Main takeaway: learning Russian cursive isn’t necessary to speak Russian well. But it is incredibly interesting to learn and Russians appreciate it greatly if you’re learning it. It’s difficult to read and write. However, if you spend a couple of weeks focused on it, you can quickly learn it.
Reading time: 14 minutes, 23 seconds.
My Russian handwriting is horrible.
It’s also horrible in Dutch and English.
Most Russians their handwriting is horrible too.
Can you decipher this note?
Any success? Well, you can now stop reading this article.
You clearly don’t need it.
Then continue reading. You’ll learn everything you need to know about the Russian cursive handwriting.
Overview of all Russian cursive handwriting letters
Here’s an overview of all the letters in the Russian alphabet – both capital and lowercase.
Short history of Russian cursive
It may look like Russian cursive is thousands of years old. In fact, it has only been developed since the 18th century. That is: the form Russians use nowadays.
Before that, there was a version of the Cyrillic script called tachigra[hic writing (ско́ропись). This in turn was based on the earlier cyrillic bookhand scripts. Thos were called ustav and poluustav.
It was developed as a counterpart to the printed letters in books. If you’ve already been learning some Russian, you know that the italic version of the Russian letters are based on Russian cursive.
Cursive is taught in Russian schools. Why? Because you can write it much faster than if you were to write the printed letter. So it’s mainly used for personal letters and school work. And, if you ask any Russian, of course for doctors notes! Basically, almost no Russian writes NOT in cursive when writing by hand.
Russian schools teach their students to write cursive in the first grade.
Why is Russian cursive so difficult?
As you read a couple paragraphs ago, Russian cursive looks virtually impossible to read for the untrained eye. I’ve been learning Russian for 4 years, and can speak a word or 2 now.
I still struggle with reading Russian handwriting. I’ve never put effort into it. I’m starting to get to the level where I can read Russian at about 0,75 times the speed of how I read English/Dutch. But it slows down to about 0,4 when it comes to italicize parts. You often find those in books.
Even worse, when it comes to a real handwritten note, reading speed even slows down more.
So why is Russian cursive handwriting much more difficult to read than the regular part?
Some letters look completely different from their regular counterpart
In English, handwritten letters are very similar to their block counterparts. In Russian, things are completely different.
Take the letter ‘т’ for example…. in cursive it’s ‘т’.
Once you encounter this for the first time, you’re going to stare at it and think why on earth they did this? The letter T in cursive looks exactly like the block letter m…..
This will take a while to get used to.
And there are a couple more letters that undergo radical shifts. You’ll also have a lot of fun with your в’s and д’s.
Don’t worry, we cover each and every one of the letters down below individually.
Some letters look like ambiguous ‘i’s combined
It’s not just that some letters completely change shape. It’s also that many of them turn into i’s combined after each other. The following letters all become a succession of upright strokes in cursive: и, л, м, ш, щ, ы.
We’ll cover them below. Think this is it? Don’t worry, there’s more in stock!
Some combinations of letters look identical
What happens when you combine several of the previous upright i letters? Can you see the difference between лш and ми? In italics you cant see the difference… but in handwriting there’s no difference.
It looks exactly the same. It’s identical.
The words мщу, “I avenge” and лицу (dative case of лицо “face”) are also completely similar in handwritten Russian.
4 Week Russian cursive challenge
If you want to learn to write Russian cursive, you can take 3 routes:
- Not pay attention at all. Maybe you’ll learn it while learning other parts of Russian. Maybe you won’t
- Pay a little bit of attention. You’re probably in this group if you’re reading this article. You know a little bit, but it will take a long time before you can comfortable write it.
- Go all out. Serious about learning to write Russian cursive? Then take a month and completely focus all your Russian practice on learning cursive.
The first 2 don’t take effort. The third variant needs about half an hour every day for 30 days.
See it as a Russian cursive challenge!
At the end you’ll comfortable be able to write in Russian.
The program consists of copying handwriting to internalize the script. And a lot of reading to get your brain to recognize the letters better.
Before you can start the challenge, you need to be able to do the following. Otherwise the challenge won’t make any sense:
- you know the Russian alphabet
- you can already write words in the Russian regular block alphabet
- you’re at least at level A2 in Russian. Meaning you can form simple sentences and introduce yourself in conversations.
Here’s a short A2 text. If you understand this, you can start the challenge:
text with a2 level.
The first week is all about learning and recognizing the letters. You’ll gain a good overview of the alphabet in cursive and will be able to write your first words
- copy the entire alphabet in cursive by hand 2 times (10 minutes)
- watch this video
When can you graduate the next week?
Take the regular Russian block alphabet, and write the cursive variant next to it from memory. Do this at the end of the week, and compare your cursive with the correct. If you’ve got all the letters approximately correct, you can continue. Small mistakes in how you write the letter are okay. As long as you don’t completely mess them up.
Something like this below is fine!
Week 2 is all about drilling things deeper. you’ll make sure you remember the alphabet correctly.
- write down the alphabet from memory 2 times. Compare with a source after each repetition. (10 minutes)
- Read the following text (20 minutes)
When can you graduate to the next week?
If, at the end you wrote all the letters the way they should be, you can continue to the next week.
In the third week you’ll learn how to form you first words and interconnect all the letters. There are no formal rules how to connect the letters, so you’ll develop your own style. Also, by now you’ve seen in the last 2 weeks how usually the letters are connected. Take the texts you read in the previous 2 weeks and go handcopy them.
- Handcopy the texts from the previous 2 weeks. Interchange between them to make it more interesting. (30 minutes)
When can you graduate?
If you feel you can now comfortable write Russian cursive, you can continue to the next week.
In this week you will start to write yourself. The main goal is to internalize the letters and words even more.
- write 10 sentences about yourself. Introduce who you are, what your hobbies are and why you’re learning Russian.
Repeat this throughout the week to get a good grasp on writing and forming sentences in Russian handwriting.
When have you graduated?
Post what you’ve written on the Russian Reddit and ask people if they can read it! If then can, you’ve successfully passed the 30 day Russian cursive challenge!
Overview of all cursive Russian letters
Below you’ll find an overview of all the Russian cursive letters. use them as a reference during the previous challenge 😉
- Easy cursive letters (а в е ё ж к н о с ф у х ь ы э я ю)
- Medium cursive letters (ш щ ч ц р п и й з)
- Difficult cursive letters (т м л д г б ъ)
Easy means that they’re basically the same in typed letters as in cursive. Medium means that there’s a slight difference. And Difficult means that they look different than in regular form.
Food for thought: do you NEED to know Russian cursive?
Take a quick look at the Russian subreddit (community of 60.000 + Russian learners). You quickly see that many people have it as personal challenge to learn Russian well.
Many Russian redditors also want to learn how to write Russian cursive handwriting.
I’m going to give a slightly unpopular opinion here.
You don’t need to learn Russian cursive.
Yes, it’s nice to know how to write it.
Yes, it’s cool to show your friends.
Yes, Russians appreciate your effort into learning it.
But no. You’re not going to speak Russian better by learning it.
One problem I see often is that people focus on the wrong things when learning Russian.
What do I mean?
Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make an assumption.
You care most about speaking Russian. Right?
No matter how good you are at writing Russian. If you haven’t put in the time to practice speaking… you’re going to be lousy at having conversations.
In my 4 years of learning Russian, basically all I did was focus on speaking.
Sure, I watched a lot of movies, and listened to music. BUT. Those are worth nothing if you’re not speaking.
Do you recognize yourself in this? If not, then you need to start some speaking practices quickly. After you’ve got that started you can then start focusing on the Russian handwriting.
Otherwise you’re basically following a painting class.
P.S. If you want to improve your Russian on 'autopilot', my best recommendation is to just listen to 1 single Russianpod101 podcast per day (about 15 minutes). Ideally you do this when commuting to work to create a lasting habit. You can also take a daily walk. I did this for about 6 months, and it's the reason my Russian improved so quickly. There's a free 7 day trial with just an email address, so you're not risking anything. Give it a try and see how fast your Russian skills improve.