How to Master Russian Pronunciation

Speaking Russian or any other foreign language fluently is always impressive. Speaking them fluently and sounding like a native speaker is even more so. In this article you will read about some common Russian pronunciation patterns which will help you sound more natural.

First and foremost, the best way to learn proper pronunciation is by listening to native speakers as much as possible. Singing songs is also very helpful. Check them out. Another exercise you can do is to "shadow" a native speaker like the guy in this video, but you might need a transcript.

I also want to point out that the rules listed below are for you to be aware of them. Don't overthink them when speaking Russian. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to implement them. Practice is key.


Resources

Learn Russian. Phonetics

This is an excellent site where you can listen to the pronunciation of all the Russian sounds and the minimal pairs like "мыла" и "Мила", "мэр" и "мера", etc.

Easy Pronunciation. Russian Phonetic Transcription Converter

This is a great tool that shows you IPA or Cyrillic transcription of any Russian word that you enter. In this article I use the Cyrillic transcription.

Easy Pronunciation. Sounds Chart

This wonderful table with audio lets you hear how any Russian sound is pronounced at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a word.


Rules

What you see is what it sounds like

Unlike English or French, most of the letters in Russian words are pronounced. But of course there are multiple nuances which you will read about below.

Stress

Stress is really important in Russian. There are no rules, but sometimes there are certain patterns. Again, the more you listen to native speakers, the easier it is for you to remember the right stress.

Reduction

Depending on whether they are in a stressed or an unstressed syllable, vowels are pronounced differently. The farther the vowel is placed from the stressed syllable, the more reduced it is.

[ма́мъ]/[mа́hmuh]

 

Don't confuse hard sign "ъ" with the phonetic symbol "ъ". They are not the same.

[ʌчк'и́]/[uhchk'í]

 

[мълʌко́]/[muhluhk'о́h]

 

The first syllable is even more reduced than the second one because it is farther from the stressed syllable.

[с'иестра́]/[sistrа́h]

[м'е́л]/[m'е́l]

 

[хо́д'иет]/[hо́d'it]

[jа́блъкъ]/[jа́bluhkuh]

 

What's important here is to understand that unstressed vowels are not pronounced the same way as stressed vowels. They are reduced.


Devoicing

In certain cases voiced consonants (б, в, г, д, з, ж) lose their voice.

At the end of a word before a pause

[боп]/[bohp]

 

[миешко́ф]/[mishkо́hf]


[мок]/[mohk]

 

[рат]/[raht]

 

[нош]/[nohsh]

 

[рос]/[ros]

 

Before another word which starts with an unvoiced consonants (к, п, с, т, ф, ц, ч, ш, щ), sonorant (м, н, л, р), [в] и [j] 

Compare:

[Слаб ън стал]/[Slahb uhn stahl]

 

[Слап ja стал]/[Slahp ja stahl]

    

In the middle of a word before an unvoiced consonant

[гла́ткъ]/[glа́htkuh]

 

 

Voicing


In certain cases unvoiced consonants become voiced.

Inside a word before a voiced consonant.

[зд’елкъ]/[zd'elkuh]

  

A preposition before a voiced consonant.

Compare:

[б'иес‿т'иеб'а́]/[byes‿tibya]

[б'иез‿н'и́х]/[byez‿neeh]

Before a particle

Compare:

[каг бы ние так]/[kahg bI ni tak]

[кактъ так]/[kahktuh tahk]

 

 

Е, Ё, Ю, Я at the beginning of a word, after vowels, and after Ъ and Ь 

If a word starts with one of these letters, then the first sound is [j].

[jе́с'т']/[jе́s't']

 

[jо́ш]/[jо́sh]

 

[jюла́]/[julа́h]

 

[jа́блъкъ]/[j'abluhkuh]

 

If one of these letters comes after a vowel, first we pronounce the sound [j].

[мʌjа́к]/[muhjа́k]

 

[пʌjю́т]/[puhjút]

 

If one of these letters comes after Ъ or Ь, first we pronounce the sound [j].

[вjе́ст]/[vjе́hst]

 

 

Silent consonants

Certain word have consonants that are not pronounced. They need to be remembered. Here's the list of the most common ones.

Compare:

[че́с'т' - че́сныэj]

[ра́дъс'т' - ра́дъсныэj]

[вм'е́с'т'ие - сʌвм'е́сныэj]

[ш'ːа́с'т'jъ - ш'ːиесл'и́выэj]

[ʌпʌзда́т' - по́знъ]

[с'иерд'е́чныэj - с'е́рцыэ]

[г'иега́нт - г'иега́нцск'иеj]

[со́лн'иечныэj - со́нцыэ]

[здра́выэj - здра́ствуjт'ие]

[чю́ствъ]

[л'е́с'н'ие!цъ]


Do you have any questions about Russian pronunciation? Feel free to ask them in the comments below.

I want to say thank you to postscapes for the amazing picture.

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