How to read in Russian: Easy Way!

In one of my previous lesson we were learning the Russian alphabet. I hope you remember how to pronounce them. Now we’re going to put the letters together to get new words. 

Easy point of reading in Russian is that every letter corresponds to only one sound. Most of the time. There are some exceptions which are easy to remember. So, don’t worry, you’ll learn how to read in Russian, and it won’t be a problem.

When I teached my friends to speak Russian, I always started with the words мама and папа. They are really easy to pronunce.

Just ма-ма [‘mah-mah] and па-па [‘pah-pah].

Аa is always “a” in the Russian language. Same with п and м.

Let’s look at some other easy words to read in Russian.

кот [kot]
квас [kvas]
рот [rot]
сок [sok]
трус [trus]
нива [‘nee-va]
квота [k’vo-ta]
салат [sa-‘lat]
пример [pree-‘mer]

Let’s make it a little harder:

небо [‘ne-ba]

Wait, why has “o” suddenly become “a”? What happened? Now look at this:

кокос [ka-‘kos]
погода [pa-go-da]

Oh, I don’t understand anything. Here we have two o’s but they are pronounced differently! One of them is still [o], and the other becomes [a]. How’s that?

Look at these words again. With closer attention. Have you noticed something?

You should notce the stress in these words. You can see that there is the word квота [k’vo-ta] in the first list, in which “o” is pronounced as [o], because it’s in the stressed syllable. The word небо [‘ne-ba] also has two syllables, but the stressed syllable is the one with “e” here, so the syllable with “o” is unstressed. That means “o” is pronounced like [a] in this case. Same with words кокос and погода.

It’s pretty hard, because you must remember how we spell these words. Even if you know the pronunciation, you might make a mistake in writing. That’s a tricky point. But not the only one.

Now let’s look at some consonants:

жир [zhir]
муж [mush]
нож [nosh]

Again, what do we see? In the first word ж is pronounced like [zh], and in two last examples it is [sh].

It is just because this letter is the last in the word. It loses its voice and become the soft [sh].

Another example:

ложка [‘losh-ka]
ножка [‘nosh-ka]

Now we have ж in the middle of the word, but it’s pronounced as [sh] again! Why? Because there is a soft sound before it – [k].

надежда [na-‘dezh-da]

In this case there is a voiced sound д before ж, that’s why ж doesn’t lose its voice. It’s still [zh].

Ж is not the only voiced letter. Same are д, б, з, г. They also sound different after devoicing: [d] – [t], [b] – [p], [z] – [s], [g] – [k].

Somtimes you can notice that the pronunciation of some words differ from their written form. 

For example:

солнце [son-tse]

We can see that the letter л [l] disappeard. We don’t pronounce this letter in this word. 

This word is not the only exeption. There is a group of words with consonants which is not pronounced. 

сердце [‘ser-tse]
поздно [‘poz-na]

and some other words

But the point is that when this nouns become adjectives or other forms with the same root, the missing letter appears again:

солнечный [‘sol-nech-niy] 
опоздать [a-paz-‘dat’]
сердечный [ser-‘dech-niy] 

You might notice that I used the apostrophe twice in one word. This is not a mistake. First one shows the stressed syllable, while the second one shows the soft “t”. The foft sign “ь” makes the preceding sound softer. For example, ест [yest] and есть [yest’]. In the first word “t” is pronounced harder, while in the second word “t” sound is very soft.

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