Why You Should Learn to Read Russian Vowels Posted by Maria on Feb 7, 2019 in Russian for beginners, Russian phonetics
The Russian alphabet is one of the first challenges a prospective student runs into. We have posted some advice for learning the alphabet on this blog, but if you don’t know where to start, start with the vowels. Learning to read and pronounce Russian vowels is a manageable task that has many benefits.
Only 10 Vowel Letters
The Russian alphabet only has 10 vowel letters. Here they are, listed alphabetically, in an uppercase and a lowercase form. Their names correspond to the way they are pronounced in isolation (if that makes sense).
- ы—listen here, does not normally occur at the beginning of a word
Only 6 Sounds (Or Even 5?)
What’s more, there are only 6 sounds (some researchers argue there are actually only 5)! Why is that? Because 4 of the letters are often pronounced as Йй (и кра́ткое, ee kratkoye, “y” consonant sound) plus another vowel. In other cases, they are pronounced like another vowel, but the consonant before them becomes “soft” (palatalized). Here is a handy table explaining the pronunciation of these 4 letters.
|Letter||Pronunciation at the beginning of a word, after another vowel, ь or ъ||Pronunciation after a consonant|
So, all in all, we have 6 vowel sounds:
Similar to Latin
Both the Latin and the Cyrillic alphabet have their roots in the Greek alphabet, so some letters have a similar look and sound in Russian and other European languages that use the Latin alphabet.
- А is similar to A
- Е is similar to E, especially if you see it as the German or Spanish “e” and not the English “ee”
- О is similar to O, again especially in languages that don’t pronounce it as “oh”
Like in many other languages, words that differ by one sound will have different meanings in Russian. For example, мы́ло (mylo) is “soap,” but ми́ло (milo) means “cute.” And neither of them sounds like the name Milo. 🙂
Learning to recognize the vowel letters and to pronounce the corresponding sounds will help you distinguish between similar-sounding words.
Hopefully, this has encouraged you to learn or brush up on your Russian vowels. Is there any letter or sound that you struggle with?
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