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Tatiana Kharitonchik, 2014. — 67 p.Master the pronunciation and the music of russian.Welcome to our training, designed specifically for you – a person who wants to speak Russian properly and be easily understood! Our main objective is to get you acquainted with the sounds and the manners of speaking that exist in Russian but do NOT exist in English. It is quite possible to learn how to pronounce Russian correctly: you simply need to master typically Russian sounds, stress, rhythm and intonation. To sum up, the goal is that Russian sounds be no longer a secret to you, as this the only way to master your verbal communication in Russian.
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Pronounce Russian Properly
MASTER THE PRONUNCIATION AND THE MUSIC OF RUSSIAN

TATIANA KHARITONCHIK

Pronounce Russian Properly
Copyright © 2014 Tatiana Kharitonchik
Edited and partially translated by Fabien Snauwaert
Cover by Ulyana Kharitonchik
All rights reserved.

INTRODUCTION
Welcome
Welcome to our training, designed specifically for you – a person who wants to speak Russian
properly and be easily understood! Our main objective is to get you acquainted with the sounds and
the manners of speaking that exist in Russian but do NOT exist in English. It is quite possible to
learn how to pronounce Russian correctly: you simply need to master typically Russian sounds,
stress, rhythm and intonation. To sum up, the goal is that Russian sounds be no longer a secret to
you, as this the only way to master your verbal communication in Russian.
The moment the sounds and the music of Russian become evident to you, understanding and
speaking Russian will become more evident as well. This kind of training is rather fast in
comparison with studying Russian grammar or vocabulary. Where learning grammar or vocabulary
typically takes months, working on the phonetics of a language may be done in a matter of a few
short weeks. Your ears may need some time to get used to all those new sounds (about 15 days) but,
as soon as this happens, many activities will become more accessible. You may, for example,
become able to listen to various songs without having the lyrics in front of you, or to understand
more dialogues in a TV show. Besides, you will understand more clearly what other people are
saying and you will be more articulate and easier to understand in your own communication.
If you are still a beginner in Russian, congratulations. This book and its bonuses will help you
develop good listening and pronunciation habits from the start. Language teaching often neglects
good pronunciation and this then causes a majority of foreign speakers to speak with a thick or hardto-understand accent.
If you have been learning Russian ; for some time now but still struggle with spoken language, the
purpose of this training will be to help you get rid of your bad habits. We will help you understand
what you should have been told from day 1 in your language studies. Sounds and phonetics are
critical to good communication (a language is nothing but sound) and we will help you fix those
issues for you.
No matter where you are coming from, the knowledge gained from this book will help you
enormously if you decide to study another new language because you will have quite a solid base in
phonetics without the impression of studying hard.
The first concept we want you to be aware of is that…

Russian in not a phonetic language
Russian grammar is widely known as the most difficult part of learning Russian. As for English
speaking people in particular, Russian vocabulary is considered to be the second most difficult part

for them, since Russian is a Slavic and not a Germanic language. But why, then, are people who
have learned Russian grammar and vocabulary well enough, still not able to communicate with
native speakers (i.e.: understand their interlocutors or be understood by them clearly)?
The biggest piece of the puzzle here comes from the fact that Russian is NOT a phonetic
language.
A phonetic language is one that is written exactly the way it is pronounced. In a phonetic
language, each sound is written only one way. Because of that, we can guess how to pronounce
words by the way they are written.
It is opposite for any non-phonetic language, such as Russian: a sound can be written in
numerous ways and, vice-versa, a group of letters can be pronounced in different ways, depending
on the word.
In Russian, knowing how to pronounce a word is not enough to write it down. The reverse is true
also: seeing a word in writing is not enough to know how to pronounce it.
This feature of the Russian language explains the majority of problems that people have in
speaking Russian. Unfortunately, it is rarely taken into consideration when teaching Russian. Worst
of all, most language learning is done from text which means that students imagine how Russian is
pronounced, instead of hearing it. Sadly, that is the first way to develop bad habits that will be hard
to get rid of.
Let us briefly compare several languages on the base of their phonetic level. As examples, we
took two of the most phonetic languages – Hungarian and Esperanto – and two languages that are
not phonetic – Russian and English. Then we compared the number of letters in each language’s
alphabet with the number of sounds in each language. The forth column is a percentage that shows
how phonetic each language is. The results are compiled in the following table:
Language

Number of letters in the
alphabet

Number of sounds

Phonetic
language, %

Hungarian

44

40

110%

Esperanto

28

33

85%

Russian

33

50

66%

English

26

44

59%

As you see from the table, Hungarian is more than a phonetic language – the number of letters in
the alphabet is even more than the number of sounds in the spoken language. Esperanto is also quite
phonetic – about 85% of its letters sound the way they are written. On the contrary, Russian and
English are almost alike – we can say their alphabets are both roughly 60% phonetic. Moreover, if
we were to compare the number of sounds in a language not only with the number of letters in the
alphabet but, also, with the number of ways those sounds can be written, the difference would be
even bigger!

So… why do we tell you all that? Simply because we want you to understand that this is the true
difficulty of learning Russian pronunciation. We need to keep this difficulty in mind and keep
working on it. If you do not know how to pronounce Russian properly, it is NOT your fault: the
pronunciation of Russian cannot be guessed, it has to be learned.
The function of phonetics
There are two benefits in studying Russian phonetics:
•
•

First, you will learn to better hear spoken Russian;
Then, you will also learn to better articulate the sounds of Russian and produce the
“music” of the language.

Strictly in this order. You can only pronounce correctly something once you hear it correctly!
Scientists discovered that during the first few months of our lives, we hear and recognize the
sounds of all the languages in the world. Meanwhile, unconsciously, our brains collect different
sorts of statistics about the language around us. Later, when we are 8 to 10 months old, our brains
start optimizing: they stop being able to recognize sounds that are not found in our environment, to
solely focus on the sounds found in the native language around us. Basically, our brain is like any
other muscle – it gets stronger in areas where we use it and weaker in areas where we do not. It
means that there are numerous sounds that we used to be able to hear as infants, but cannot
discriminate anymore as adults.
So what can we do about it? We have to train our ears to hear those sounds again by exposing
ourselves to those sounds again. We need to learn to discriminate between those sounds again, to
distinguish them.
Learning Russian phonetics is challenging at first. For starters, it is rather difficult to find
phonetic transcriptions of Russian words in dictionaries. The pronunciation rules of the Russian text
are rather strict but, at the same time, they are quite complicated and include exceptions. As we saw
above, the pronunciation of Russian letters varies, depending on the word it is in. For example, the
letter "A" can be pronounced in 5 different ways!
Russian phonetics is quite a complex subject in Russian, so we will tackle it gradually, getting
your intuition to work for you. If you listen to all kinds of Russian audio regularly and follow our
instructions, you will be able to “re-acclimate yourself” to hear the difference between all the sounds
of Russian.
There is something satisfying in knowing that your brain never stops learning new things, isn’t
there? It is a very powerful and flexible instrument that we can and should improve and develop
every single day.

Master spoken Russian
This training is a phonetics course of a new kind. Phonetics is an art and a science that teaches us
to detect and reproduce the sounds of a language. It includes the individual sounds of a language
but, also, the “music” of a language, that is: its stress, rhythm and intonation.
Notice that the list here is quite short, which is even better for us, because it can be learned faster:
sounds, stress, rhythm and intonation.
The goal of this training is not to overload you with theories you will never apply. Phonetics is a
field that evolves all the time and where almost everything is subject to debate. Instead, what we
offer you here is a way to discover everything you need to know about Russian phonetics in a
simple, clear, relaxed yet efficient way.

HOW TO USE THE BOOK
Free audio bonus
In this book we offer you to try a special technique to model your pronunciation after that of
native speakers, along with material to practice. To do that, first, please, go on the course web-page
and download the audio content attached to the Lecture 38.
Once you have done that, you are ready for the exercise. The technique itself and the exercise are
described in detail below.

Conventions
In this book we use the following conventions in order to improve your reading experience:
•
•
•
•
•

Every word is transcribed using the IPA symbols (read about this concept in detail in the
next chapter). Such transcriptions are put between two slashes (//) ;
The stress in a transcription is marked by the “ˈ” symbol;
Palatalization is marked by the /ʲ/ superscript in transcriptions;
The stress in a word is marked by underlining the stressed syllable;
Words or parts of words, we want to draw your attention to, are indicated in bold.

For example:
абсолютно /ɐpsɐˈlʲʉtnə/ absolutely.

INTERNATIONAL PHONETIC ALPHABET
While reading the book, you will notice that every example is transcribed phonetically. Since
Russian is not a phonetic language, it is very useful to have a tool to help us write down words the
way we pronounce them.
That has become possible with the invention of the International Phonetic Alphabet, also
known as the IPA. The IPA lets us write any language phonetically. In fact, this alphabet was
originally designed to reform the way we write English. Well, this idea has never been put into
action, but the IPA stayed and today helps us transcribe the pronunciation of all the languages in the
world. If you decide to learn, say, Mandarin, tomorrow, you might be able to learn how to read it
without learning ideograms, but simply using the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the long term,
you would of course want to learn how to read the regular way but, in order to get rid of any doubt,
in the pronunciation of the most important words, the IPA could save you hours and hours of
research. The same can be said of Russian.
So, we will use the IPA in this book mostly for the examples. If you need to check the
pronunciation of some text, or if you want to compare the pronunciation of two words, you can do
so thanks to their phonetic transcriptions. The way the IPA works will be self-evident as you
proceed reading the book. You do not really need to do anything special, just read the examples of
the book and listen to the audio bonuses offered as companions to this book. If you would like to
learn more on the topic, we give you some useful links at the end of the book.
Lastly, we would like to comment on the examples used in the book. We have chosen each
example in such a way that it would really prove useful to you: we mean it, REALLY useful. We
have chosen our examples according to the frequency of their usage in spoken Russian. It means that
after having read this book, you will know how to pronounce and stress correctly over 300 of the
most important words in spoken Russian… simply because you will learn Russian phonetics with
them! This will help you tremendously. You will never find any word in this book that is rare and
cannot be used in speech and would just disrupt your learning process.

USING AN AUDIO EDITOR
We mentioned above that we offer you to try a special technique to work on your pronunciation.
Now, we will describe it in detail.
The exercise is very straightforward: you simply need to repeat after the recording. But! You will
be using a special piece of software to let you do so efficiently. Basically, you can use any type of
an audio editor you know. We recommend you to try the program Audacity.
Audacity is a free, easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor. Go on the official website
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ and just download it free of charge. The application is also very easy
to install (simply follow the author’s instructions).
Using an audio editor will let you see sounds in addition to hearing them. It will be a great help to
stay focused, be precise and zoom in on any challenge you face.
Having bought this course, you have also received the opportunity to use the audio tracks. Now is
the right time for this. You have already downloaded audio tracks from the course web-page. Let us
show you how to use it with an example. Imagine you have come across such text:

See MP3 file “00 - Pronounce Russian Properly - Tatiana Kharitonchik - Welcome”

Добро пожаловать на наш тренинг, разработанный специально для тебя – человека,
который хочет говорить по-русски правильно и понятно!
Welcome to our training, designed specifically for you – a person who wants to speak Russian
properly and be easily understood!
Now, follow the instructions:
•

Open Audacity and click on File  Open.

•

Find the bonus folder and open it.

•

Choose the file named “Welcome” (it is in MP3 format). That’s it! You are ready to start
the exercise.

You will see that, for each new Russian sound, we have created a table with the most frequent
words that contain that sound. After having read about the articulation of a particular sound, open
the matching MP3 file in Audacity.
We can almost hear your question: why did I have to bother installing a new kind of software if I
already have an audio player? Do not worry; there is a method in our madness. In fact, you are not

going just to listen to the recording and repeat AFTER it. You are going to do it WITH the
recording. To put it another way, your goal is to synchronize your voice with that of the
recording. This will let you not only instantly hear if you pronounce the sound correctly or not, it
will also let you keep an eye on the length of the sound (or syllable or word) to make sure you are
in sync and using the same rhythm as the native speaker.
Now, we will show you how to use the software for this purpose. You have already opened the
file named “Test” in Audacity. In the upper left corner, look for the toolbar we are going to use:

To work on one particular sound, it seems to be reasonable to zoom in. Use the Zoom tool
and click on the audio track to zoom in. Hold down the ‘Shift’ key and do the same thing to zoom
out. After you have reached the scale you need, switch back to the Selection tool
. Now select the
sound or syllable, or word you want to listen to and press the Space key on your keyboard to start
playing it. You can press the Space key as many times as you like. This way the program will play
one particular part of a recording over and over until you “get” it.
First, listen very attentively, several times in a row, to the sound you are studying.
Then, repeat after the recording and try to synchronize your voice with the recording.
Keep at it and it will get easier and easier. That is all we meant to say before actually starting
with the training. Let us finally discover the sounds and “music” of the Russian language!

PART I. PRONUNCIATION
Attitude
In this section we are going to learn how to distinguish and pronounce new sounds. These sounds
will serve us the rest of our life in Russian and, probably, even in other languages.
The best attitude you can adopt here is to look at it as a game. You are going to “wake up” your
ears and your brain and, also, to learn how to use your tongue, your mouth, your jaw and your vocal
cords in a different way, in order to produce new sounds.
As a matter of fact, often time, you do not need to do anything special to learn – you just need to
be willing to try new things. That is exactly the case with pronunciation. For example, it might feel
weird to learn how to produce the /ʂ/ (as in “что” /ʂto/, “what”) sound because it seems to be similar
to the English /ʃ/ sound (as in “ship”) and yet the articulation is very different – you need to keep the
tongue almost at the roof of your mouth and press both sides of the tongue with your upper molars
for the Russian sound, while in English you place the tongue much lower and do not use your teeth
at all. Consider this kind of activity a small adventure and have fun reproducing the sound you hear
to get used to it. Prepare to work outside of your comfort zone when doing that; it is not only totally
normal, it is even better! It is a good thing. This feeling of novelty is proof that we are, in fact,
learning.
So, simply keep an open and positive attitude and you will make rapid progress in speaking
Russian. Do not take things too seriously and just enjoy discovering new things to improve your
spoken Russian.

Getting used to foreign sounds
As we have seen above, there are 50 Russian sounds. A majority of those Russian sounds exist
also in English. As for the rest of them, we are going to study each one of them separately and in
detail.
In order to pronounce a language well, first, it is a must to hear it well. This means that, in the
course of the next days, we are going to wake up our brain, so that it may recognize the sounds that
we are interested in. This phenomenon occurs naturally when you try to hear the difference between
English and Russian sounds in everything you listen to. The more often you ask your brain to
perceive that difference, the faster it happens. It does not mean you should force yourself all the
time; it rather means that you should do it consistently. It is very important for you to listen to
Russian regularly, to put theory in practice. Gradually, your ears will open, your conscious efforts
will pay off; overall, it will become easier to hear those new Russian sounds. Finally, it will become
rather automatic. Try it and you will be surprised how quickly those new sounds become a part of
you.

The human ears and brain are fantastic “machines”, and believe us, with some regular practice
and thanks to this method, you are going to learn how to distinguish all the sounds that exist in
Russian even if they sound all the same in the beginning.

The method
For each sound that exists in Russian but not in English we are going to see in detail how it
functions. The books on phonetics, in Russian as well as in English, are not usually practice-oriented
enough for Anglophones. So far, most often, those books are only in a text format. However, in a
topic like phonetics, it is critical to have something to listen to! That is why we offer you the bonus
we mentioned earlier. You are going not only to read about Russian phonetics but, also, to apply it,
in practice, by going through those exercises.
Moreover, too many Russian textbooks do not focus on phonetics in details. They only give you
an overall impression and are not specifically designed for English speaking people. Someone
whose native language is Asian is not going to face the same challenges as an Anglophone, for
example.
Here, we are going to approach each sound in different ways. First of all, we will explain you
how to succeed in hearing the sound more easily by simply comparing it with other similar – yet
different – English sounds.
Then we will precisely explain you how to articulate the sound – that is: which parts of your
mouth and the rest of your vocal tract you can use to produce the sound. We will show you that by
indicating which muscles to put into action – those muscles are the only true leverage we have to
develop good pronunciation.
Finally, we will give you lots of examples, which were not chosen at random, but based on their
frequency of use in the real, spoken, Russian language.

Your vocal tract
Basically, when we speak any language, we play with the passage of air in our mouth. We
produce consonants by blocking this stream of air and vowels by letting the air pass.
The placement of the tip or/and the back of the tongue, the form of the mouth, the position of the
jaw, the place where we vibrate the sound (e.g.: the mouth, the throat) – these are all the elements
we can play on when producing some particular sound. That is why we would like to introduce you
to the little world of your vocal tract. It will let you gain control over the mechanism of pronouncing
any desirable Russian sound.
Below, you will see the illustration of a human vocal tract. It is also called sometimes soundproducing or vocal apparatus. You can observe the mouth, the throat and all the elements we are

going to rely on for good pronunciation. You use these parts of your body automatically every day
when you speak English. Now, you are going to learn how to use them, so that they may serve you
in speaking Russian more easily.

Source: By Megsmith (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via
Wikimedia Commons

See MP3 file “01 - Part I - Your vocal tract”

Now, we are going to draw your attention to the parts that will help you pronounce Russian. The
idea is to become aware of the different ways we can use our vocal tract to produce different sounds.
Repeat examples out loud for that purpose. The goal is to wake up your muscles in order to create
new options for pronunciation. Think of it as a sort of gymnastics for your tongue.

The mouth and the lips
Your mouth can be more or less open or closed vertically – this function is controlled by your
jaw. Your mouth can also be more or less open horizontally – thanks to the muscles in your cheeks.
Finally, your lips can be rounded as in the diphthong /ou/ or rather relaxed and loose. Become fully
aware of these three options by playing with them. Open and close your mouth vertically with the
help of your jaw… Now, horizontally, using the muscles of your cheeks… and finally round up and
then relax your mouth, using the muscles around your lips.
The tongue
Basically, by choosing where to place our tongue we produce certain types of consonants or
vowels. We are going to make a distinction between two parts of the tongue – the tip and the back of
the tongue.
For consonants, we will mostly play with the placement of the tip of the tongue.
For vowels, we will also pay attention to the placement of the tip of the tongue but, besides, we
will talk about the top of the back of the tongue. All in all, it means that there are two options: to
position the tip of the tongue more to the front or more to the back (i.e.: on a horizontal axis) and to
position the back of the tongue more or less high in the mouth (i.e.: on a vertical axis).
We would like you to fully realize how you can play with these two axes of your tongue. It is
utterly important because it is basically all you need to know to pronounce most of the sounds found
in Russian. You can play with the depth: is your tongue more or less to the front or to the back of
your mouth? You can play with the height: when you pronounce a vowel, is the top of your tongue
closer to the jaw or to the palate? (You can open your jaw more or less in that process.)
Putting the tongue in the right place according to these two axes has become second nature for
you in English a long time ago. You do not pay attention to those positions anymore but the truth is
that, in order to emit one sound rather than another, you place the tongue in a very precise position.
For example, for the sound /i/ as in “seed” the tongue is more to the front and the top while for the
sound /u/ as in “food” it is also at the top but, as for the backness, it is more to the back of the
mouth. Compare the sensations for each sound: /i/ (“seed”), /u/ (“food”). The sound /ɪ/ as in “lid” is
somewhere in between these two, close to the front of the mouth but not as much as /i/. Compare:
/i/, /ɪ/, /u/ (respectively “seed”, “lid”, “food”). Your tongue goes back step by step, all the while
staying at the top of your mouth – /i/, /ɪ/, /u/ (“seed”, “lid”, “food”). All this is natural for you; you
have no reason to think about it when you speak English.
In Russian, in order to pronounce the /ʉ/ sound (as in “абсолютно” /ɐpsɐˈlʲʉtnə/ absolutely), for
example, we need to adopt a new position for our tongue. Place your tongue at the top of the mouth.
As for backness, it should be in the middle, exactly halfway between the /i/ as in “seed” and the /u/
as in “food”: /i/, /ʉ/, /u/ (“seed”, “абсолютно”, “food”).

Your tongue and your brain have certain mechanisms to go from one place to another, so we are
going to create new mechanisms like that for the sounds that are typically Russian. We will learn
how to position each of them somewhere halfway between English sounds we already know.
The lips
When we pronounce a sound, the lips can be rounded or relaxed, as we mentioned before. Good
examples to practice this are the English sounds /ɔ/ as in “fall” and /ʌ/ as in “mud”. These two
sounds are articulated exactly at the same place in your mouth with the tongue at the back and
almost at the bottom of the mouth, with your mouth quite open. Their only difference is the form of
your lips: /ɔ/, /ʌ/ (“fall”, “mud”). For the /ɔ/ sound your lips are rounded, while for the /ʌ/ sound
they are quite relaxed (repeat again: “fall”, “mud”).
The vocal cords
As for the vocal cords (also known as vocal folds), there are two options: you can make them
vibrate or leave them to rest. A very simple way to feel the difference is to whisper: when you
whisper your vocal cords do not vibrate at all. We will let you try…Whisper something…For
example, “When I whisper my vocal cords do not vibrate.”
When you speak normally, your vocal cords vibrate for all vowel sounds, and they vibrate or not
for consonants, depending on the consonant. Pronounce the following two series of sounds to feel
whether your vocal cords vibrate or not:
•

When you produce these sounds, your vocal cords rest, they do not vibrate:
/t/ (T as in “to”)
/p/ (P as in “people”)
/f/ (F as in “for”)
/k/ (K as in “can”)
/s/ (S as in “so”)
/ʃ/ (SH as in “she”)

•

When you produce these sounds, your vocal cords vibrate:
/d/ (D as in “do”)
/b/ (B as in “be”)
/v/ (V as in “have”)
/g/ (G as in “go”)
/z/ (Z as in “zoo”)
/dʒ/ (DG as in “badge”, J as in “jam” or G as in “giant”)

When your vocal cords vibrate, you can feel this vibration at the top of the throat. Put the palm of
your hand on your throat to verify it. Even without this little trick, if you pay proper attention to
what is going on in your vocal tract, you can still feel that the vibration is mostly in the throat when

vocal cords vibrate while it is solely in your mouth when vocal cords rest. It is better to let the sound
last longer to properly identify this sensation.
Without the vibration of vocal cords: /ttt/ /ppp/ /fff/ /kkk/ /sss/ /ʃʃʃ/;
With the vibration of vocal cords: /ddd/ /bbb/ /vvv/ /ggg/ /zzz/ /ʒʒʒ/.
Remember: /ʃ/ as in “she”, /ʒ/ as in “jam.”
The glottis
The glottis is situated inside the throat and before the vocal cords. It is the beginning of the throat
if you will. It is exactly where the /h/ (as in “home”) sound is produced.
The alveolar ridge
The alveolar ridge is an upper jaw ridge, situated on the roof of your mouth, between the upper
teeth and the hard palate (see illustration). If you place your tongue right behind your top teeth, you
will feel kind of a bump: that is the alveolar ridge. In English, a series of consonants is pronounced
by touching the alveolar ridge: /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/.

Russian consonants
Consonants and consonant sounds
A consonant is a speech sound produced by a partial or complete obstruction of the air stream by
the position of the tongue, teeth or lips. Opposed to consonants are vowels. In writing, we use
consonant letters as found in the alphabet. In speaking, we use consonant sounds.
Consonants play a significant role in Russian. First of all, there are 21 consonant letters, in
comparison to only 10 vowel letters. And the gap gets even bigger when talking about sounds:
Russian has 36 consonant sounds and only 14 vowel sounds. But do not worry; it is not as bad as it
looks! Most consonant sounds come in hard–soft pairs (30 to be precise.) More than that, you
already know 26 of these 30 (you just need to practice them a little to sound Russian). Here they are:
HARD /b/

/v/

/g/

/d/

/z/

/k/

/l/

/m/

/n/

/p/

/r/

/s/

/t/

/f/

/x/

/bʲ/

/vʲ/

/gʲ/

/dʲ/

/zʲ/

/kʲ/

/lʲ/

/mʲ/ /nʲ/

/pʲ/

/rʲ/

/sʲ/

/tʲ/

/fʲ/

/xʲ/

SOFT

The only difference between hard and soft consonants is that soft sounds are palatalized. This
phenomenon is described in detail in the next chapter.
6 other consonants do not form pairs:

Always HARD

/ʐ/ /ʂ/ /ʦ/

Always SOFT

/ʨ/ /ɕ/ /j/

The sound /j/ (Y as in “yellow”) is just the same as in English (its symbol may just seem a little
counter-intuitive to an American eye.)
As for /ʐ/, /ʂ/, /ɕ/, it is true – they are new to you. That is why we give you all the necessary
information about each sound separately in the following chapters (including articulation and lots of
examples).
The sounds /ʦ/ and /ʨ/ are simply combinations of the sound /t/ and, respectively, /s/ and /ɕ/.
To sum up, in terms of Russian consonants, we have 5 new consonant sounds, 2 combinations of
sounds and palatalization to learn. . To make things more clear, in the following sections we will
divide all Russian consonants into 3 groups: 1) sounds found in both languages identically 2) sounds
found only in Russian 3) sounds that exist in English but are slightly different in Russian. But first,
let us pay attention to the phenomenon called “Palatalization”.
Palatalization
We mentioned before that most Russian consonants come in hard-soft pairs. Now, it is time to
sort out how palatalization makes a consonant soft.
The process we are going to describe causes softening of a consonant sound by pushing the
middle of a tongue closer to the palate. That is why it is called palatalization of a consonant.
For example, in the word кино /kʲiˈno/ (movie), the letter “к” is palatalized. It sounds similar to
the combination of "k" and "y" in the English phrase "thank you". Compare: “thank you” (soft “k”,
/kʲ/) and “cold” (hard “k” /k/).
Palatalization means that the consonant is pronounced as if followed very closely by the
sound /j/ (like the sound of "y" in "yellow"). In the IPA transcriptions, palatalized consonants are
indicated with a superscript "j" (e.g.: шить /ʂɨtʲ/ to sew).
In Russian, pronouncing a sound clearly hard or clearly soft is critically important because, often,
the softness or hardness of the consonant is the only difference between two words. There is a
similar phenomenon in linguistics – minimal pairs: in a pair of such words only one sound is
different (like ship/sheep). Sometimes, palatalization has the same impact on words. Let us give you
an example.
Кров /krof/ - this word refers to any kind of accommodation.
But кровь /krofʲ/ - means blood.

See MP3 file “02 - Part I - Palatalization - How to transition from t (hard) to tʲ (soft)”

Supposedly, the easiest palatalized sound for English speaking people is /tʲ/. In the beginning, let
us produce the hard Russian /t/ sound.
How to transition from /t/ (hard) to /tʲ/ (soft)
The difference between most English and Russian hard consonants is the position of the tip of the
tongue. So, produce the English /t/ sound and then move the tip of your tongue from the alveolar
ridge right to the bottom of your two top front teeth, and press it towards the teeth. Breathe out
intensely, and you will hear the Russian /t/ sound (hard). To make the sound more clear, help
yourself with the lips, curving them as if you were smiling. This should also narrow the distance
between your front and lower teeth. It is important that only the tip touches the teeth, the rest of your
tongue sags a little so that it is not too close to the palate.
Now, we will slightly change the articulation to get the /tʲ/ sound (soft.) Keep the position of your
mouth as before (with the smile and the tip of the tongue touching the teeth) and slowly start curving
down the tip of your tongue until the middle part of your tongue touches the alveolar ridge. That is
the exact position for the /tʲ/ sound: the middle part of the tongue right behind an alveolar ridge; the
tip of the tongue is close (or on) the lower teeth; the mouth is narrow and smiling.
It will be easier for you to transition from the hard to the soft sound the first few times. Once you
got it, you can start right away with the soft /tʲ/.
This description applies to most Russian soft consonants: /gʲ/, /dʲ/, /zʲ/, /kʲ/, /lʲ/, /nʲ/, /sʲ/, /tʲ/, /rʲ/,
/xʲ/. For the rest of the sounds, the mechanism is different. They can be tentatively broken down into
two groups: /bʲ/, /mʲ/, /pʲ/ and /vʲ/, /fʲ/.
For the first group (/bʲ/, /mʲ/, /pʲ/), let us take the /bʲ/ sound as an example. The manner of
articulation for the Russian /b/ sound (just like in English) is closing the lips together and
subsequent rapid opening (explosion). When palatalizing it, you need to move your lips a little bit
forward and press them one against the other. But it is not enough to get the right sound. The tongue
plays an important role. Feel the way it is placed when you pronounce an English /j/ sound (like in
“yellow”). Both sides of the tongue are pressed by upper molars. Now place the tongue this way and
close your mouth. Push forward and press your lips and breathe out with some tension: /bʲ/.
For the second group (/vʲ/, /fʲ/), let us take the /vʲ/ sound as an example. The only difference
between the articulation of /bʲ/ and /vʲ/ is the position of your lips. So you need to combine the usual
articulation of an English /v/ sound and palatalization (i.e. tongue between upper molars and tension
in the lips as if you were smiling).
Finally, let us see some examples to practice this phenomenon. Pronounce words in which
palatalization changes the meaning. Minimal pairs are the best way to feel the difference:

See MP3 file “03 - Part I - Palatalization - Minimal pairs for palatalization”

/t/ and /tʲ/: балет /bɐˈlʲet/ ballet BUT болеть /bɐˈlʲetʲ/ to be ill;
/b/ and /bʲ/: быть /bɨtʲ/ to be BUT бить /bʲitʲ/ to beat;
/v/ and /vʲ/: вал /val/ rampart BUT вял /vʲæl/ sluggish.
Consonant sounds found in both languages identically
For the sounds found in both languages identically (10), we have created a table with those
consonants you know, an example in English and in Russian for each sound, so that you can make
proper associations between both languages.

See MP3 file “04 - Part I - Consonant sounds found in both languages identically”

Consonant sound you
KNOW
/b/

Example in English

Example in Russian

buy

брать /bratʲ/ to take

/v/

have

вы /vɨ/ you (plural or polite singular)

/g/

guy

гулять /guˈlʲætʲ/ to walk

/z/

zoo

знать /znatʲ/ to know

/k/

sky

как /kak/ how

/m/

my

мы /mɨ/ we

/p/

pie

потом /pɐˈtom/ later

/s/

so

сейчас /sʲɪjˈʨas/ now

/f/

fan

все /fsʲe/ everybody

/j/

yes

я /jæ/ I

Consonant sounds that exist in English but are slightly different in Russian
We have told you above that you already know 26 consonants; they sound the same as in English.
And we also mentioned that there is a little nuance in the pronunciation of 4 of them (in order to
sound more Russian). By that we meant that the articulation of the sounds /n/, /l/, /d/ and /t/ is
slightly different.

The American English /n/, /l/, /d/ and /t/ sounds are formed by placing the tip of the tongue
behind your upper front teeth, usually on the alveolar ridge. Using just the tip of the tongue makes
the sounds “lighter”.
The corresponding Russian sounds are pronounced with the tongue tip flat and wide, placed
before the ridge, pushing against the upper front teeth. This creates a “heavier” sound.
Here are 4 Russian-English minimal pairs. Try to pronounce first the English word and then its
Russian counterpart to hear the difference:

See MP3 file “05 - Part I - Consonant sounds that exist in English but are slightly
different in Russian”

/l/: look – лук /luk/ (onion)
/d/: data – дата /ˈdatə/ (date)
/n/: no – но /no/ (but)
/t/: talk – ток /tok/ (electric current)
Consonant sounds that do not exist in English
Now, let us describe 5 Russian consonant sounds that do not exist in General American English
in proper detail. We are going to pay attention to the manner and the place of their articulation, and
see numerous examples to make sure you produce them right.
The /ʂ/ sound (что)
/ʂ/ as in “что”. The top 5 words with this sound are: что /ʂto/, ничто /nʲɪʂˈto/, что-то /vɨ/,
конечно /kɐˈnʲeʂnə/, хорошо /xərɐˈʂo/.
Hissing sounds are difficult to pronounce even for a 6 years old Russian kid. So, do not be too
harsh on yourself and do not panic either. Most often that happens because they are too young to
understand the mechanism of the pronunciation of such sounds. Kids just try to imitate what they
hear, and most of the time it works, but not so well in this case. Read our explanations and you will
get there!
Besides, you should know that the /ʂ/ sound is a sort of a base for a group of hissing sounds —
/ɕ/, /ʦ/, /ʨ/, /ʐ/. It means that any error in learning this base sound might cause problems in others.
Be attentive!
The bottom line is that the articulation here is of the utmost importance. Being able to pronounce
hissing sounds is a question of reflex – which means practice. So, first, we will give you some tricks
on how to pronounce this sound and, second, we will offer you a couple of tongue twisters to work
on what you have learned.

Let us get started. The /ʂ/ sound does not exist in English. Although most English-speaking
people would say it sounds like an English /ʃ/ (as in the word "ship"), there is a sufficient difference
between them. Russian /ʂ/ is always non-palatalized, hard. You will see what we mean once we will
describe the mechanism of its pronunciation.
When pronouncing the /ʂ/ sound, our speech organs take the following position:
•
•
•
•

•

Lips are pushed forward. Do not hesitate to overdo it in the beginning, later you will get
used to the sound and your lips will be placed naturally;
The mouth and teeth are slightly opened;
The tongue is wide and placed up to the roof of the mouth, on the alveolar ridge. The
tongue does not touch the roof of the mouth; there is a narrow slot between them;
Both sides of the tongue are pressed against upper molars, so that the air stream is
centralized. As you breathe out, push forward your lips and at the same time hold your
tongue between the teeth. The middle part of the tongue sags;
The vocal cords are relaxed, so that the sound is not voiced.

These instructions are very detailed and might seem complicated at first, but read them carefully
step by step and try to implement them. At first, it may be difficult and even painful to produce the
sound (just because it is different from English and you will try to pronounce it many times in a
row), so do not overdo it at the beginning, give it time, relax your muscles and practice.
Let us see some examples…

See MP3 file “06 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ʂ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ʂ/ sound
что

/ʂto/

what

ничто

/nʲɪʂˈto/

nothing

что-то

/ˈʂtotə/

something 1

конечно

/kɐˈnʲeʂnə/

of course

хорошо

/xərɐˈʂo/

good

1

The word 3 among the most frequent ones “что-то” and the word 1 among those that contain the sound in the
beginning of a word “что-нибудь” have both the same translation in English - “something”. The difference in usage is
easier to see with specific examples.
1) Он рассказывал что-то интересное (He was telling something interesting – we do not know what exactly).
2) Расскажите что-нибудь интересное (Tell us something interesting – it does not matter what)

5 words with the /ʂ/ sound at the beginning of a word
что-нибудь

/ˈʂtonʲɪbutʲ/

something

шесть

/ʂɛstʲ/

six

штука

/ˈʂtukə/

thing

шить

/ʂɨtʲ/

to sew

шоколад

/ʂəkɐˈlat/

chocolate

5 words with the /ʂ/ sound in the middle of a word
слушать

/ˈsluʂətʲ/

to listen

девушка

/ˈdʲevuʂkə/

adolescent girl

бабушка

/ˈbabuʂkə/

grandmother

лучше

/ˈluʨʂɪ/

better

книжка

/ˈknʲiʂkə/

book 2

5 words with the /ʂ/ sound at the end of a word
уж

/uʂ/

already 3

замуж

/ˈzamuʂ/

to marry 4

слышь

/slɨʂ/

картридж

/ˈkartrʲɪtʂ/

listen (imperative, 2-nd
person singular) 5
cartridge

ваш

/vaʂ/

your/yours 6

Once you manage to pronounce the /ʂ/ sound, try these tongue twisters to help you further perfect
this sound.

2

If you look up in any dictionary you will only find the word “книга”. In the Russian language, the use of
diminutive suffixes is pretty wide. “Книжка” means also a book but depending on the speaker denotes affection or
small size or something else.
3
Shortened form of “уже”
4
“Выйти замуж” – to marry. You can say that only about a woman. Etymology: за /za/ (behind) + муж /muʐ /
(husband). Literally: "behind the husband".
5
Very familiar, even vulgar
6
Your (possessive), yours (2nd-person singular formal or 2nd-person plural).

See MP3 file “07 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tongue
twisters for the ʂ sound”

Шла Саша по шоссе и сосала сушку.
/ʂla

ˈSaʂə pə ʂəsˈsɛ i sɐˈsalə ˈsuʂku/

Sasha was walking along the road and was eating (‘sucking’) a ‘sushka’.
(Sushka is a traditional Russian tea bread. It is a small, crunchy, mildly sweet bread ring which can
be eaten for dessert.)
Тише, мыши! Кот на крыше! Зашумите - он услышит!
/ˈtʲiʂɪ

ˈmɨʂɨ ! kot nə ˈkrɨʂɪ !

zəʂuˈmʲitʲɪ - on us'lɨʂɪt/

Hush, mice! Cat is on the roof! You will rustle - he will hear!
These expressions are called tongue twisters for a reason. So start pronouncing them very slowly
and speed up time after time.
The /ʐ/ sound (уже)
/ʐ/ as in “уже”. The top 5 words with this sound are: уже /uˈʐɛ/, тоже /ˈtoʐe/, нужно /ˈnuʐnə/,
пожалуйста /pɐˈʐɑləstə/, может /ˈmoʐɪt/.
This sound is pronounced just the same as /ʂ/. Your speech organs take that exact position. The
only difference is that your vocal cords are NOT relaxed; the /ʐ/ sound is voiced.
If you are not sure that you pronounce it correctly (the voiced part), put the palm of your hand to
the front of your neck. If you do it right, you will feel the vibration.
As mentioned before, /ʐ/ and /ʂ/ are always hard, even when the spelling contains a "softening"
letter after them, as in жить /ʐitʲ/ to live.
Here are some examples for you to practice this sound…

See MP3 file “08 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ʐ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ʐ/ sound
уже

/uˈʐɛ/

already

тоже

/ˈtoʐe/

also

нужно

/ˈnuʐnə/

necessary

пожалуйста

/pɐˈʐɑləstə/

please

может

/ˈmoʐɪt/

may be

5 words with the /ʐ/ sound at the beginning of a word
жалко

/ˈʐɑlkə/

it’s a pity

жарко

/ˈʐarkə/

hot

жуть

/ʐutʲ/

horror

жёлтый

/ˈʐɵltɨj/

yellow

жизнь

/ʐɨzʲnʲ/

life

5 words with the /ʐ/ sound in the middle of a word
подождать

/pədɐˈʐdatʲ/

to wait

приезжать

/prʲɪjɪʐʐˈatʲ/

to arrive

мужик

/muˈʐɨk/

dude 7

ужасный

/uˈʐasnɨj/

horrible

мороженое

/mɐˈroʐɨnəjə/

ice-cream

5 words with the /ʐ/ sound at the end of a word
There are no words that end with this sound
Just like for the previous sound, only after proper study of all the examples shown in the table
above, try to practice the following tongue twisters.

7

Slang word for “мужчина” (man).

See MP3 file “09 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tongue
twisters for the ʐ sound”

Жить - поживать, да добра наживать.
/ʐɨtʲ

- pəʐɨˈvatʲ ,

dɐ dɐbˈra nəʐɨˈvatʲ/

Live happily ever after.
Дружба дружбой, а служба службой.
/ˈdruʐbə ˈdruʐbəj, a ˈsluʐbə ˈsluʐbəj/
Friends are O.K, when they do not get in the way.
We want to remind you again that you would rather not rush into learning those tongue twisters
by heart or spending too much time at once. You should learn everything at your own pace.
The /ɕ/ sound (вообще)
/ɕ/ as in “вообще”. The top 5 words with this sound are: вообще /vəɐpˈɕɕe/, общий /ˈobɕɕɪj/,
ещё /jɪˈɕɕɵ/, общаться /ɐpˈɕɕaʦə/, насчёт /nɐˈɕɕɵt/.
Articulation of this sound is also quite similar to the /ʂ/ sound:
•
•
•
•

The mouth and teeth are slightly opened;
The tongue is wide and placed up to the roof of a mouth, on the alveolar ridge. The
tongue does not touch the roof; there is a slot between them;
Both sides of the tongue are pressed by upper molars, so that the air stream is centralized;
The vocal cords are relaxed, so that the sound is not voiced.

Now, let us highlight the difference:
•

•
•

•

Lips are NOT pushed forward. Imagine that you are smiling very widely. At the same
time, your mouth is almost closed, so the smile is going to be pretty narrow. Again, do not
hesitate to overdo smiling in the beginning;
Unlike the /ʂ/ sound, your tongue is not supposed to sag when you produce this sound. It
is wide and flat;
Another difference is that your tongue is pressed by upper molars more strongly and
tensely than for previous ones. Moreover instead of sagging, the middle part of the tongue
is going up and almost touches the hard palate;
Air stream comes out with some tension. If you hold the palm in front of the mouth, you
will feel the difference when pronouncing each sound in turn;

•

This sound is pronounced longer (almost twice longer) than previous ones. That is why,
when transcribing, we usually double the sign for this sound.

Finally, let us see some examples…

See MP3 file “10 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ɕ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ɕ/ sound
вообще

/vəɐpˈɕɕe/

generally

общий

/ˈobɕɕɪj/

common

ещё

/jɪˈɕɕɵ/

more

общаться

/ɐpˈɕɕaʦə/

to communicate

насчёт

/nɐˈɕɕɵt/

concerning

5 words with the /ɕ/ sound at the beginning of a word
щас

/ɕɕas/

now 8

счёт

/ɕɕɵt/

account/bill/score

счастье

/ˈɕɕæsʲtʲjə/

happiness

щенок

/ɕɕɪˈnok/

puppy

щит

/ɕɕit/

shield

5 words with the /ɕ/ sound in the middle of a word
общага

/ɐpˈɕɕæɡə/

dormitory 9

засчитать

/zəɕɕɪˈtatʲ/

to rule 10

вещи

/ˈvʲeɕɕɪ/

things/stuff

женщина

/ˈʐɛnʲɕɕɪnə/

woman

следующий

/ˈslʲedujuççɪj/

next

8

Slang word for “сейчас” (now)
Slang word for “общежитие” (dormitory)
10
Example: Судья решил засчитать гол - The referee ruled that the goal stood.
9

5 words with the /ɕ/ sound at the end of a word
борщ

/borɕɕ/

borscht 11

помощь

/ˈpoməɕɕ/

help

товарищ

/tɐˈvarʲɪɕɕ/

comrade 12

плащ

/plaɕɕ/

cloak

овощ

/ˈovəɕɕ/

vegetable

Now, let us check out tongue twisters for this sound.

See MP3 file “11 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tongue
twisters for the ɕ sound”

Щуку

и леща

/ˈççuku i lʲɪˈçça

в роще не сыщешь.
v ˈroççɪ

nʲe ˈsɨççɪʂ/

You will not find both a pike and a bream in the grove.
Щёткой чищу я

щенка - щекочу ему

бока (С. Маршак).

/ˈççɵtkəj ˈʦiççu ja ççɪnˈka - ççɪkɐˈʦu jɪˈmu bɐˈka/
I brush my puppy with the brush – tickle his sides (S. Marshak).
The /x/ sound (хотеть)
/x/ as in “хотеть”. The top 5 words with this sound are: хотеть /xɐˈtʲetʲ/, хорошо /xərɐˈʂo/,
ходить /xɐˈdʲitʲ/, ехать /ˈjexətʲ/, хоть /xotʲ/.
Although the /h/ sound is used in English, its pronunciation differs from Russian /x/. But do not
worry; this sound is easy to produce for English speaking people. The difference is obvious enough:
/h/ sound is glottal whereas /x/ sound is velar. Let me explain these seemingly intricate words in
more detail.
When you pronounce the English /h/ sound (as in “home”), your mouth is wide open. The sound
appears far in the throat, at the glottis level. It is like blowing on your glasses (or sunglasses) to
11

Borscht is a soup of Ukrainian origin. For more information look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borscht
This word used to be widely spoken in the Soviet Union meaning a confederate or a person assumed sympathetic
to the revolution and to the Soviet state, such as members of the Communist party. Nowadays the term is not used that
often but it is still the standard form of address in the armed forces and the police, where officers and soldiers are
normally addressed as "Comrade Colonel" (Товарищ Полковник), "Comrade General"(Товарищ Генерал). The term is
also used as part of idioms e.g., “товарищ по несчастью” (fellow-sufferer).
12

clean and make them shine. Well, you already know the mechanism, you have just never really
thought of it. Now, why don’t you pronounce an English /h/ sound for yourself and actually feel
what we mean.
Now, when you pronounce the Russian /x/ sound, your mouth is almost closed instead. The
sound appears not so far in the throat, at the soft palate level. Just like before, the teeth are slightly
opened. Imagine having a very broad smile on your face. At the same time, your mouth is almost
closed, so the smile is going to be pretty narrow. As usual, do not hesitate to overdo smiling in the
beginning. And finally, the back of your tongue touches the soft palate. The sound is not voiced.
To better remember what we have just learned, let us practice the examples…
See MP3 file “12 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the x sound”

5 most frequent words with the /x/ sound
хотеть

/xɐˈtʲetʲ/

to want

хорошо

/xərɐˈʂo/

good

ходить

/xɐˈdʲitʲ/

to walk

ехать

/ˈjexətʲ/

to go (by transport) 13

хоть

/xotʲ/

at least/though

5 words with the /x/ sound at the beginning of a word
хватит

/ˈxvatʲɪt/

enough

хотя

/xɐˈtʲæ/

although

хуже

/ˈxuʐɪ/

worse

холодно

/ˈxolədnə/

cold

хозяин

/xɐˈzʲæɪn/

owner

13

In the Russian language there are at least 16 common verbs to say “to go”.

5 words with the /x/ sound in the middle of a word
похожий

/pɐˈxoʐɨj/

similar

происходить

/prəɪsxɐˈdʲitʲ/

to happen

плохо

/ˈploxə/

bad

тихо

/ˈtʲixə/

quiet

выход

/ˈvɨxət/

exit

5 words with the /x/ sound at the end of a word
их

/ix/

their

ох

/ox/

oh

наверх

/nɐˈvʲerx/

up

воздух

/ˈvozdux/

air

страх

/strax/

fear

This sound should be easier to learn. Still it should be properly practiced. For that purpose, we
have the following tongue twisters for you.

See MP3 file “13 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tongue
twisters for the x sound”

Что сделано

наспех,

сделано насмех.

/ʂto ˈzʲdʲelənə ˈnaspʲɪx, ˈzʲdʲelənə ˈnasmʲɪx/
Haste makes waste.
Вставай, Архип, петух охрип!
/fstɐˈvaj,

ɐrˈxʲip,

pʲɪˈtux ɐxˈrʲip/

Get up, Arhip, the rooster has hoarsened!
The /r/ sound (говорить)
/r/ as in “говорить”. The top 5 words with this sound are: говорить /ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/, просто /ˈprostə/,
раз /ras/, смотреть /smɐtˈrʲetʲ/, хорошо /xərɐˈʂo/.
First, we should warn you. This sound is statistically the most difficult one for English speaking
people. Unlike the hissing sounds, not only kids but often time even adults struggle with it. In fact, it

is so common that Russian mispronounce the sound that there is a special word for it –
“картавить” /kɐrˈtavʲɪtʲ/, which means "to pronounce the /r/ sound incorrectly". It's analogous to
English "lisp", meaning "to pronounce the /s/ sound incorrectly."
The point is that you should not get disappointed if you are not able to produce the sound right
away or even a month in after the beginning. Take it easy, read through our explanations and advice
and practice constantly – these are all the needed ingredients to succeed.
First of all, it is important to notice that English /ɹ/ (as in “road”) and Russian /r/ (as in
“говорить”) sounds are very different. Most likely, you have heard of a so called “Russian accent”
in English. It is known for the very fact that Russian people, instead of using the English /ɹ/ sound,
pronounce the Russian one. Let us highlight the difference, so that you do not have the reverse issue
in Russian.
The articulation of those sounds is easy enough to describe. The tongue plays the most important
role.
In English, to produce the /ɹ/ sound, you curve a little your tongue, so that the tip of the tongue
goes up to the roof of the mouth further behind the alveolar ridge but yet does not touch it.
In Russian, the tongue does not curve; it is flat and wide. Now, the most important part: the
Russian /r/ sound is a trill, you need to “roll” it. It means that you need to bend the tip of the tongue
slightly up and place it just behind the top row of your teeth. As a result, the trill is produced due to
the vibration of your tongue against the alveolar ridge. Vibration is caused by a flow of air that you
breathe out as hard and as fast as you possibly can. The /r/ sound is just the flitter of the tongue
caused by the passing air stream. It is not some kind of a curl. It is also vital not to tense your
tongue. Leave the tip of the tongue hanging free to make it possible to vibrate. Thanks to this
vibration, the Russian /r/ is more audible than an English one.
It is not as bad as it looks! Remember that there is an enormous difference between “complex”
and “complicated”. Simply try it. In case you have some difficulties with it, there are several
exercises created to practice this particular sound. We are going to present you the two most
efficient ones, so we encourage you to give them a shot.
The first method is called “Eddy, Teddy, Freddy!”
This method is based on the following idea: when you repeatedly pronounce sounds /d/ and /t/,
you place your tongue in such a position that is close to one for the /r/ sound. Thus, the tongue gets
caught in the middle between them and rolls /r/ by mistake. Now, we will describe your actions step
by step.
First, say the word "Eddy," then say the word "Teddy" and after that say the word “Freddy”. Feel
the tongue on the inside of your mouth "flip up" when pronouncing /t/, /d/ sounds, barely touching
the gum behind your front teeth.
Then say these three words one by one a little bit faster: “E d d y, T e d d y, F r e d d y ”.

After that repeat them faster: “E d d y, T e d d y, F r e d d y ”.
Then faster: “Eddy, Teddy, Freddy”.
And even faster: “Eddyteddyfreddy”.
Like before, the crucial part is to train every day. Since it could take a month or even two to
master this sound, you need to make a habit to easier cope with this routine. Whenever you have
some privacy, such as in the shower or walking by yourself or jogging, chant “Eddy, Teddy, Freddy!
Eddy Teddy Freddy! Eddyteddyfreddy!”, faster and faster. And eventually, one day you will just do
it by accident: “Eddyteddyfr-r-r-r-r-reddy!” And with a little more practice you will able to do it
perfectly, whenever you want.
If you get bored with “Eddy Teddy Freddy”, you can invent your own tongue-twister using lots
of /d/, /t/ and /r/ sounds.
The second method is called “Drum!”
Supposedly, this method is the one that helped Vladimir Lenin, founder and leader of the Soviet
Union (1917 – 1923). Lenin was unable to produce the trilled /r/. This is too bad when you are the
creator of the:
Российская

Социал - Демократическая

/rɐsʲˈsʲijskəjæ səʦɪˈal
The Russian

- dʲɪməkrɐˈtʲiʨɪskəjæ

Social

Democratic

Рабочая

Партия

rɐˈboʨəjæ ˈpartʲəjæ/
Workers'

Party

So, do not feel bad if you cannot get this easily.
The idea of this method is to put the /d/ sound in front of the /r/ sound. We call this technique
“drum” because the sound you are going to produce is quite close to the sound of a drum tapping.
Imagine that you tap a drum with a very high frequency – that is exactly what we need to get in the
end. You are going to be pretty loud, so when practicing the sound warn people around you in
advance!
Take a very deep breath.
Try to say "Drum" and see if it helps you roll the /r/ by putting a /d/ in front of it. It is of the
utmost importance that when you pronounce the /d/ sound you place the tip of your tongue to the
bottom of your two top front teeth (not the alveolar ridge as you do usually!) and press it towards the
teeth. This way you block an air flow and make it very intense.
Increase the volume of your voice in the beginning of the word (“dr”). The "um" of "drum"
should only last a fraction of a second. When you make the /rrrrr/ sound, try to relax the tip of the
tongue, making it as loose as you can. The trill is produced due to one the principles of flight,
developed by the famous physicist Daniel Bernoulli. Basically, your tongue will be like an airplane
wing, vibrating the tip against the alveolar ridge. Let your tongue soar in your mouth!

After you have got an idea of how this method works, practice using the /r/ in such combinations
as “dr-”, “tr-”, “br-”, “pr-”.
If you are familiar with the Scottish accent or Spanish language, you can use this knowledge. For
example, to train the “gr” combination, say "that's GReat" with a Scottish accent. Say "perro" as in
Spanish for "dog" to exercise on the “pr” combination. Once you can do that, work on dropping the
initial consonant.
That is pretty much a lot of information, so we hope it will be useful. If it is still not enough,
there is a very interesting article on the topic here: http://www.wikihow.com/Roll-Your-%22R%22s.
All in all, do not suffer through it if you just cannot produce the sound even after a month or two
of everyday practice. You will be understood if you use the English /r/. Still it is better to keep
working on it if you do not want people to notice, from your pronunciation, that you are a foreigner.
This is one of the rewards of having great pronunciation. So do not give up!
As usual, here is a table with the most common Russian words with the /r/ sound…

See MP3 file “14 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the r sound”

5 most frequent words with the /r/ sound
говорить

/ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/

to talk

просто

/ˈprostə/

simple

раз

/ras/

one 14

смотреть

/smɐtˈrʲetʲ/

to look

хорошо

/xərɐˈʂo/

good

5 words with the /r/ sound at the beginning of a word
работать

/rɐˈbotətʲ/

to work

рассказывать

/rɐsˈskazɨvətʲ/

to tell

реально

/rʲɪˈalʲnə/

real/really

равно

/rɐvˈno/

equally

ругаться

/ruˈɡaʦə/

to swear/to argue

14

It is an ordinal form of “один” (one).

5 words with the /r/ sound in the middle of a word
прийти

/prʲɪjˈtʲi/

to come

три

/trʲi/

three

короткий

/kɐˈrotkʲɪj/

short

про

/pro/

about

наверное

/nɐˈvʲernəjə/

may be

5 words with the /r/ sound at the end of a word
кошмар

/kɐʂˈmar/

nightmare 15

сыр

/sɨr/

cheese

плеер

/ˈplɛɛr/

player 16

супер

/ˈsupʲɪr/

super

семестр

/sʲɪˈmʲestr/

semester

You have just seen for yourselves that this sound is particularly difficult to articulate. Enough
explanations! Let us have fun practicing /r/ with the tongue twisters:

See MP3 file “15 - Part I - Consonant sounds that do not exist in English - Tongue
twisters for the r sound”

15
16

Quite often used as a slang word to express different feelings (astonishment, horror, disappointment etc.)
A device (e.g.: Walkman)

Карл у Клары украл
/ˈkarl

u ˈklarᵻ

ukˈral

кораллы, Клара у
ˈklarə

kɐˈralᵻ,

Карла украла кларнет.
u ˈkarlə

ukˈralə klɐrˈnʲet/

Karl stole corals from Karla and Karla stole a clarinet from Karl.
Ехал Грека

через

реку,

видит

/ˈjexəl ˈɡrʲekə ˈʨerʲɪz ˈrʲeku, ˈvʲidʲɪt

Грека

в

реке рак.

ˈɡrʲekə v ˈrʲekɪ

ˈrak/

Greka was going across a river, and he saw a crayfish in the river.
Сунул
/ˈsunul

Грека

руку в

ˈɡrʲekə ˈruku

v

реку,

рак

ˈrʲeku, ˈrak

за
zə

руку

Греку

ˈruku ˈɡrʲeku

цап.
ˈʦap/

Greka put his hand in the river and the crayfish bit his hand.
The second tongue twister is quite difficult. It might be easier to learn by splitting it into two
parts. Due to its popularity, there are some videos you can watch to master this tongue twister. For
example, this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HOeb6AF9dc
In fact, this tongue twister helps you not only learn the /r/ sound but, also, to practice
differentiating soft and hard /r/. The soft /r/ sounds are in italics above and the hard ones are not.
It is important to hear and produce the difference between these two types of /r/. For the /rʲ/ sound
you do not need to push the back of your tongue against the alveolar ridge, just slightly touch it;
otherwise you will not get the trill. One more thing in producing the /rʲ/ sound is that you should not
trill it as much as the hard one (only a little, one or two trills at one time). Practice it with the second
tongue twister.
Combinations of consonant sounds
As mentioned before, there are two more sounds that you are not quite familiar with – /ʨ/ and /ʦ/.
Fortunately, they are much easier to learn than the previous five. These sounds are affricates. It
simply means that they are combinations of sounds that you already know (the symbols of these
sounds represent the idea in itself).
The /ʨ/ sound (сейчас)
Method 1
/ʨ/ (as in “сейчас” /sʲɪjˈʨas/) consists of two sounds: /tʲ/ and /ɕ/. Pay attention to the softness of
/tʲ/ — that is because /ʨ/ is always soft. If you can pronounce each of these two sounds, this method
is right for you and there should not be any complication.
1. First, we want you to pronounce the sound /tʲ/ many times in a row (without pauses) as fast
as you can. Make sure the tip of your tongue pushes against the upper front teeth:
/tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ tʲ/;

2. Now, do the same but start moving the tip slowly back towards the alveolar ridge. At the
same time, your lips are stretching into a smile. It might be difficult at first to coordinate
your tongue and lips simultaneously, so make several attempts. You should already hear the
correct /ʨ/ sound;
3. Finally, first slowly, and then faster and faster, so that at some point you do not hear even a
slightest pause between them, pronounce the sounds /tʲ/ and /ɕ/, one after the other. Do not
forget to smile!
/tʲ…….ɕ…tʲ….ɕ… tʲ...ɕ… tʲ..ɕ…tʲ.ɕ… tʲɕ tʲɕ tʲɕ tʲɕ … ʨ ʨ ʨ ʨ ʨ /.
If you still have some difficulties in producing the /ɕ/ sound, try the other method.
Method 2
Although this sound belongs to the group of hissing sounds, /ʨ/ has its own peculiarities. First, let
us see what position the speech organs take:
•
•
•
•

•

•

Your lips are rounded and a little bit pushed forward. Initially, push them forward as
much as you can;
The mouth and teeth are slightly opened;
Both sides of the tongue are pressed by upper molars;
At the beginning of the articulation, the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge for
just a second. Right after that, the tongue horizontally slides back into the mouth for about
one centimeter;
The air stream produced with this consonant is short, very intense (and that is why warm,
in comparison with the /ɕ/ sound) and centralized. You will feel it if you put your hand in
front of the mouth. First, pronounce the /ɕ/ sound, then the /ʨ/ sound and compare them;
The vocal cords are relaxed, so that the sound is not voiced.

The /ʦ/ sound (двадцать)
/ʦ/ (as in “двадцать” /ˈdvaʦətʲ/) also consists of two sounds: /t/ and /s/. Unlike /ʨ/, this sound is
always hard, that is why its component /t/ is also hard here. The technique for its pronunciation is
very close to the previous sound.
First slowly, and then faster and faster, so that at some point you do not hear even a slightest
pause between them, pronounce the sounds /t/ and /s/, one by one. Do not forget to smile!
/t…….s…t….s… t...s… t..s…t.s… ts ts ts ts ts ts ts/.

Russian vowels
Vowels and vowel sounds
We can assure you that you will find Russian vowels much easier to learn than consonants. A
vowel is a speech sound, created by the relatively free passage of the air stream — it contrasts with

consonants. In writing, we use vowel letters as found in the alphabet. In speaking, we use vowel
sounds. There are 10 vowels in the Russian alphabet but, when studying pronunciation, we pay
attention mostly to the vowel sounds, not just the letters. Russian possesses 14 vowel sounds, 10 of
which you already know.
Vowel sounds you KNOW

/æ/

/ɑ/

/ɛ/

/i/

Vowels sounds you DO NOT KNOW

/ɨ/

/ɵ/

/ʉ/

/ɐ/

/u/

/ə/

/ɪ/

/e/

/o/

/a/

In the following sections we will divide all Russian vowels into 2 groups: 1) sounds found in
both languages identically 2) sounds found only in Russian. But first, let us talk about diphthongs.
Diphthongs
A “diphthong” refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Unlike
English, Russian has no diphthongs. Though sometimes, certain combinations of letters sound like
diphthongs. The only case when it happens is before the so-called “semivowel” /j/. Even though
such combinations as “ей” /ej/ in Russian sounds exactly like an English diphthong “ai” /ei/, they
are transliterated differently. It contradicts the very definition of a diphthong. But for us, it does not
matter how this phenomena is called. The only thing that matters is that you pronounce it correctly.
Practice pronouncing such words with the help of these examples:

See MP3 file “16 - Part I - Diphthongs”

/oj/: такой /tɐˈkoj/ such
/ɪj/: сейчас /sʲɪjˈʨas/ now
/ɐj/: пойти /pɐjˈtʲi/ to go
/ɨj/: хороший /xɐˈroʂɨj/ good
/aj/: давай /dɐˈvaj/ let us
/əj/: наверное /nɐˈvʲernəjə/ may be
/uj/: уехать /uˈjexətʲ/ to leave (e.g. by car)
/ej/: копейка /kɐˈpʲejkə/ kopek
/æj/: чайник /ˈʨæjnʲɪk/ tea pot

Vowel sounds common to both English and Russian
In the table below, we have compiled those vowels you already know, with an example in
English and in Russian for each sound, so that you can make proper associations between both
languages.

See MP3 file “17 - Part I - Vowel sounds common to both English and Russian”

Vowel sound you
KNOW

Example in English

Example in Russian

/æ/

pad

взять /vzʲætʲ/ to take

/ɑ/

palm

пожалуйста /pɐˈʐɑləstə/ please

/ɛ/

bed

это /ˈɛtə/ this

/i/

seed

они /ɐˈnʲi/ they

/u/

food

уже /uˈʐɛ/ already

/ə/

comma

говорить /ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/ to speak

/ɪ/

lid

сейчас /sʲɪjˈʨas/ now

/e/ 17

made /meid/

все /fsʲe/ everybody

/o/

code /koʊd/

что /ʂto/ what

/a/

ride /raɪd/

да /da/ yes

Vowel sounds that do not exist in English
We will now discuss vowels that are typically Russian and do not exist in English. During the
following explanations, we would like you to repeat every example out loud. It does not matter if it
is an English or Russian sound or example. The goal is for you to focus on your sensations and the
differences in sound quality between the various examples. This is how you will be able to tell the
difference between them and become more precise in your pronunciation.
We will talk about these vowels in terms of how deep they are located in your mouth. That is,
whether they are closer to the front or to the back of the mouth – closer to your lips or closer to your
throat. This will help you realize that the sound quality is different, depending on whether it is
articulated, for example, close to the lips, or close to the throat, or may be somewhere in between.

17

The sounds /e/, /o/, /a/ exist in Russian on their own while in English they are part of diphthongs. To pronounce
the /e/ sound, for example, first pronounce the diphthong /ei/. Then omit its second part /eee….iii/  /eee/.

We will also draw your attention to how high the vowels are located in your mouth. That is to
say: whether the sound is articulated towards the bottom of your mouth with your jaw open, or
towards the top of your mouth with your jaw close, or anywhere in between.
To sum it up, all the examples you are going to see will help you find the right spot to articulate
sounds in your mouth. To do that, pay attention to sensations and vibrations.
The /ɨ/ sound (ты)
/ɨ/ as in “ты”. The top 5 words with this sound are: ты /tɨ/, мы /mɨ/, вы /vɨ/, хороший /xɐˈroʂɨj/,
равный /ˈravnɨj/.
As for the height of this sound, the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the
mouth when the vowel is stressed and in the middle of the mouth in an unstressed position. Its vowel
backness is central, which means the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the back of
your mouth. As for the lips, they are unrounded, i.e.: curved as if you were smiling.

See MP3 file “18 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Articulation of
the ɨ sound”

If we compare with English:
•

From the point of view of the vowel’s height, the top of the back of the tongue is
positioned between the /i/ in “seed” and the /u/ in “food”. All these sounds are of the
same height but not of the same backness. If we keep the tongue at the top of the mouth
and start moving it from the back to the front, we will have the following series of
sounds: /u/, /ɨ/, /i/. Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of words that
contains these sounds: food, ты, seed. Now, inversely: /i/, /ɨ/, /u/. Let us do the same
thing with the words: seed, ты, food. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

From the point of view of the vowel’s backness, the tongue is positioned halfway
between the front and the back of your mouth, between the /ə/ in “comma” and the /a/ in
“ride” /raɪd/. In this case, all these sounds are of the same backness (central) but not of
the same height. So, if we keep the tongue in the middle and start moving it from the
bottom to the top, we will have the following series of sounds: /a/, /ə/, /ɨ/. Pronounce this
series and after that pronounce the series of words that contains these sounds: ride,
comma, ты. Now, inversely: /ɨ/, /ə/, /a/. Let us do the same thing with the words: ты,
comma, ride. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

Finally, the lips take the same position as for the /i/ sound. They are not rounded but
tensed, narrow and curved in a smile. To produce the sound /ɨ/, try first to pronounce the
/i/ sound and then slowly move your tongue a little bit closer to the throat:
/i/…/ɨ/…/i/…/ɨ/…/ɨ/…/ ɨ ɨ ɨ/.

Use the following table to practice the most common words with this sound…

See MP3 file “19 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ɨ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ɨ/ sound
ты

/tɨ/

you (singular)

мы

/mɨ/

we

вы

/vɨ/

хороший

/xɐˈroʂɨj/

you (plural or polite
singular)
good

равный

/ˈravnɨj/

equal

5 words with the /ɨ/ sound at the beginning of a word
There are no words that begin with this sound

5 words with the /ɨ/ sound in the middle of a word
рассказывать

/rɐsˈskazɨvətʲ/

to tell (a story)

нормальный

/nɐrˈmalʲnɨj/

normal

четыре

/ʨɪˈtɨrʲɪ/

four

интересный

/ɪnʲtʲɪˈrʲesnɨj/

interesting

показывать

/pɐˈkazɨvətʲ/

to show

5 words with the /ɨ/ sound at the end of a word
макароны

/məkɐˈronɨ/

pasta

бы

/bɨ/

would

чтобы

/ˈʂtobɨ/

so that

дважды

/ˈdvaʐdɨ/

twice

штаны

/ʂtɐˈnɨ/

pants

The /ɵ/ sound (ещё)
/ɵ/ as in “ещё”. The top 5 words with this sound are: ещё /jɪˈɕɕɵ/, всё /fsʲɵ/, всё-таки /ˈfsʲɵtəkʲɪ/,
причём /prʲɪˈʨɵm/, тётя /ˈtʲɵtʲə/.
Its vowel height is mid, which means the tongue is positioned in the middle of the mouth
vertically. Its vowel backness is central, which means the tongue is positioned halfway between the
back and the front of the mouth. The lips are rounded, rather than spread or relaxed.

See MP3 file “20 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Articulation of
the ɵ sound”

If we compare with English:
•

As for the vowel’s height, the top of the back of the tongue is positioned the same way as
the /e/ in “made” /meid/ and the /o/ in code /koʊd/. All of these sounds are of the same
height but not of the same backness. If we keep the tongue at the top of the mouth and
start moving it from the lips back to the throat, we will have the following series of
sounds: /e/, /ɵ/, /o/. Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of words
that contains these sounds: made, ещё, code. Now, inversely: /o/, /ɵ/, /e/. Let us do the
same thing with the words: code, ещё, made. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

As for the vowel’s backness, the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the
back of your mouth as the /a/ in “ride” /raɪd/ and the Russian /ɨ/ sound in ты /tɨ/. In this
case, the sounds are of the same backness (central) but not of the same height. So, if we
keep the tongue in the center and start moving it from the bottom to the middle, we will
have the following series of sounds: /a/, /ɵ/, /ɨ/. Pronounce this series and after that
pronounce the series of words that contains these sounds: ride, ещё, ты. Now, inversely:
/ɨ/, /ɵ/, /a/. Let us do the same thing with the words: ты, ещё, ride. Repeat this procedure
several times.

•

Finally, it may be easier to pronounce the sound /ɵ/ as a combination of the /j/ as in
“yellow” and the /o/ sounds. The only subtlety is not to place /o/ too far in the mouth,

make it more central. Now, pronounce: /j/…/o/…/j/…/o/…/j..o/…/joooo/. When the
word starts with the /ɵ/ sound (very rare) or there is “ь” or any vowel before /ɵ/, then it
sounds just like the “yo” combination in “your”. But be attentive! When /ɵ/ is in the
middle of a word, the /j/ sound vanishes and the articulation described above plays the
main role.
It is worth mentioning that this sound should actually be spelled “ё”. In practice, however,
nowadays, it always loses its diacritics, i.e.: it is usually written just like the letter “e”. The only
exception is in children books and in learning-language books, where the “ё” spelling is preferred.
Besides, in any word that contains the “ё” letter, the stress always comes on it.
Practice your /ɵ/ sound with the help of the following examples…

See MP3 file “21 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ɵ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ɵ/ sound
ещё

/jɪˈɕɕɵ/

more

всё

/fsʲɵ/

that is it/everything

всё-таки

/ˈfsʲɵtəkʲɪ/

nevertheless/though

причём

/prʲɪˈʨɵm/

and besides/what is more

тётя

/ˈtʲɵtʲə/

aunt

5 words with the /ɵ/ sound at the beginning of a word
ёлка

/ˈjɵlkə/

fir-tree

ёж

/jɵʐ/

hedgehog

ёрш

/jɵrʂ/

ruff

ёмкость

/ˈjɵmkəsʲtʲ/

capacity/container

ёрзать

/ˈjɵrzətʲ/

to fidget

5 words with the /ɵ/ sound in the middle of a word
четвёртый

/ʨɪtˈvʲɵrtɨj/

forth

насчёт

/nɐˈɕɕɵt/

about

учёба

/uˈʨɵbə/

studies

лён

/lʲɵn/

linen (flax)

клёвый

/ˈklʲɵvɨj/

cool 18

5 words with the /ɵ/ sound at the end of a word
её

/jɪˈjɵ/

her

моё

/mɐˈjɵ/

mine (neuter)

бельё

/bʲɪlʲjɵ/

linen (laundry)

ружьё

/ruˈʐjɵ/

gun

жильё

/ʐɨˈlʲjɵ/

housing

The /ʉ/ sound (абсолютно)
/ʉ/ as in “абсолютно”. The top 5 words with this sound are: абсолютно/ɐpsɐˈlʲʉtnə/, чуть-чуть
/ʨʉtʲˈʨʉtʲ/, люди /ˈlʲʉdʲɪ/, по-любому /pəlʲʉˈbomu/, двоюродный /dvɐˈjʉrədnɨj/.
As for the height of this sound, the tongue is positioned very close to the roof of the mouth. Its
vowel backness is central, which means the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the
back of your mouth. As for the lips, they are rounded and pushed forward.

See MP3 file “22 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Articulation of
the ʉ sound”

This sound is nearly the same as /ɨ/ as in “ты”. They have almost the same height and backness
(/ɨ/ is slightly higher and slightly more back). The main difference is in the form of the lips: in /ɨ/ (as
in “ты”) they are not rounded but tensed, narrow and curved in a smile, while in /ʉ/ (as in
“абсолютно”) they are rounded and pushed forward.
If we compare with English:
•

18

As for the vowel’s height, the top of the back of the tongue is positioned the same way as
the /i/ in “seed”, the /u/ in food and the Russian /ɨ/ sound in ты /tɨ/. These sounds are all
of the same height but not of the same backness. If we place the tongue at the top and

Slang word

back of the mouth and start moving it towards the lips, we will have the following series
of sounds: /u/, /ɨ/ and /ʉ/, /i/. Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of
words that contains these sounds: food, ты and абсолютно, seed. Now, inversely: /i/, /ʉ/
and /ɨ/, /u/. Let us do the same thing with the words: seed, абсолютно and ты, food.
Repeat this procedure several times.
•

As for the vowel’s backness, the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the
back of your mouth as the /a/ in “ride” /raɪd/, /ə/ in “comma”, the Russian /ɵ/ sound in
“ёж” /jɵʐ/ and the Russian /ɨ/ sound in ты /tɨ/. In this case, the sounds are of the same
backness (central) but not of the same height. So, if we place the tongue in the middle
and start from the bottom to the top, we will have the following series of sounds: /a/, /ə/,
/ɵ/, /ʉ/ and /ɨ/. Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of words that
contains these sounds: ride, comma, ёж, абсолютно and ты. Now, inversely: /ɨ/ and /ʉ/,
/ɵ/, /ə/, /a/. Let us do the same thing with the words: ты and абсолютно, ёж, comma,
ride. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

Like before, it may be easier to pronounce the sound /ʉ/ as a combination of the /j/ as in
“yellow” and the /u/ sounds. The only subtlety is not to place /u/ too far in the mouth,
make it more central. Now, pronounce: /j/…/u/…/j/…/u/…/j..u/…/juuuu/. When the
word starts with the /ʉ/ sound (very rare) or there is “ь” or any vowel before /ʉ/, then it
sounds just like the word “you”. But be attentive! When /ʉ/ is in the middle of a word,
the /j/ sound vanishes and the main role plays the articulation described above.

Let us practice with some examples…

See MP3 file “23 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ʉ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ʉ/ sound
абсолютно

/ɐpsɐˈlʲʉtnə/

absolutely

чуть-чуть

/ʨʉtʲˈʨʉtʲ/

just a little

люди

/ˈlʲʉdʲɪ/

people

по-любому

/pəlʲʉˈbomu/

anyhow 19

двоюродный
(брат)

/dvɐˈjʉrədnɨj/
(/brat/)

cousin

19

Casual register word. For example: По-любому получится! It will work out anyhow!

5 words with the /ʉ/ sound at the beginning of a word
юбка

/ˈjʉpkə/

skirt

юмор

/ˈjʉmər/

humor

юг

/jʉk/

south

юность

/ˈjʉnəsʲtʲ/

youth

юрист

/jʉˈrʲist/

jurist

5 words with the /ʉ/ sound in the middle of a word
любой

/lʲʉˈboj/

any

следующий

/ˈslʲedujʉɕɕɪj/

next

любовь

/lʲʉˈbofʲ/

love

тюль

/tʲʉlʲ/

ключ

/klʲʉʨ/

tulle (fabric used for
curtains)
key

5 words with the /ʉ/ sound at the end of a word
полностью

/ˈpolnəsʲtʲʉ/

fully

ночью

/ˈnoʨʉ/

at night

благодарю

/bləɡədɐˈrʲʉ/

thank you 20

к сожалению

/ksəʐɨˈlʲenʲɪjʉ/

unfortunately

меню

/mʲɪˈnʲʉ/

menu

The /ɐ/ sound (она)
/ɐ/ as in “она”. The top 5 words with this sound are: она /ɐˈna/, они /ɐˈnʲi/, такой /tɐˈkoj/,
говорить /ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/, вообще /vəɐpˈɕɕe/.
Its vowel height is near-low, which means the tongue is positioned close to the bottom of the
mouth, similarly to a low vowel (like /æ/), but slightly higher. Its vowel backness is central, which
means the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the back of your mouth. The lips are
unrounded.

20

Formal register. Спасибо /spɐsʲibə/ is more casual.

See MP3 file “24 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Articulation of
the ɐ sound”

If we compare with English:
•

As for the height, this sound is quite unique. There are no other sounds with the same
height. /æ/ has the closest height, close to the bottom of the mouth, but /ɐ/ is slightly
higher than that. Basically, /ɐ/ stands halfway between low /æ/ as in “pad” and low-mid
/ʌ/ as in “love”. Besides, all these sounds have different backness. Therefore, if we start
from the back and middle of the mouth with the sound /ʌ/, move towards the center and a
little closer to the bottom, where the /ɐ/ sound is, and then even closer to the lips, and
lower to the bottom to the /æ/ sound, we will have the following series of sounds: /ʌ/, /ɐ/,
/æ/. Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of words that contains these
sounds: love, она, pad. Now, inversely: /æ/, /ɐ/, /ʌ/. Let us do the same thing with the
words: pad, она, love. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

As for the vowel’s backness the tongue is positioned halfway between the front and the
back of your mouth as the /ə/ in “comma”. These sounds are of the same backness
(central) but not of the same height. So, if we place the tongue in the middle and start
from the bottom to the top, we will have the following series of sounds: /ɐ/, /ə/.
Pronounce this series and after that pronounce the series of words that contains these
sounds: она, comma. Now, inversely: /ə/, /ɐ/. Let us do the same thing with the words:
comma, она. Repeat this procedure several times.

•

Finally, the lips are not rounded, but they are not narrow. Essentially, they take the same
position as for the /a/ sound. The difference is that the mouth is more closed when you
pronounce the /ɐ/ sound than for the /a/ sound.

Let us practice the most common words with this sound…

See MP3 file “25 - Part I - Vowel sounds that do not exist in English - Tables of
examples for the ɐ sound”

5 most frequent words with the /ɐ/ sound
она

/ɐˈna/

she

они

/ɐˈnʲi/

they

такой

/tɐˈkoj/

such

говорить

/ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/

to speak

вообще

/vəɐpˈɕɕe/

in general/at all

5 words with the /ɐ/ sound at the beginning of a word
опять

/ɐˈpʲætʲ/

again

отдать

/ɐdˈdatʲ/

to give away

обязательно

/ɐbʲɪˈzatʲɪlʲnə/

obligatory/ surely

абсолютно

/ɐpsɐˈlʲʉtnə/

absolutely

общаться

/ɐpˈɕɕaʦə/

to communicate

5 words with the /ɐ/ sound in the middle of a word
какой

/kɐˈkoj/

what/which

потом

/pɐˈtom/

later

хотеть

/xɐˈtʲetʲ/

to want

конечно

/kɐˈnʲeʂnə/

of course

смотреть

/smɐtˈrʲetʲ/

to look/to watch

5 words with the /ɐ/ sound at the end of a word
There are no words that end with this sound

IPA chart for Russian vowels
After having studied all those Russian vowels, it is time to sum thing up. For this purpose, here is
a diagram that shows the relationship between vowels – by that we mean that with the help of this
chart you will be able to compare them and distinguish among vowels.

What do the axis on this diagram mean?
First, the vertical axis:
•

•

•

High – means that the vowel is articulated at the top of the mouth. Sometimes, it is called
“close” because of the position of the mouth and lips – almost closed. For this kind of
vowels we do not push our jaw at all;
Mid – means that the vowel is articulated in the middle of the mouth. As for another
interpretation, the mouth and lips can be more closed or more open, depending on the
placement of a vowel in the chart. The jaw here is slightly pushed down;
Low – means that the vowel is articulated at the bottom of the mouth. Otherwise, it is
called “open”, which implies the position of the mouth and lips – widely open. That is,
the jaw is pushed down more than for the central vowels.

And the horizontal axis:
•
•
•

Front – means that the vowel is articulated towards the front of the mouth, i.e.: right
behind or close to the teeth. The tongue here is placed close to the teeth;
Central – means that the vowel is articulated halfway between the lips and the throat. That
is the tongue is positioned in the center of the mouth;
Back – means that the vowel is articulated at the back of the mouth, close to the throat.
The tongue is placed close to the throat.

Let us give you a couple of examples to show how to use this chart. Most of the time, you are
going to use this diagram to compare new sounds with others. We have already described in detail
how to compare new sounds with those you already know, asking you to focus on your sensations
and muscles while doing it. Practice once again, this time with the help of the visual aid offered by
the chart.

See MP3 file “26 - Part I - IPA chart for Russian vowels - Comparison of the
articulation of the ɨ ʉ ɵ ɐ sounds”

Look at the chart and find the following sounds: /ɨ/, /ʉ/, /ɵ/, /ɐ/. All of them have both different
height and backness. As usual, we will start with one sound and gradually tackle all of them:
•
•

•

•

So, we start at the top and near-back of the mouth with the sound /ɨ ɨ ɨ/ as in “ты” (lips
curve in a smile) — keep this position for some time.
Then slowly move the back of the tongue to the central part of your mouth and slightly
lower than before (push lips forward). Round your lips. Thus, we reached the /j ʉ ʉ ʉ/
sound as in “абсолютно”.
Now open the mouth slightly more, so that the tongue be positioned a bit lower than
before, and pronounce the /j ɵ ɵ ɵ/ sound as in “ещё” (lips are rounded and pushed
forward).
Finally, move the tongue further towards the throat and open the mouth even more. You
will get the /ɐ ɐ ɐ/ sound as in “она”.

As a result, we have the following sequence of sounds: /ɨ/, /ʉ/, /ɵ/, /ɐ/. Now, pronounce the series
of words that contains these sounds: ты, абсолютно, ещё, она. As usual, you can also try to
pronounce them inversely: /ɐ/, /ɵ/, /ʉ/, /ɨ/. Let us do the same with the words: она, ещё, абсолютно,
ты.

PART II. LEXICAL STRESS AND RHYTHM
Lexical stress
Lexical stress refers to the emphasis put on certain syllables in words. There are languages in
which the position of the stress is almost fixed. For example, in Czech, the stress nearly always
comes on the first syllable of a word. In other languages, the stress can be placed on almost any
syllable in a word. They have the so-called variable stress.
In this regard, Russian and English are quite similar: in both languages stress is truly lexical – it
has to be learned as part of the pronunciation of an individual word. On the one hand, this similarity
simplifies things. Without any doubt, for English speaking people, it is much easier to understand
this phenomenon than, say, for a Francophone. Stressing words correctly will make you much, much
easier to understand by native speakers. You can have a large vocabulary and know how to
pronounce all Russian sounds properly but, if your stress patterns are wrong, you will still be hardly
understood. The bottom line is: always pay attention to the stress when learning a new word, and
respect the stress when speaking Russian.
Although Russian and English have many similarities concerning the concept of stress, Russian
also has its own peculiarities. In this section, we are going to cover all those features and train with
the help of numerous examples.
Mobile and variable lexical stress
The two most important peculiarities of the Russian stress are its variability and mobility. As
mentioned above, Russian stress is said to be variable. It simply means that any syllable in a word
can be stressed – first, second, last, etc. It contrasts with those languages where you can find a pretty
specific rule on this topic (like Czech, Finnish, Hungarian). To make this point clearer, let us make it
more visual, using examples:

See MP3 file “27 - Part II - Mobile lexical stress”

Position of stress in a word

Example 1

Example 2

Stress at the beginning of a
word

очень /ˈoʨɪnʲ/ very

тоже /ˈtoʐe/ also

Stress in the middle of a word

конечно /kɐˈnʲeʂnə/ of course

работать /rɐˈbotətʲ/ to work

Stress at the end of a word

она /ɐˈna/ she

такой /tɐˈkoj/ such

The second feature is that Russian stress is very mobile. It means that the stress can move freely
from one syllable to another within different forms of the same word. Scientists calculated that most
Russian words (about 96%) have fixed stress. But do not hurry to overjoy. The other 4% are the
most frequently used in everyday life. Before we give examples, let us explain what we mean by
changes in stress within a word form.
If you have just embraced Russian, you probably do not know much about grammar yet. Verbs in
Russian are conjugated and nouns, adjectives, pronouns are declined. It simply means that almost all
words in Russian change depending on some conditions like tense, gender, number, etc. These
changes produce new word forms. For example, the stress can come on the last syllable in the
infinitive of a verb but shift, say, to the second syllable in one of its conjugations. Let us look at
more examples:

See MP3 file “28 - Part II - Variable lexical stress”

•

Говорить /ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/ to speak  она говорила /ɐˈna ɡəvɐˈrʲilə/ she spoke
BUT
Ждать /ʐdatʲ/ to wait  она ждала /ɐˈna ʐdɐˈla/ she waited

•

Красивый /krɐˈsʲivɨj/ beautiful  она красива / ɐˈna krɐˈsʲivə/ she is beautiful
BUT
Правый /ˈpravɨj/ right  она права / ɐˈna prɐˈva/ she is right

We have pointed out earlier that, at first, it might seem to be hard to memorize which syllable to
stress in each word. In practice, it gets much more simple and natural if you start doing it orally,
instead of learning solely from text. Enriching your Russian vocabulary by listening, rather than
reading, you will have the opportunity to hear the stress of every word and to do so over and over
again. It will naturally make you respect the correct stress patterns when you speak. This may sound
obvious, but we have the tendency to forget about this simple rule because of a habit, usually formed
at school, to learn everything from texts.

To sum up, keep in mind that Russian words can be tricky, referring to the stress. Always check
stress in an orthoepic dictionary (a dictionary in which stress is marked). Especially, at first, listen to
conversations, audiobooks or some TV shows. Later on, when you start reading in Russian, we
recommend you to use this website if you have doubts regarding the stress of words: http://learnforeign-language-phonetics.com/add-stress-marks-to-russian-text.php?site_language=english. You
will find here an online tool that marks stresses in Russian words for you.
Advantages of using stress
Lexical stress is one of those properties that help in creating the music of the Russian language. If
you want to sound native-like when speaking Russian, this is a key element. Moreover, stress is not
just about the music of a language, it is also a system that has its own advantages. Let us take a
closer look at them.
Creating a contrast
Lexical stress creates a contrast between syllables that are stressed and syllables that are not. On
average, stressed vowels last 1,5-2 times longer than unstressed ones. In addition, stressed syllables
have a tendency to be pronounced with more intensity or energy, which causes the unstressed
syllables to weaken. This means that:
•
•

•

We hear and pronounce unstressed syllables less clearly than others;
Unstressed vowels are subject to a phenomenon called vowel reduction. For example, the
vowel /a/ (as in “да”), in a unstressed syllable, will become either /ɐ/ (as in “она” /ɐˈna/)
or /ə/ (as in “говорить” /ɡəvɐˈrʲitʲ/);
Finally, when we speak fast and do not articulate much, unstressed syllables are likely to
disappear completely.

It is a sort of a backlash: having syllables that are pronounced fully and clearly means that other
syllables have a tendency to be reduced or even almost skipped.
There is nothing awkward or inconvenient in contrasting these two types of syllables – it only
adds clarity to human speech. It helps to distinguish between words more easily.
Bear this in mind, while getting used to spoken Russian, in order to hear it better, to pronounce it
better and also, to memorize it better: when you listen to Russian pay, attention to those syllables
that are stressed AND to those that are not. The more information about a word you have, the more
neuron connections it creates, the more easily you will memorize it.
Speaking fast
Why do we need stress at all – have you ever given it a thought? Well, have you ever heard a
native speaker say anything in a language you do not know at all? It sounds like one very long word
because we do not know any words and, consequently, cannot split his speech stream into separate

parts. As for Russian in particular, for a long time, in writing, words were written without any space
at all, which is totally normal if we want text to reflect what we hear 21:

This illustration shows how any text was written back in 1057. As you can see, there is no space
between words, only dots help define the end of the sentence.
Stress is something that helps us locate words in a continuous speech stream. Usually, there is
only one stress in a word and other unstressed vowels gather around the stressed vowel. In other
words, stress helps highlight words in the flow of speech; it consolidates the sounds around it into a
meaningful word.
Thus, the existence of lexical stress helps us speak faster by almost omitting non-stressed
syllables and highlighting stressed ones. Often time, we recognize a word simply by its stressed
syllable, even if other syllables are more or less swallowed.
Just like in English, there is a big difference between short and long words. Some words contain
only one or two syllables while others that are more complicated possess many consonants. The
problem of having many consonants in a language is that it slows down the pronunciation. Basically,
Russian has many simple and quite frequent words that are fast to pronounce. However, at the same
time, it has lots of long words with many consonants that are difficult to pronounce at the same
speed as short words. Hence from the point of view of the rhythm of Russian, it means that it is
easier to speak by omitting certain syllables, rather than to pronounce them all. That is why, if you
try to pronounce, in English or in Russian, all the letters and all the syllables in words (which is
often a problem that comes from learning a language with texts rather than by listening or speaking),
it will be counter-productive: you will have difficulties in articulation, in speed and people are going
to have a hard time understanding you.
If you want to speak Russian fast AND fluently, respect the lexical stress!
Changing the meaning of words
Another important feature of lexical stress is that it is used to differentiate between words. Quite
often, words contrast based on stress alone. Thus, even though stress adds some difficulty in
learning a language, this inconvenience is fully atoned by the fact it helps discriminate between the
meanings of otherwise identical words:

21

Source: Literary Encyclopedia (the authors of the article are K.Nemchinov and P.Kuznecov)
http://feb-web.ru/feb/litenc/encyclop/lea/lea-4041.htm?cmd=0&istext=1

See MP3 file “29 - Part II - Advantages of using stress - Changing the meaning of
words - Words in which stress changes the meaning”

мука /ˈmukə/ anguish BUT мука /muˈka/ flour;
атлас /ˈatləs/ atlas BUT атлас /ɐtˈlas/ satin;
виски /ˈviskʲɪ/ whisky BUT виски /vɪsˈkʲi/ temples;
клубы /ˈklubɨ/ clubs BUT клубы /kluˈbɨ/ clouds (e.g.: of smoke);
замок /ˈzamək/ castle BUT замок /zɐˈmok/ a lock.

•
•
•
•
•

Primary and secondary stress
Compound words
In Russian, you can meet quite often compound words. A compound word consists of more than
one word. Since it is a combination of two separate words, each one with its own stress, the
compound word has two stresses – primary and secondary. In the IPA, primary stress has stronger
degree of stress and is marked by the “ ˈ ” symbol, while secondary stress is weaker and has the “ ˌ ”
sign. Usually, in a compound word the secondary stress will be in the first part of the word and the
primary stress will be in the second part of the word. Note that those primary and secondary stresses
do not necessarily match the stresss of the individual words. For example:

See MP3 file “30 - Part II - Primary and secondary stress - Stress in compound words”

высоко /vɨsɐˈkо/ highly + одарённый /ədɐˈrʲɵnnɨj/ gifted
 высокоодарённый /vɨˌsokəədɐˈrʲɵnnɨj/ highly gifted;

22

Prepositions and particles
Each word, if pronounced separately, has a stress. However, often time in a speech flow we tend
to merge some words, making them unstressed in the process. It can only happen to prepositions and
particles because they do not carry any important meaning; they are auxiliary parts of speech. For
example:

See MP3 file “31 - Part II - Primary and secondary stress - Stress in prepositions and
particles”

•
•
22

Prepositions: cо мной /səˈmnoj/ with me, на зиму /ˈnazʲɪmu/ for winter;
Particles: какой-то /kɐˈkojtə/ some, что-то /ˈʂtotə/ something.

In any word that contains the “ё” letter, the stress always comes on it.

It does not happen all the time, though. So, once again, listen to various recordings and native
speakers as often as possible and pay attention, so as to notice this phenomenon for yourself.

Rhythm
The rhythm of a language is the perception of the speed at which we pass from one syllable to the
next. Russian, as well as English, has a stressed-timed rhythm. Opposed to it is the syllable-timed
rhythm, typical of French or Italian, for example. If we were to explain this phenomenon with the
help of a metronome, the image is the following: in French, with each tick of the metronome, we
move on to a new syllable; while, in Russian, with each tick we pass to a new stressed syllable.
Thus, in French, each syllable creates the rhythm, but in Russian only stressed syllables create the
rhythm. To continue the metronome comparison, in Russian, non-stressed syllables would be
located between two ticks. Evidently, it makes the rhythms of these two types of languages quite
different.
To sum up, lexical stress and rhythm are closely linked. Respecting the stress of syllables lets us
respect the rhythm of the language. It works the other way around to a certain level: trying to respect
the Russian rhythm lets us develop an intuition for stress patterns more easily and, consequently,
helps us memorize them more easily too.

PART III. INTONATION AND PROSODIC STRESS
At first, we saw the pronunciation of words, which means the pronunciation of all the sounds that
Russian people actually use every day. After that we learned that each word has at least one stressed
syllable and that these syllables create the unique rhythm of the Russian language and helps be
better understood. Now, you are about to find out that different types of sentences use different
types of intonation and, also, that we always stress certain words in a sentence (not only syllables in
words) to highlight them.

Intonation
Definition
Intonation is the variation of the pitch of the voice in a sentence. It is the fact that the voice goes
up and down during certain parts of a sentence.
Intonation helps to make the meaning of a phrase clearer. It indicates whether we hear a
statement or a question. For example: is it a close-ended question (i.e.: the answer can be yes or no)?
Is it an open-ended question (i.e.: one we answer with a whole sentence)? Or maybe it is an order or
command? Intonation focuses our attention on important elements of the message, and indicates the
attitude and emotions of the speaker.
Let us compare English and Russian in order to see what makes these two languages different,
regarding intonation.

See MP3 file “32 - Part III - Definition - Table of comparison for the intonation
patterns in English and Russian”

Statement
In English, the voice goes from the middle pitch up and then goes down to finish the sentence. For
example:

In Russian, intonation starts with a quite high pitch and gradually goes down till the end of the
sentence. For example:

Close-ended question
In English, the voice goes up at the end of a sentence. For example:

In Russian, the voice goes down at the beginning and stays rather low during the most part but at the
end raises a little. For example:

Open-ended question
In English, before the very end of it the voice goes, first up and then down to finish the sentence. For
example:

In Russian, the voice goes up right away after the beginning of a sentence, stays up for a while and
gradually goes down till the end of a sentence. For example:

Order
In English, the voice also goes, first up and then down but a little faster. For example:

In Russian, the intonation pattern is similar to a closed question, we just saw. The difference is that
the voice raises more gradually in the beginning and goes down more rapidly. For example:

As you see, the patterns are different. More than that, if an English speaker of Russian uses
English statement intonation when uttering this kind of a question in Russian, it may sound like an
open-ended question. And vice-versa.
Application and utility
Intonation is something that we do naturally in our native language since childhood. That only
goes to show that if we simply get used to new patterns in a language we learn, it will feel natural as
well. We have described how intonation works in Russian, so that you could pay attention and
recognize it in the sources you are going to listen to.
In order to get used personally to the right intonation patterns, you need to keep listening to
content or people in Russian and respect the same type of “music” when you speak. Pay attention to
the way their voice goes up and down in the beginning, in the middle and in the end of each
sentence. Then, when you speak, respect the intonation according to the meaning you want to
convey. This way, you will avoid many misunderstandings and confusing people as to whether you
asked a question or stated a fact.
The last remark on this topic is actually a point of grammar but we think it is important to
mention it here. In Russian, the intonation of a sentence is sufficient to ask a question, as opposed

to English. In English, it is necessary to inverse the subject and the verb even if you already use the
correct intonation. People would not understand at first the sentence “He is at home” as a question,
even if you use the right intonation. In Russian, on the contrary, we can say both “Он дома”
(statement) and “Он дома?” (question). The intonation is enough to convey that it is an affirmation
in the first case and a question in the second one.

Prosodic stress
In the previous chapter we saw that, in a word with more than one syllable, there is always one
syllable that is stressed. This syllable helps us recognize the word more easily. That was at the level
of syllables in word.
Now, we would like to make you aware of a similar phenomenon at the