How to Read in Russian: 10 Easy Steps

The Holy Bible Genesis in Russian
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Once you have learned the Russian alphabet, you are ready to take it to the next level and learn how to read Russian. The process has a few challenges, but the following 10 basic steps will help you master your reading in no time.

01
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Read every letter in a word

Russians pronounce every letter in a word, apart from the two silent letters Ъ and Ь. This makes reading Russian words easier: simply read every letter you see.

02
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Learn basic phonetics

In order to read Russian correctly, you need to know several basic rules that determine how sounds are pronounced. The most important ones are the rules that concern vowel reduction, palatalization, and voiced and voiceless consonants. Keep in mind the following principles:

  • Russian vowels sound shorter and a little different when they are in an unstressed syllable. Some vowels merge into another sound, such as А and О into an Ə. Stress is not indicated in Russian books or newspapers, so if you are not familiar with the correct stress and pronunciation, it is best to begin with reading materials that are specifically designed for learners of Russian. 
  • Palatalization happens when the middle part of our tongue touches the palate, i.e. the roof of the mouth. In Russian, consonants can be soft or hard. Palatalization occurs when we pronounce soft consonants, that is, consonants that are followed by the soft-indicating vowels Я, Ё, Ю, Е, И or the soft sign Ь. 
  • Russian consonants are either voiced or voiceless. Voiced consonants are those that use the vibration of the vocal cords: e.g. Б, В, Г, Д, Ж, З. Voiceless consonants are those that don’t: П, Ф, К, Т, Ш, С. 

Voiced consonants can sound voiceless if they are at the end of a word, for example: Код (Kot) – code.

They can also become voiceless when they are followed by a voiceless consonant, for example: Кружка (KRUSHka) – a mug.

Voiceless consonants can also change and become voiced when they appear before a voiced consonant, for example: Футбол (fudBOL) – soccer.

03
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Use the words you already know to provide context for the words you don’t

When you begin reading in Russian, you will probably only know a handful of words. Use these to give you an idea of what the rest of the text is about. Once you have a general understanding of the story, go back and look up the new words in a dictionary.

04
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Take note of the words you don’t know

Begin to expand your vocabulary by learning new words. Writers often have favorite words that they repeat throughout the text, so you are likely to come across the new words again and again. You can test yourself by grouping new words into manageable bundles and learning them before you move on to the next part of the text.

05
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Read different styles

While Russian classics will teach you the more traditional and formal Russian, it is important to read other types of texts, such as newspaper articles, contemporary fiction, children’s books, poetry, and even cook books and travel guides. This will give you an opportunity to learn useful everyday words.

06
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Find movies and programs with Russian subtitles

Hearing the words at the same time as reading them can accelerate your learning, and one of the best ways to achieve that is to watch Russian TV shows, cartoons, and movies with subtitles. Many of these are available online and can make it fun to learn about Russian culture and language at the same time.

07
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Read your favourite books in Russian

Make a list of the books you have particularly enjoyed in English and read them in Russian. Knowing in advance what happens in the book you are reading will allow you to read faster and have more time to enjoy the plot. The sense of achievement from being able to read your favourite book in a foreign language can be a fantastic motivation to keep going.

08
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Establish a reading routine

Don’t overwhelm yourself by committing to read a large volume all at once. Instead, read in small but regular blocks of time, always stopping before you get too tired. Reading for ten minutes a day is much more achievable than leaving it all for the weekend and attempting an hour of reading Russian on your first try.

09
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Find your favourite Russian author, journalist, or blogger

Although reading a wide variety of texts is important, it is equally helpful to find someone whose style you really enjoy. You will be more motivated to read if you like what you are reading.

10
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Read out loud

Reading out loud will help you and your facial muscles get used to the way Russian sounds and words are pronounced. If you have a Russian friend who is willing to listen to you while you read, ask them to correct you if you misread a word.