The Russian Alphabet Makes Learning Russian Easier

If you are just starting to study Russian, you should know that the Russian alphabet will make learning Russian easier, not harder. It’s fun, and it’s not hard to learn.

However, I don’t recommend that you start learning Russian by learning the alphabet. That’s not a good place to start. First learn to speak and understand Russian fairly well, and then learning to read it will be easy.

To understand the Cyrillic alphabet, you need to know what an alphabet is.

An alphabet is a method for writing sounds on paper. That’s all it is—nothing more, nothing less.

How good the alphabet is can be measured in part by how consistently a particular symbol represents a particular sound. If your alphabet has very few exceptions, it’s a very good alphabet. If it has a lot of exceptions with one symbol sometimes making many different sounds, then it’s not such a good alphabet.

However, there is one big problem that gets worse as time goes by. All living languages evolve by importing foreign words. Dead languages (like Latin) don’t import new words. No one speaks Latin anymore.

Living languages all import foreign words, and when they do, they have rules for how they import words. That’s not something you are likely to have thought about unless you are a student of languages. English has the following rule for importing foreign words. If the word is coming from a language that uses basically the same alphabet as English (the Latin alphabet), English keeps the foreign word’s spelling and tries to copy the foreign pronunciation.

This rule results in the English language becoming less and less phonetic with every passing year. However, if you think English is bad, French is far worse. Modern French is essentially two different languages: spoken French and written French. English is also quickly evolving to become two different languages.

Other languages that have their own alphabet (like Russian) have a different rule for importing foreign words. Their rule is to try to copy the sound of the foreign word, then spell the word phonetically with their own alphabet. The result is that these languages stay phonetic, while languages that use an alphabet that is common to many other languages do NOT stay phonetic.

The Russian alphabet keeps the language phonetic. The fact that you, as a student of Russian, must learn a different alphabet (which is really easy) keeps the Russian language one simple language. A little bit more effort up front saves a lot of effort learning to read later.

Do you know how English language dictionaries have words marked in funny characters that tell you how to pronounce the word? Well, Russian is so phonetic that they don’t really need special characters to tell you how to say the words. In fact, most Russian dictionaries don’t have special phonetic markings to tell you how to pronounce the word like English dictionaries do.

Which language will be easier to learn to read and understand: Czech or Russian? Czech uses the Latin alphabet (more or less) while Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. For most people Russian would be easier to learn because it’s more phonetic. The Russian alphabet is easy to learn.

Another thing that makes learning Russian easier is that the Cyrillic alphabet is optimized for Russian. Think of it as a special-purpose tool instead of a one-size-fits-all tool.

  • lili

    The “Love of learning” is the best teacher. In other words when you really love the subject it’s a lot easier.

  • Michael Bowles

    My system for remembering the Russian Alphabet…..Very easy…

    566466…Just remember this number

    А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я

    5 – А Б В Г Д………………….Easy….5 letters

    6 – Е Ё Ж З И Й……………..2 E’s…..Woman #3…..2 N’s…..6 letters

    6 – К Л М Н О П………………Same as English…6 letters

    4 – Р С Т У……………………..Easy….4 letters

    6 – Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ…………….Federal Express…2 4’s……2 W’s…..6 letters

    6 – Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я……………3 b’s……..Equine & U……Ya…..6 letters

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your suggestion and sorry for taking so long to get it approved. I think this would be a particularly good memory aid for writing down the Russian alphabet on a test.

      Thanks again.


    • Ella McC

      Hey, this is awesome! I’m just starting to learn Русский as I approach 50, and this is the best mnemonic(?) device I’ve come across. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Bulgar

    Cyrillic alphabet was invented in Bulgaria. It is really annoying when people associate it only with Russian and very often ignorant people refer to it as the Russian alphabet.Let’s show some more respect to the great country that invented it
    Russians are what they are thanks to Bulgarians. Bulgaria was a great empire in the 9th century while Russia was a small newly founded country at that time. They become Christians and got an alphabet from Bulgarians spread over there by Bulgarian missionaries, priests, teachers etc.

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      Okay Bulgar be nice. Consider it a compliment that the Russians are using your cool alphabet! It is a very useful alphabet and yes it is used in many countries.

      We have labeled it the Russian alphabet here because most Americans don’t know at first that it’s called the Cyrillic alphabet. Thanks to you, they can learn a little bit more!

      Now how do I write “Thank You” in Bulgarian?


  • Anton

    Я сам не знал (являюсь русским), что кириллица была придумана в Булгарии о_О!

    And a translation in English by Bing:

    I myself did not know (I am Russian) that Cyrillic was created in Bulgaria O_o!

    • Brent Van Arsdell
      Brent Van Arsdell

      It’s okay to post relevant posts in another language (such as Russian) but please post a translation. Too. Thanks. Brent

  • Bulgar

    Брент, thank you in Bulgarian is “благодаря” :). To the topic I can add that the Balkan languages that use Cyrillic use it in much more phonetic way than Russian. That is why for us it comes weird when we start learning western languages like English, French etc. where we basically have to memorize how each word is spelled. We don’t even have verb in our language for the action of spelling because usually we write what we say or each letter represents particular sound with very few exceptions – much less then in the languages that I mentioned.

    Anton, many Russians don’t know about the origin of their alphabet as well as where they got the Christianity from for political reasons. It is somehow weird a great(now) country like Russia to admit that it is what it is thanks to a country that is currently very small and is even hard to see on the map :)

    I would like to add something else about the Slavic languages. Russian is the one most used in terms of number of people. But with knowing Bulgarian is easier to understand the other Slavic languages. I can give example – I have never studied Serbian though I understand maybe 85-90% of basic everyday spoken Serbian. I have never studied Russian and I understand around 80% or more of basic everyday spoken Russian. Both things I say from experience. But when it comes to Serbians to understand Russian or Russian to understand Serbian the percentage drops to around 50. One reason for that I think is that in Bulgarian there are many dialects. Even though a small country within 100 km the dialect changes. At school we have read old Bulgarian books from 100-200 years ago with the different dialects inside. So we have learned quite big vocabulary. So for example when a Russian tells me a word or how they say something in specific situation usually I can find something similar in Bulgarian but we could 2-3 other alternatives to say the same while in Russian they don’t have. A Russian friend told me that even Russia is so big they have no dialects. So that could be one reason.

    Anyway, learn Cyrillic and at least one language using it. Once you know the letters you can read with almost no mistakes all the languages written in Cyrillic :)

  • Michael Bowles

    Hi Brent,
    I’m still living here in Russia for 6 years teaching English in 4 schools…My new system is “Learn 1 new word each day”…Yesterday’s word was “Almost” = Patchtee- Почти…
    Today’s word is “Full” = Polnee – Полный…I also teach English in supermarkets because of the visual effect & teach with Karaoke, also…I also use my new system called “Aggresive Emotional English”…This is where the teacher yells at the student in an aggresive manner to help them learn…I’m constantly experimenting, so contact me if I may be of help to you…

    Je suis libre, mais je reste … MKB…

    Paw de Deux 2…

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