Reading Cyrillic

You can get basic skills in reading the Cyrillic alphabet quite fast. I would say it is the simplest part of learning the Russian language. There are 33 letters in the alphabet. The good news about it is that every character is one sound: there are almost no combinations like English SH or CH. Some of the characters are similar to Latin characters, others to Greek ones, and some are typical for Cyrillic only.

Six letters you read kind of like you normally would read the following in English:

А = [A] like in CAR

О = [O] like in TOP

E = [e] like in METRO

M = [M] like in MOSCOW

T = [T]  like in TRAVEL

C = [C] like in CITY

K = [K] like in KID


These five look similar, but are pronounced differently:

B = [v] like in VISIT

H = [n] like in NO

Р = [r] like in ROCK

Х = [h] like in HOTEL

У = [u:] like in DO


With this you can already read some signs:

 Москва (Moskva) is how Moscow is spelled in pronounced in Russian.

РЕСТОРАН (RESTORAN)- do you understand what it it?


Other characters:

Б = [b] like in BANK

Г = [g] like in Gagarin (the first man in space)

З = [z] like in ZEBRA

Ж = [j] like in JOJOBA

Д = [d] like in DOG

Л = [l] like in LOOK

П = [p] like in PETERSBURG

И = [i] like in KISS

Й = [j] like in BOY

Ы = say [i] but instead of stretching your lips move your jaw slightly forward.


At this stage you can read quite a lot of signs and can recognize some international words:



Ф = [f] like in PHOTO or FLAG

Ц = [ts] like in German KATZE

Ч = [ch] like in CHESS or CHEKOV

Ш = [sh] like in SHOWER or in German SHWARTZ

Щ = [sch] kind of like in QUICHE

Э = [æ] like in THAT

The following four characters can be read in two different ways. 1. If such character stands first in a word or follows a vowel (or the Ь, Ъ characters) they are pronounced as double sounds:

Ю = [ju:] like in YOU or CUTE

Я = [ja] like in YOUNG

Е = [je] like in YES

Ё = [jo:] like in YAWN or YACHT


Now you can read the names of the Metro stations as most of them end with – CКАЯ: МАЯКОВСКАЯ, СМОЛЕНСКАЯ, АРБАТСКАЯ, КОЛОМЕНСКАЯ

1. If such character stands after a consonant it pronounced as one single sound and soften that consonant

ДЮ = [d’u] like in dude

ДЯ = [d’a] like in whaddaya

ДЕ = [d’e] like in demo

ДЁ = [m’ə:] like in dirge


Ь,Ъ – these letters have no sounds themselves. They just 1) make the preceding consonants sound softer or harder. For now you might just ignore this and focus on the essentials. 2) make Ю, Я, Е, Ё sound like double sounds (as it was described in the point 1).


Attention! Do not confuse these four alike letters:

Б, Ы, Ь, Ъ


Happy reading challenge!