Russian language lesson 3
In this lesson you will learn the main Russian pronunciation rules. Also we’ll add more new words and basic Russian phrases.
Watch the video:
Russian pronunciation can become a nightmare for people who approach it too seriously. Before we even start, I want you to understand that everything we’re going to talk about today is not CRUCIAL. Even if you ignore the following pronunciation rules completely, it won’t cause any misunderstanding. Yes, you would sound like a foreigner, but Russian native speakers will still understand you. So, pleeeeease, don’t worry if you can’t do something or if it seems overwhelming, ok? Much more important is to stay motivated and become confident in Russian.
But if you’re ready to become a pro and to nail down Russian pronunciation, let’s begin!
RULE #1. HARDNESS AND SOFTNESS OF CONSONANTS
Russian hard consonants are pronounced just like most “normal” English sounds. You already know them from the previous lessons (Б, В, Г, Д, Ж, З, К, Л, М, Н, П, Р, С, Т… and others). In Russian, these consonants have “soft” equivalents.
Nothing special about it. Let’s take some examples from English: “booty” and “beautiful”. Try to pronounce them slowly. Do you feel the difference in that [b]? How about the words “poor” and “pure”? Or “fool” and “fuel”? Same in Russian!
WHEN CONSONANTS BECOME SOFT:
1. When followed by the soft sign – Ь. It can appear at the end of the word (БЫТЬ, МАТЬ, РАНЬ, ЛАНЬ, ТОПЬ) and in the middle of the word (ПИСЬМО, ЛИСТЬЯ).
2. When followed by the “softening” vowels: Я, Е, Ё, Ю, И.
For example, “МАТЬ” and “МЯТЬ” sound differently. Just as “БЫТЬ” and “БИТЬ”.
3. And of course our beloved exceptions! Ж, Ц, Ш are always hard; Щ, Ч are always soft!
HOW TO PRONOUNCE SOFT CONSONANTS
To understand the articulation of Russian soft consonants, you should start with the sound И [ee]. What happens: your tongue kind of arches its “back”. Try to say long ИИИИИ and analyze the articulation. This is exactly where your tongue should be when you pronounce the “normal” consonants. Watch the video to understand what I mean.
Now let’s practice! Read these pairs:
БА–БЯ, БО–БЁ, БУ–БЮ, БЭ–БЕ, БЫ–БИ;
ВА–ВЯ, ВО–ВЁ, ВУ–ВЮ, ВЭ–ВЕ, ВЫ–ВИ;
ГА–ГЯ, ГО–ГЁ, ГУ–ГЮ, ГЭ–ГЕ, ГЫ–ГИ;
ДА–ДЯ, ДО–ДЁ, ДУ–ДЮ, ДЭ–ДЕ, ДЫ–ДИ;
ЗА–ЗЯ, ЗО–ЗЁ, ЗУ–ЗЮ, ЗЭ–ЗЕ, ЗЫ–ЗИ;
КА–КЯ, КО–КЁ, КУ–КЮ, КЭ–КЕ, КЫ–КИ;
ЛА–ЛЯ, ЛО–ЛЁ, ЛУ–ЛЮ, ЛЭ–ЛЕ, ЛЫ–ЛИ;
МА–МЯ, МО–МЁ, МУ–МЮ, МЭ–МЕ, МЫ–МИ;
НА–НЯ, НО–НЁ, НУ–НЮ, НЭ–НЕ, НЫ–НИ;
ПА–ПЯ, ПО–ПЁ, ПУ–ПЮ, ПЭ–ПЕ, ПЫ–ПИ;
РА–РЯ, РО–РЁ, РУ–РЮ, РЭ–РЕ, РЫ–РИ;
СА–СЯ, СО–СЁ, СУ–СЮ, СЭ–СЕ, СЫ–СИ;
ТА–ТЯ, ТО–ТЁ, ТУ–ТЮ, ТЭ–ТЕ, ТЫ–ТИ;
ФА–ФЯ, ФО–ФЁ, ФУ–ФЮ, ФЭ–ФЕ, ФЫ–ФИ;
ХА–ХЯ, ХО–ХЁ, ХУ–ХЮ, ХЭ–ХЕ, ХЫ–ХИ.
Read these words:
МА́СЛО (butter) – МЯ́СО (meat), РУ́КИ (hands) – БРЮ́КИ (pants), МЫЛО (soap) – МИ́ЛО (nice), БЫТЬ (to be) – БИТЬ (to bet), МАТЬ (mother) – МЯТЬ (to crumple), ЛУК (onion) – ЛЮК (manhole), У́ГОЛ (corner) – У́ГОЛЬ (coal).
ЖИТЬ (to live), ЦИРК (circus), ЦИ́ФРА (figure, number), ЧАЙ (tea), ЧА́ЙКА (seagull), ЩИ (cabbage soup), ЩЕКА́ (cheek).
RULE #2. VOWEL REDUCTION
Last week we talked about stressed vowels in the Russian language. But you’ve probably noticed that unstressed vowels sound much less distinct. So, what happens exactly?
– O in the unstressed syllable turns to the sound [ə]. It’s something between А and О.
Examples: ОКНО́ (window), МОСКВА́ (Moscow), КО́СМОС (space), МОЛОКО́ (milk), ПРОФЕ́ССОР (professor), ЛО́НДОН (London).
– Е in the unstressed syllable turns to the sound [ih].
Examples: СЕСТРА́ (sister), РЕКА́ (river), МЕЧТА́ (dream).
– Я in the unstressed syllable turns to the sound [ih], too.
Examples: ЯЙЦО́ (egg), ДЕ́СЯТЬ (ten).
RULE #3. VOICED AND UNVOICED CONSONANTS
What does the word “voiced” even mean? It’s simply the consonants that you pronounce with the help of your voice, that is, the vibration of the vocal cords.
Compare these sounds (and pay attention to articulation). The ones on the left are voiced, and the ones on the right are unvoiced.
Б – П
В – Ф
Г – К
Д – Т
Ж – Ш
З – С
Now comes another Russian pronunciation rule: sometimes voiced consonants turn to their unvoiced versions. When?
– When it’s located at the end of the word. For example, ГА́МБУРГ (we say ГА́МБУРК) or МЕДВЕ́ДЕВ (we say МЕДВЕ́ДЕФ).
– When in the middle of the word it’s followed by another unvoiced consonant. For example, ВТО́РНИК (we say ФТО́РНИК), ВО́ДКА (we say ВО́ТКА).
And it works the other way around! If the unvoiced consonant is followed by the voiced one, it turns to its voiced equivalent. For example, ВОКЗА́Л we say as ВАГЗА́Л.
Now let’s practice! Read the following words:
ГО́РОД (city), БАГА́Ж (luggage), ЗУБ (tooth), АВТО́БУС (bus), ЛО́ЖКА (spoon), МАДРИ́Д (Madrid), НОЖ (knife), ФУТБО́Л (soccer), СКА́ЗКА (fairytale), ГАРА́Ж (garage), МА́РКЕТИНГ (marketing), ГОД (year), ПЛЯЖ (beach).
AGAIN! If it seems too difficult, just relax and put pronunciation rules away for some time. You can always come back later and review. Nothing terrible will happen if you read Russian the way it’s spelled.
Ok, finally let’s add some new expressions and words to our vocabulary:
ДО́БРОЕ У́ТРО – good morning
ДО́БРЫЙ ДЕНЬ – good afternoon
ДО́БРЫЙ ВЕ́ЧЕР – good evening
СПОКО́ЙНОЙ НО́ЧИ – good night (before going to sleep).
КАК ДЕЛА́? – How are you?
ХОРОШО́ – good
ПЛО́ХО – bad
НОРМА́ЛЬНО – not bad; ok.
ДО СВИДА́НИЯ – goodbye
ПОКА́ – bye
– Review all the words and phrases from the three lessons and practice the Russian pronunciation rules we learned today.
– Try to expand your vocabulary with more useful phrases (watch my videos for beginners here).