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April 11, 2018

How to Speak Like a Native Russian (English & Russian)

how to speak with a russian accent in englishIsn’t the Russian accent one of the best of the world? Just like many other things Russian, the accent of Russians is something people either love or hate. That’s why in this article we’re going to dive into the world of the Russian accent. You’ll learn in this page:

  • 10 tips how to speak English with a Russian accent
  • 10 tips how to improve your Russian accent if you’re learning Russian

Some of the tips are the same in both section. For example both sections include that you have to roll your ‘r’. But feel free to only read the section on the Russian accent that you’re interested in.

So, without further ado – let’s find out how you too can speak English – or Russian – like a native Russian speaker!

In the above video I explain how I learned to speak Russian.

 

Russian accent: 10 tips how to speak English with a Russian accent

#1 forget about the articles

The first thing you may have noticed when you hear a Russian speaker speak English is that they often skip articles. So they might forget to use ‘the’ and ‘a’ whenever its appropriate. This can cause funny sentences such as ‘I already put pizza in oven 5 minutes ago’ and ‘I didn’t see car’. Even Russians who speak English well can often be found making this mistake.

The reason for that is because there are no vowels in Russian. So the entire concept is a weird thing for Russian speakers. This is one of the easiest things to do if you want to make a Russian accent while you’re speaking English.

#2 Roll your ‘r’

The Russian ‘r’ is a short sound that may not be as noticeable as in some other languages such as Spanish or other Latin languages. However, it’s still very present and using it will make your speech sound even more Russian.

The correct way to roll the Russian ‘r’ is to slightly flick your tongue against the root of your mouth. Try saying ‘Refrigerator’ 10 times while practicing.

#3 Do not raise your voice when asking a question

Another thing that isn’t related to individual sounds, but comes from a structural difference between Russian and English. Russians do not use inflection when asking a question. Where in English if you ask, ‘want to see a movie tonight?’, your intonation will go up at the end of the sentence to indicate that you’re asking a question.

Try repeating the same phrase, but with stressing the want part: ‘do you WANT to go see a movie tonight?’. Now it doesn’t feel that much like a question anymore. So often when Russians ask a question it’s not completely clear that they’re asking something. And this will make you sound even better with your Russian accent.

#4 Replace your ‘w’ with a ‘v’

In Russian there is no ‘w’ sound. So when a native Russian speaker tries to say words like ‘water’, ‘want’ or whiskey’ – it becomes ‘voter’, ‘vent’ and ‘risky’. Not all make this mistake and it’s possible for them to learn it, but if you really want to make an authentic Russian accent in English – then you got to skip the ‘w’ for the ‘v’.

#5 ‘u’ becomes ‘up’ or ‘a’

Just like with the ‘w‘ there is no real ‘u’ sound in Russian as well. So what you have to do is switch your ‘u’ for the longer version ‘uuh’ which does exist. It’s a bit like the second ‘u’ in YouTube. It’s a longer version and you have to put your lips out far in order to accentuate it. This goes for the ‘u’ in words where it’s already a bit longer such as ‘dude’ and ‘huge’.

On the other hand, when the ‘u’ in English is already a bit shorter such as in ‘bus’ or ‘hut’ – you can better use a short ‘a’ to replace the ‘u’.

#6 ‘th’ doesn’t exist in Russian

The good thing is that the letter th doesn’t exist in Russian.  so you do not have to practice that one. One way how Russian speakers pronounce th is as a z. that is where words such as ‘ze’ come from.

As you might know in English, there are quite some words that use the ‘th’ letters at the start. Therefore, or should I say ‘zerefore’ it is quite a common thing to hear Russian native speakers make this mistake. on top of that, it sounds pretty funny, so it’s a perfect way to russify your English.

#7 turn your ‘h’ into a ‘kh’

The Russian letter that is used for the h, is often a g. for example, the word hamburger is also written with a g. so you actually read, gamburger. but on the other hand, the letter ‘h’ can also be written in Russia as a ‘kh’.

This causes a Russian speaker to sound a lot more harsh when he is speaking English. And you can take this to your advantage by also speaking with these letters. try wishing somebody a happy birthday in Russian English: Kheppi Birzday

#8 Add a slight ‘y’ before your ‘e’

In Russian, the letter e is actually pronounced with a little y in front of it. for example, the name Yevgeny, starts with the letter e. there is no y in the beginning. But this does not only relate to the beginning of words, also when it is being spoken inside it word.

Let’s take the word endless for example. In Russian English you would say Endlyess. so you insert the y in the middle of the word.

#9 Forget about your ‘i’ – use ‘ee’ instead

Another thing that you can forget about is using the letter I in the middle of a word. Instead try to elongate the letter by making it sound more like a ‘ee’ such as in the word feel. the reason that need of Russian speakers have so much trouble pronouncing this letter, is because it simply does not exist in their alphabet.  this is something that you see even with Russians who know English very well, it is still difficult for them to pronounce the letter the correct way. A funny phrase to practice it this with is: the fish is big. Alright, now it’s your turn. Try saying the sentence in Russian English and tell me what you say!

#10 Change the stress of the words

This Final thing you can also do to make yourself have a Russian accent. In Russian many words are randomly stressed. That means that as a foreigner, or sometimes even as a Russian person, it is very difficult for you to guess where is the stress should be in the word. Now, there’s also words like that in English. But since it’s very difficult for Russians to get exactly where in the word should be the right correct stress. You can simply make up the stresses in the word that you already know and that will cause you to seem Russian as well.

 

Russian accent: 10 tips how to improve your Russian accent in Russian

#1 Roll your ‘r’

Just like we said in the previous paragraphs, you have to roll your ‘r’ if you’re speaking in Russian. Now, how you actually do this? If you have any experience with learning Spanish or Dutch for example, then you already know how to roll your r.  But chances are I come up that this isn’t you.

1 tip on how to correctly pronounce your R’s in Russian, is to take the tip of your tongue and push it to the roof of your mouth while you pronounce the letter.  also, do not forget to pronounce ‘r’ at the end of words. This is very important, and Russians correctly pronounce the ‘r’ everywhere in each word. When you skip the door in the end of word, you sound very American, and you probably do not want this. so be sure to practice rolling your r everyday if you’re speaking Russian

#2 Do not forget about the soft sign ь

Some people when learning to speak Russian, tend to forget about the two extra letters that are in the Russian language. Of course we’re speaking about the soft sign ь. What is letter does is actually fairly simple – it causes the previous letter to become more soft. Former Slavic for German speakers, this is no problem. But for English speakers, it can be pretty difficult to find out what the difference exactly is between a letter with – and a letter without the soft sign.  and you cannot show the difference in the beginning, then don’t worry. With time you will be able to distinguish between the letters and you will be able to use this to correctly pronounce Russian

#3 Or about the hard sign ъ

The next unique letter in Russian that doesn’t actually have a sign is the hard sign.  the function of this letter is in little more simple to explain because it literally cuts off the previous letter. it indicates when the letter should be completely stopped and there should be a little small pause in between the word before you continue with the rest of the word.

#4 ‘o’ becomes ‘a’ when unstressed

Did you think about speaking Russian and reading Russian to have a good Russian accent is that every letter that you read will be pronounced the way it is. in English this is much different, every letter can be pronounced in a myriad of different ways and this can be very confusing for people who are trying to learn English.

Now, there is one exception in Russian. that is the letter ‘o’. When this letter is not stressed then it will often be pronounced as an ‘a’. this happens often with neuter nouns such as the word for tree: derevo. Since the stress is at the first syllable, the letter ‘o’ at the end will be pronounced as an ‘a’.  so essentially, you’re actually saying a different word which sounds like ‘dereva’.  this change involved is the most seen in Moscow, but also in other parts of Russia this also happens.

This computer’s you in the beginning, I want to world that much about it. As you learn and become better inn Russian, you will automatically become better at seeing when this happens and making according changes in the word

#5 Ignore vowel length

When you come from English background, one mistake that many people can make is that they inadvertently increase or decrease the length of some vowels. Luckily, the solution to this problem is actually easier than the problem itself. Because every fall in Russian has the same length. This might be a bit tricky to explain to you in a text, but what I recommend you to do is that you watch a lot of Russian movies and series. That way you will learn for yourself how good Russian pronunciation hears and feels like it will be a lot easier for you to pronounce things correctly.

Actually, if there is one secret trick that you can do to improve your Russian pronunciation fast, it is to watch a lot of Russian movies and series. This will train your brain and ears. something else that you can also do is listen to a lot of Russian music, but a disadvantage of this is that some sounds may be a little different because there using other sounds than in normal spoken Russian

#6 Forget about the sounds ‘w’, ‘j’ and ‘th’

This is one rule that can make it easier for you to pronounce, all you have to do is forget about a couple of sounds that are available in English in your vocabulary.  The song that I am talking about are: w, j and th. In the rare cases, that a word is translated from English to Russian and it stays the same, the following letters are used for these letters: j -> ж , w -> в and th -> т.

#7 Learn where to stress each word (there’s no rule for this)

Unfortunately, not everything is easy. What are the main difficulties are in Russian is that the stresses in each word are unpredictable. This is not something that you would just been able to learn. Instead, it will take a long time and practice for you to correctly know each word that you’re often using and pronouncing it correctly. the 3 easiest ways to learn these are:

  • Practice speaking with a native speaker and let him/her correct you when you make a mistake.
  • watch Russian movies like we said before to get a better feeling for this.
  • read a book in Russia where is stresses are placed on the right syllables

#8 Practice consonant clusters

The reason why so many people think that Russian is a very difficult language it’s because there are many consonant clusters that are grouped together and it makes it more difficult. Take the Russian word for hello for instance, zdravstvuyte.  there are two instances in this word that are very difficult for beginners to pronounce correctly: ‘zdr’ and ‘vstv’. the best way to learn how to pronounce it correctly is to practice often and to try saying the word very slow.

#9 Use your lips more

Russian language is a language that makes you use your lips more. The most obvious cases are for the two letters ‘o’ and ‘u’. instead of saying the two letters like you would in English, it’s a lot better to protrude your lips and really push forward and push the air out of your lungs to say the two letters correctly. This goes for more letters and words in the language and your lips are very important for pronouncing everything correctly.

#10 Do not try to get your accent a 100% correct

There is a reason why I saved this tip for last. Too many people make the mistake of wanting to become like a perfect speaker in Russian. Because let me ask you a question: how many English speakers do you know they didn’t speak English when they were born and they are now speaking it without any accent whatsoever? exactly, not a lot.

So then why would you expect to sound like a native speaker in Russian as well? In the end, the most important thing is that Russian speakers understand what you were saying. And not how well your accent might sound.

So yes, please put in all the effort you can to make sure that your accent in Russian sounds as good as possible. But also understand that you probably will never sound Exactly like a native Russian speaker, so that when people understand you it is already good enough. Instead of trying to perfect your Russian accent, focus on learning new words, new expressions, and practicing your conversational Russian with native speakers as much as possible. That will get you a lot further in your quest to become fluent in Russian.

 

Conclusion on how to speak with a Russian accent

Well, that was my article about how to get a Russian accent. If you want to learn more how to speak with a Russian accent in English, or how to improve your Russian accent, while you speak in Russian check out the recommendation below.

 

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Author: Ari Helderman


I started learning Russian seriously in January 2016, and haven't stopped since. I created this site to help other foreigners speak Russian. You can follow my progress in Russian on my YouTube channel Ари Говорит по-русски.

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