The Russian Alphabet Makes Learning Russian Easier
June 2, 2013
|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.