How to Learn the Russian Alphabet

Close-up of a gilded Russian dictionary
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The Russian alphabet is based on Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts, which were developed from Byzantine Greek in order to facilitate the spread of Christianity during the 9th and 10th centuries. Some letters in the modern Russian alphabet look familiar to English speakers — Е, У, К, А — while other letters do not resemble any characters in the English alphabet.

Russian Alphabet Sounds

The Russian alphabet is relatively easy to learn thanks to its principle of one letter per sound. This principle means that most phonemes (sounds that convey meaning) are represented by their own letters. The spelling of Russian words typically reflects all of the sounds that are part of that word. (This will get more complicated when we move onto allophones—variations of possible pronunciations.)

Get to know the Russian alphabet by studying all three columns below. The first column provides the Russian letter, the second column provides an approximate pronunciation (using English characters), and the third column gives an idea of what the letter sounds like, using an example from an English word.

Russian Letter Pronunciation Closest English Sound
А, a Ah or aah Far, lamb
Б, б B Boy
В, в V Vest
Г, г Gh Guest
Д, д D Door
E, e Yeh Yes
Ё, ё Yoh York
Ж, ж Zh pleasure, beige
З, з Z Zoo
И, и E Meet
Й, й Y Toy
К, к K Kilo
Л, л L Love
М, м M Mop
Н, н N No
О, о O Morning
П, п P Pony
Р, р R (rolled)
С, с S Song
Т, т T Train
У, у Ooh Boo
Ф, ф F Fun
Х, х H Loch
Ц, ц Ts Ditzy
Ч, ч Ch Cherish
Ш, ш Sch Shhh
Щ, щ Sh (softer than Ш) Shoe
Ъ, ъ hard sign (non-vocalized) n/a
Ы, ы Uhee no equivalent sound
Ь, ь soft sign (non-vocalized) n/a
Э, э Aeh Aerobics
Ю, ю Yu You
Я, я Ya Yard

Once you have learned the Russian alphabet, you should be able to read most Russian words, even if you don’t know their meaning.

Stressed and Unstressed Vowels

The next step is to learn how Russian words are stressed, which simply means which vowel in the word is emphasized. Russian letters behave differently under stress and are pronounced more distinctly according to their alphabet sound.

Unstressed vowels are reduced or merged. This difference is not reflected in the spelling of Russian words, which can be confusing to beginner learners. While there are several rules governing the way unstressed letters are pronounced, the easiest way to learn is to expand your vocabulary as much as possible, naturally acquiring a sense of stressed vowels along the way.