learn-russian-pronunciation

8 Steps to Learn Russian Pronunciation

Learning how to pronounce Russian correctly is imperative to effective communication with natives.

The Russian language doesn’t have specific guidelines for using stress in words. So, if you stress the wrong syllable, a Russian word can have a completely different meaning!

From the rolling r’s to consonant clusters, Russian may not seem easy to pronounce, but it will definitely get easier with practice, especially after reading this helpful blog and utilizing other Russian learning tools.

Contents


8 Steps to Learn Russian Pronunciation

Don’t get lost when trying to pronounce Russian words and phrases.

Simply follow these eight steps and you’ll be on your way to speaking Russian like a native.

1. Learn the sounds of the Cyrillic alphabet.

The very first step in teaching yourself Russian pronunciation is learning the Cyrillic alphabet and how the letters are pronounced. Letters are the building blocks of words.

If you don’t know how to pronounce individual letters, you’ll never be able to pronounce entire words!

There are a total of 33 letters in the Russian alphabet, consisting of 11 vowels, 20 consonants and 2 pronunciation signs (ъ, ь) that have no vocal sound.

Although some of the letters may look and sound foreign, with effort, you can learn the Russian alphabet in just a few hours!

It helps that all Russian consonants have only one pronunciation, contrary to English. Plus, many of the letters will look the same (although they may sound different) and vice versa!

2. Focus on the vowels.

A tip for pronouncing Russian vowels like a true Russian is to shorten their sounds. While Americans tend to stretch out vowel sounds, Russians don’t. Think about the difference between saying dome and d-o-o-o-me.

3. Learn the rules of vowel reduction.

Some of the vowels in Russian sound differently when they’re stressed versus unstressed, a process called vowel reduction.

A, o, e and я are reduced when they don’t have an accent mark above them (unstressed). Of course, Russian doesn’t typically have accent marks—these are just added for the sake of Russian students learning stress rules.

Learn the specific rules of vowel reduction to pronounce Russian correctly and avoid having to rely on text made for learners with accent marks.

4. Learn to pronounce Russian consonants correctly.

Russian words are famous for having many consonants, often grouped together, called consonant clusters. Examples include words such as бди́тельный (vigilant), вто́рник (Tuesday) and завтра (tomorrow).

Consonants are pronounced without aspiration, which occurs when you let out air upon saying certain letters, like k and t. To pronounce consonants in Russian, learn the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.

English has this distinction too: for example, the words pat and fat begin with a voiceless consonant, whereas the words bat and mat begin with a voiced consonant.

Simply place your fingers on your throat when pronouncing a Russian consonant, and if you feel your throat vibrating, you’re pronouncing a voiced consonant, otherwise it’s a voiceless consonant.

Russian voiced consonants include: в, г, з, б, д and ж.

Voiceless consonants include к, п, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш and щ.

The rules of consonant assimilation state that the second consonant of the cluster determines how the first one sounds. Voiced consonants turn voiceless at the end of a word; for example, the word год (year) is pronounced as гот (got) since the voiced consonant д is at the end of the word.

As well, voiced consonants change when they come before voiceless consonants. The word ложка (spoon) is pronounced лошка (loshka) because the voiced ж is followed by the voiceless к.

5. Practice rolling your r’s.

Russians roll, or trill, their r’s, a process called an alveolar trill. This is without a doubt the hardest step for Americans to master, as this sound doesn’t come natural to us.

One way to practice is to place a d in front of an r in words. For example, instead of saying, fridge, try saying fdridge. Do you see how the R seems to be more pronounced?

To truly master trilling your r’s, remember that you need to focus on the tongue and not the throat. Learn where your alveolar ridge is located (hint, find the spot where your tongue touches the top of your mouth when you say the letter d).

Lift the tip of your tongue and allow it to vibrate while you breathe out. This is a step necessary to pronouncing trilled r’s. Now, practice saying Russian words with the letter r, such as рука (hand), рыба (fish) and речка (river).

6. Learn where to place accent marks to stress syllables in the Russian language.

As mentioned before, this step is of vital importance.

While there are no general rules for which part of the word can be stressed, the accent mark never falls on word endings ий and ый.

Again, keep in mind that you’ll only spot the accent marks in texts made for Russian students. Learn the correct stress so you can read authentic Russian texts without any trouble!

7. Use a mirror.

The fact is that Russians not only sound differently, but they also use their vocal tools (tongue and lips) differently.

To make sure you’re using your vocal tools correctly, practice making your tongue arched and narrow rather than flat and wide, which we use to speak English. Practice in front of a mirror to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

8. Learn phonetic markers.

Although they’re part of the Russian alphabet, the мягкий знак (soft sign) and твёрдый знак (hard sign) make no vocal sound and are simply phonetic markers.

The soft sign palatalizes (softens) the consonant before it. Consider the different ways the letter n is pronounced in the words night and canyon—the n in canyon is palatalized and pronounced softer than the n in night. Soft consonants require you to arch your tongue against the top of your mouth.

Therefore, in Russian, the word кость (bone) shows a great example of how the letter т is softened because it’s followed by the soft sign.

The second phonetic marker, the hard sign, hardens the consonant preceding it. The hard sign was often written at the end of old Russian words, but it was eliminated in 1917 as being redundant.

Now, it’s found inside of words and indicates not just that the consonant before it is hard (non-palletized), but that the vowel after it is soft and has a jot sound. An example of this is the word съесть (to eat), where the hard sign makes the c sound hard while adding a jot sound in front of the e.

Tools to Learn Russian Pronunciation

Here are a couple of great tools that you can use to practice your Russian pronunciation along the way.

Say-It-Right-in-Russian-bookcover “Say It Right in Russian: The Fastest Way to Correct Pronunciation Russian”

If you’re shortly going on a trip to Russia or are planning a meeting with a Russian-speaking business partner, you may not have the required time to truly study Russian pronunciation.

This book is a handy resource to quickly learn how to pronounce hundreds of common Russian words and phrases.

FluentU

fluentu logo

FluentU teaches you the language the way it’s used by native speakers. You’ll find hundreds of short video clips from authentic Russian media including movie trailers, music videos, news segments and more. 

While you watch each video, you can follow along with the transcript or the interactive subtitles available in Russian and English. Click on any word in the subtitles to see its definition, hear its pronunciation at normal and slow speeds and see example sentences, which also come with audio. 

russian-birds-movie-fluentu

This is a great way to improve your pronunciation by hearing dialogue from native speakers and repeating it out loud for extra practice. 

 

Don’t let Russian pronunciation get in the way of proper communication! Follow the eight steps above to learn Russian pronunciation and grammar rules.

You’ll start sounding more like a Russian native than an American foreigner in no time!

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Russian and want to immerse yourself with authentic materials from Russia, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning the Russian language and culture. You'll learn real Russian as it's spoken by real Russian people!

FluentU has a very broad range of contemporary videos. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of Russian-language content available on FluentU:

learn-russian-with-authentic-russian-videos

FluentU makes these native Russian videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.

learn-russian-with-subtitled-videos

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab. Easily review words and phrases with audio under Vocab.

learn-conversational-russian-with-dialogue

All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Russian learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.

And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.

practice-russian-with-adaptive-quizzes

The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close