How to read Cyrillic alphabet?

Updated: May 13

There are 33 letters in the alphabet. You can get basic skills in reading the Cyrillic alphabet quite quickly. Mastering it will not take a lot of time, too.

The good news about it is that every character is just one sound: there are almost no combinations like English SH or CH. Some of the characters are similar to Latin characters, others - to Greek, and some are typical for Cyrillic only.

Six letters are pronounced very similarly to their Latin equivalents:

А = [A] like in CAR

О = [O] like in TOP

E = [e] like in METRO

M = [M] like in MOSCOW

T = [T] like in TRAVEL

C = [C] like in CITY (and never as K)

K = [K] like in KID

These five look similar, but are pronounced differently:

B = [v] like in VISIT

H = [n] like in NO

Р = [r] like in ROCK

Х = [h] like in HOTEL

У = [u:] like in DO

Knowing this you can already read some signs:

Other characters:

Б = [b] like in BANK

Г = [g] like in Gagarin (the first man in space)

З = [z] like in ZEBRA

Ж = [j] like in JOJOBA

Д = [d] like in DOG

Л = [l] like in LOOK

П = [p] like in PETERSBURG

И = [i] like in KISS

Й = [j] like in BOY

Ы = like [i] but more relaxed one, without stretching your lips - a lazy [i]

At this stage you are already advanced enough to read the most of signs and to recognize some international words:

Let's add more:

Ф = [f] like in PHOTO or FLAG

Ц = [ts] like in German KATZE

Ч = [ch] like in CHESS or CHEKHOV

Ш = [sh] like in SHOWER or in German SHWARTZ

Щ = [sch] kind of like in QUICHE

Э = [æ] like in THAT

The following four characters can be read in two different ways.

1. If such character stands first in a word or follows a vowel (or the Ь, Ъ characters) they are pronounced as double sounds:

Ю = [ju:] like in YOU or CUTE

Я = [ja] like in YOUNG

Е = [je] like in YES

Ё = [jo:] like in YAWN or YACHT

Now you can read the names of the Metro stations as most of them end with – CКАЯ: МАЯКОВСКАЯ, СМОЛЕНСКАЯ, АРБАТСКАЯ, ТВЕРСКАЯ:

2. If this letter stands after a consonant it

- softens this consonant

- is pronounced as У / А/ Э/ О respectively:

ДЮ = [d’u] like in dude

ДЯ = [d’a] like in whaddaya ;)

ДЕ = [d’e] like in demo

ДЁ = [m’ə:] like in dirge

Ь,Ъ have no sounds. They a) make the preceding consonants to sound softer. b) make Ю, Я, Е, Ё to sound like double sounds (as it was described in the point 1).

Attention! Do not confuse these four alike letters: Б, Ы, Ь, Ъ

Happy reading!

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