similar appearances will actually make them easier to remember.
- Try to think of each unfamiliar letter as an image. When you’re starting out, it’s helpful to look at the unfamiliar letters and think of what image they remind you of. This will make them easier to remember. For instance, ю looks a little bit like a fish.
Additional Resources to Help You Learn the Russian Alphabet
If you need a little more help learning the Russian alphabet, Russian learning YouTube channels are an excellent resource to help you see and hear each letter. Here are a few helpful videos to get you started!
This YouTube video aims to teach you the Russian alphabet in just ten minutes. It starts off with easy letters that are the same in both English and Russian, and then gets more complex. The video also uses real Russian vocabulary to help teach you the sounds in context.
RussianLessons.Net offers a slow, clear video that lists each letter (in alphabetical order), followed by several Russian words that use that letter.
FluentU has its own video resources for learning all the letters of the Russian alphabet, and once you’ve learned them, you can move right on to complete words in authentic videos! FluentU takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons.
The Russian Alphabet, Letter by Letter
Here’s an alphabetical breakdown of the Russian alphabet.
The heading contains the printed letters, with capital followed by lowercase.
Then, you’ll see the italic letters, which in some cases are similar to cursive.
Next is the letter name. This provides a pronunciation for the name of the letter itself (essential if you want to be able to recite the alphabet or spell a word).
The final component in each entry is the pronunciation of the letter as it compares to English letters. Some letters require additional explanation. When this is the case, the explanation will appear last.
If you want a catchy tune you can memorize, you might try to learn the Russian Alphabet Song from the Russian version of “Sesame Street.” It’s intended for children but also useful for adult learners. Note that the actual alphabet starts 20 seconds in.
Without further ado, here we go!
Italics: А а
Letter Name: ah
Italics: Б б
Letter Name: bay
Italics: В в
Letter Name: vay
Italics: Г г
Letter Name: gay
Italics: Д д
Letter Name: day
Italics: Е е
Letter Name: yay
Italics: Ё ё
Letter Name: yo
Italics: Ж ж
Letter Name: zhay
Additional Explanation: We don’t have a letter quite like ж in the English alphabet, but the sound shouldn’t be too difficult for native English speakers. If you find it challenging, YouTuber Irina offers a helpful lesson.
Italics: З з
Letter Name: zay
Italics: И и
Letter Name: ee
Italics: Й й
Letter Name: ee kratkoyeh – “short ee”
Additional Explanation: Й is like a shorter version of И. The difference can be subtle, so it might help to watch a video like Ruslango’s helpful guide.
Italics: К к
Letter Name: kah
Italics: Л л
Letter Name: ehl
Additional Explanation: You may sometimes see л looking like just a two-sided triangle—kind of like an “A” without the horizontal bar.
Italics: М м
Letter Name: ehm
Italics: Н н
Letter Name: ehn
Italics: О о
Letter Name: oh
Italics: П п
Letter Name: pay
Italics: Р р
Letter Name: ehr
Additional Explanation: This letter is usually rolled. If you have trouble with this, Ru-Land Club offers some useful assistance.
Italics: С с
Letter Name: ehs
Italics: Т т
Letter Name: tay
Italics: У у
Letter Name: oo
Italics: Ф ф
Letter Name: ehf
Italics: Х х
Letter Name: khah
Pronunciation: loch (the Scottish English word)
Additional Explanation: Х is sort of like the Russian equivalent of the English letter “h.” However, the Russian letter х comes more from the throat, making it sort of part way between an “h” and a “k.” You might also watch learnrussian.org’s YouTube video for more pronunciation guidance.
Italics: Ц ц
Letter Name: tsay
Italics: Ч ч
Letter Name: chay
Italics: Ш ш
Letter Name: shah
Italics: Щ щ
Letter Name: shchah
Additional Explanation: This is one of the trickiest letters for native English speakers. The sound is somewhat like a long “sh” sound. However, it’s palatalized, meaning the middle of your tongue should go towards your hard palate when you say it. Study English & Russian with Antonia Romaker provides a helpful video to help you nail down this tricky letter.
Italics: Ъ ъ
Letter Name: tvyordeey znahk – “hard sign”
Additional Explanation: On its own, ъ has no particular sound. However, as a part of words, it means that the letter before it is hard. Russian Letters with Olga offers a helpful explanation of this letter and its sister letter, ь.
Italics: Ы ы
Letter Name: ih
Additional Explanation: The English language does not really have any sounds quite like ы. It’s sort of a guttural “ee” sound made in the back of your throat. Some non-native speakers replace it with an “i” sound, like in “hit.”
Italics: Ь ь
Letter Name: myagkeey znahk – “soft sign”
Additional Explanation: Ь indicates that the consonant that precedes it is soft. Much like ъ, ь itself has no real sound. These letters are tricky, so you might want to refer to Russian Lessons with Olga’s helpful explanation.
Italics: Э э
Letter Name: ay
Italics: Ю ю
Letter Name: yoo
Italics: Я я
Letter Name: yah
That’s all there is: 21 consonants, 10 vowels and 2 letters that make no sound. Consonants are б, в, г, д, ж, з, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш and щ. Another consonant, also called a “semivowel,” is й. Vowels are а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю and и. Meanwhile, ъ and ь make no sound but rather modify the letter in front of them.
So if you want to change your life in 33 letters, try learning the Russian alphabet!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.