Russian is the official language of the Russian Federation, sharing its official status at the regional level with other languages in various ethnic autonomous regions within the Federation. The sound system of Russian is quite similar to that of Belarusian and Ukrainian. Its description below is based on the standard language. Russian has 10 vowels, 21 consonants, a hard sign and a soft sign. 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!
When learning a new language, pronunciation is often one of the hardest aspects to master. Oftentimes, there are sounds in some languages that aren’t found in others. It can sometimes be tricky to teach your mouth to move in new ways! Luckily, Russian spelling and pronunciation are very consistent and logical. Once you learn the sounds and rules, there are no traps you can fall into. You don’t need to focus too much on how Russian is transcribed into the Latin alphabet. Although transcriptions can give you a good idea of how a word sounds, reading them as they are won’t necessarily sound “right”. In this blog, we’ll focus on some of the best ways to learn Russian phonetics:
- Learn to speak Russian Consonants properly – Russian words are famous for having many consonants, often grouped together, called consonant clusters. Consonants are pronounced without aspiration, which occurs when you let out air upon saying certain letters, like k and t. 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.
- Learn the correct pronunciation of Russian Rs – The sound that the Russian language is famous for. It’s called the “alveolar trill.” If your native language doesn’t naturally have this sound or a similar one, it will be an adventure to master it. Let the air pass between the alveolar ridge and your relaxed tongue. The alveolar ridge is that hill on the upper part of your mouth where you put your tongue when saying “t” or “d.”
- 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.
- Use voice recording tools to perfect your pronunciation – The internet has plenty of resources to help you with your Russian pronunciation, so be sure to make thorough use of our recordings with native Russian speakers. These are available to demonstrate to you how you should pronounce Russian vocabulary and sentences and dialogues. Watch and listen to these over and over again to train your ear, and watch the teacher’s mouth as she speaks in the video lessons.
- Learn phonetic markers – Although they’re a part of the Russian alphabet, the soft sign and the hard sign make no vocal sound and are simply phonetic markers. The soft sign softens the consonant before it. 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.
The key to developing a good understanding of how Russian should sound is listening to native speakers. Likewise, the best way to learn how to say words is by repeating the way Russians say them. Are you feeling more confident about your Russian pronunciation now? Which aspects of Russian pronunciation do you find most tricky? Let us know in the comments below.