St. Petersburg Times copy editor and linguist Daniel Puckett, provides the
information for this interactive primer on the Russian languange.
Take our crash course in the Russian language. Find the phrase you want want to
practice, click on the pronunciation and hear it as you might in Russia.
Good-bye (duhs vee-DAHN-yah)
I am pleased to meet you. (OH-chen'
pree-YAHT-nuh SVAH-mee puh-znah-KO-m'ee-tsuh)
What is your name? (Kahk vahs zah-VOOT)
My name is. . . (Mee-NYAH zah-VOOT. . .)
I enjoyed meeting you. (OH-chen'
pree-YAHT-nuh BY-luh SVAH-mee puh-znah-KO-m'ee-tsuh)
I don't understand. (Yah n'ee
I do not speak Russian. (Yah n'ee
Do you speak English. (Vy guh-vah-REE-t'eh
Almost a conversation
You're on the west coast of Florida. (Vy
nah-KHOH-d'ee-t'ehs' na ZAH-puhd-num PLYAH-zheh SHTAH-tuh FLOH-ree-duh)
I hope you enjoy St. Petersburg. (Yah
nah-DYEH-yoos' shto vam NRAH-vee-tsuh Sent-Peh-tehrz-BOORK)
Have you seen our beaches. (Vy VEE-d'eh-lee
How do you like our weather. (Vahm
NRAH-vee-tsuh pah-GOH-duh zd'es')
The area has many good restaurants. (Oo nahs
MHOG-gee-yeh khah-ROH-shee-yeh ree-stah-RAH-nee)
Grouper is a local specialty. (Speh-tsee-YAHL'-nuhst' ray-OH-nuh RY-buh
The Treasures of the Czars are magnificent. (Sah-KROH-vee-shchuh tsah-REY
By DANIEL PUCKETT
©St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 1995
The pronunciation of Russian differs from that of English in several
- Russian distinguishes between hard and soft consonants. In
general, hard consonants are pronounced as they are in English; soft consonants
are followed by a short "y" sound, shown here with an apostrophe. The way some
people say the N in "New York" or the T in "tune" -- following it with a short
"y" sound -- is an example of what in Russian would be a soft consonant. It's
important not to confuse the sounds: "ch" and soft T can sound very much alike to
us, but they are entirely distinct to a Russian.
- Russian vowels are clear and simple: "ah" is like the A in "father"; "e" or
"eh" is like "pet"; "ey" is like "ay" in "ray"; "ee" is like "ee" in "beet"; "o"
is something like the "aw" in "awful"; "oo" resembles the "oo" in "boot"; "ai"
sounds like "eye"; and "uh" is like the A in "about." One vowel is a bit unusual:
The sound shown here as "ih" is a short "ee" sound; after many consonants, it is
shown as "wih," a short "uh" sound followed by the short "ee." You can
approximate it by saying the first two letters of "wick."
- Only three Russian consonants have no real English equivalent:
The sound shown here as "kh" is really a hissing "h," not as harsh as the "ch" in
the Scottish "loch" or the German "Buch." It's more like the "ch" in the German
The sound shown here as "shch" was once pronounced like an "sh" (as in "share")
quickly followed by a "ch" (as in "chair"). Some Russians still pronounce it that
way, but in Moscow, it's a soft, hissing "shh," whereas "sh" can be pronounced
with the lower teeth thrust slightly forward.
The Russian hard R is rolled, as in Spanish; the soft R is a shorter flap of the
- The sound shown here as "zh" is like the Z in "azure."
- Unfortunately for English-speakers, Russian makes frequent use of such
consonant clusters as "zdr," "stv" and "Ints" (in the Cyrillic alphabet that
Russian uses, "ts" is one letter). Just try saying the letters together very
fast; it really does get easier with practice.
- Most Russians will introduce themselves with three names: their first name,
middle name and last name. The middle name is almost always a patronymic, which
is a name formed by adding "-ovich" for men or "-ovna" for women to the father's
first name. In spoken Russian, the "-ov-" often drops out, so Igor Ivanovich,
which means "Igor, son ov Ivan (John)," is pronounced something like "EE-guhr
ee-VAH-nich," and Pavlovich, which means "son of Pavel (Paul)," sounds like
"Pahlch." Because courtesy titles -- the equivalent of our Mr., Mrs., Miss and
Ms. -- were almost completely eliminated by the Bolsheviks, the polite way to
address a Russian in most circumstances is by using the first name and
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