Which letters are the same? Which have a different sound? And which ones do you have to learn by heart? 

What you'll learn in this lesson:

  • The complete Russian alphabet with audio so you can start learning Russian
  • Examples so you remember everything easily
  • Which letters do not have a sound

Phew. Donald safely got to his hotel room at the Sovietskiy hotel. (a hotel in the classic atmosphere of the Soviet Union). He's still hungry, but luckily there's room service available.

He checks the menu. There's an English translation after each Russian dish. That makes him happy. He remembers some of the Russian words that Vlad taught him and is reminded that Russian has quite some similarities with English.

Why not see if he can learn the Russian alphabet? After all, he's got the entire evening to his own. And he'd like to make a good impression on Vlad and his friends.

Plus, he's staying in Russia for several weeks, and he's heard that it's a good idea to learn at least the Cyrillic alphabet.

(Already learned the Russian alphabet? Test your knowledge in the quiz below or pick another lesson!)

Russian alphabet in a nutshell

For some reason his WiFi isn't working, so Donald has to take a different approach. He considers himself a smart fellow, so he'll try to figure out the alphabet on his own. With the help of the menu card of course.

He decides first to make a list of all the characters in the Cyrillic alphabet. After 10 minutes he comes to a total of 33 letters:

Here is the Russian alphabet listed from most-frequent (o) to least frequent (ъ).

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_1.mp3"] О о

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_2.mp3"] Е е

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_3.mp3"] А а

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_4.mp3"] И и

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_5.mp3"] Н н

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_6.mp3"] Т т

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_7.mp3"] С с

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_8.mp3"] Л л

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_9.mp3"] В в

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_10.mp3"] Р р

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_11.mp3"] К к

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_12.mp3"] М м

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_13.mp3"] Д д

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_14.mp3"] П п

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_15.mp3"] Ы ы

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_16.mp3"] У у

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_17.mp3"] Б б

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_18.mp3"] Я я

     Ь ь

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_19.mp3"]  Г г

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_20.mp3"] З з

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_21.mp3"] Ч ч

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_22.mp3"] Й й

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_23.mp3"] Ж ж

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_24.mp3"] Х х

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_25.mp3"] Ш ш

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_26.mp3"] Ю ю

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_27.mp3"] Ц ц

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_28.mp3"] Э э

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_29.mp3"] Щ щ

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_30.mp3"] Ф ф

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_31.mp3"] Ё ё

      Ъ ъ

Now, in order to get the most out of your time, it's a great idea to start with the most frequent ones. That way you'll be able read Russian in no time!

Alright, how to actually learn it?

Just a list of characters is going to make it very difficult to learn the alphabet. Donald is puzzling and puzzling and even with the English translations he can't seem to make it.

Shall we give him a hint?

Alright. Let's call  the roomservice girl Julia and ask her to help Donald. She tells him Russian has 5 categories in which each letter has its own place. Ready? Here they are:

  • Characters that look and sound exactly the same as in English
  • Characters that look the same but have a different sound
  • Characters that look different but sound the same
  • Characters that look and sound differently
  • Characters that are plain weird (they don't have any sound!)

That makes it a lot easier, right?

Let's get started with the easy characters.

Start with the easy characters

We'll save you all the puzzling and mental arithmetics Donald had to go through to 'translate' all the Cyrillic letters - and jump straight to the conclusions.

(Otherwise this lesson would be very, very boring)

The following 5 letters look and sound the same as in English:

Cyrillic 

English 

Example

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_6.mp3"] Т т

t

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_32.mp3"] торт

(tort) - cake

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_1.mp3"] О о

o

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_33.mp3"] кофе

(ko-fe) - coffee

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_12.mp3"] М м

m

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_34.mp3"] мёд

(myod) - honey

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_11.mp3"] К к

k

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_35.mp3"] квас

(kvas) - kvas

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_3.mp3"] А а

a

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_36.mp3"] какао

(ka-kao) - cocoa

That was easy, right? Congratulations! You've just learned your first 5 letters of the Russian alphabet.

But let's not pat ourselves on the back for too long. We've still got 28 letters to go!

Check out these false friends

The following 7 characters are difficult. Why? because they look like English letters, but have a different sound.

Cyrillic 

English 

Example

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_2.mp3"] Е е

ye

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_37.mp3"] печенье

(pe-chen-ye) - cookie

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_9.mp3"] В в

v

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_38.mp3"] вино

(vi-no) - wine

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_5.mp3"] Н н

n

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_39.mp3"] ананас

(a-na-nas) - pineapple

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_10.mp3"] Р р

r

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_40.mp3"] ром

(rom) - rum

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_7.mp3"] С с

s

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_41.mp3"] кокос

(ko-kos) - cocos

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet.24.mp3"] Х х

kh or h

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_42.mp3"] хлеб

(chlyeb) - bread

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_16.mp3"] У у

oo or u

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_43.mp3"] кенгуру

(ken-gu-ru) - kangoroo

These are the ones that will cause you the most trouble. You'll have to actively repress your intuition and learn to read the correct letter.

These look weird - but they're simple fellows

Did you recover from the shock of the previous 7 bad guys? I hope so!

The following 9 characters are a mix of the first 2 categories. They look different, but have the exact same sound as in English: 

Cyrillic 

English 

Example

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_28.mp3"] Э э

e

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_44.mp3"] это

(eto) - this

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_17.mp3"] Б б

b

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_45.mp3"] банан

(ba-nan) - banana

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_19.mp3"] Г г

g

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_46.mp3"] бургер

(boor-ger) - burger

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_20.mp3"] З з

z

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_47.mp3"] арбуз

(ar-buz) - watermelon

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_4.mp3"] И и

i

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_48.mp3"] киви

(ki-vi) - kiwi

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_30.mp3"] Ф ф

f

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_49.mp3"] фрукт

(frukt) - fruit

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_14.mp3"] П п

p

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_50.mp3"] персик

(per-sik) - peach

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_8.mp3"] Л л

l

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_51.mp3"] лимон

(li-mon) - lemon

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_13.mp3"] Д д

d

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_52.mp3"] виноград

(vi-no-grad) - grape

Nice. We're almost there. You're past halfway (21/33). 

Let's grab a little кофе-break (you'll need it!), before we continue with the most difficult ones...

These guys you'll just have to remember

When people say the alphabet looks weird and intimidating, it's this category characters that are to blame.

They look weird. They sound (a little) weird. And you can use them to scare cats away:

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_29.mp3"] щ

shhhhhhh

Alright. Got your coffee? Then let's get started with these 10 bad guys that look and sound completely different from English.

Cyrillic 

English 

Example

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_15.mp3"] Ы ы

i

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_53.mp3"] сыр

(sir) - cheese

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_18.mp3"] Я я

ya

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_54.mp3"] мясо

(mya-so) - meat

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_21.mp3"] Ч ч

ch

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_55.mp3"] чай

(chai) - tea

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_22.mp3"] Й й

y

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_56.mp3"] йогурт

(yo-gurt) - yogurt

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_23.mp3"] Ж ж

zh

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet.57.mp3"] мороженое

(mo-ro-zhe-no-ye) - ice cream

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_25.mp3"] Ш ш

sh

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_58.mp3"] шампанское

(sham-pan-sko-ye) - champagne

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_26.mp3"] Ю ю

yu

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_59.mp3"] юлия

(yu-lia) - yulia

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_27.mp3"] Ц ц

ts

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_60.mp3"] пицца

(pi-tsa) - pizza

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_29.mp3"] Щ щ

sh

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_61.mp3"] овощи

(o-vo-shi) - vegetables

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_31.mp3"] Ё ё

yo

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_62.mp3"] ёжик

(yo-zhik) - hedgehog

2 without sound?

In Russian there are 2 letters that do not have any sound on their own. What they do instead is modify the letter that comes before them.

(They used to be real letters, until the Bolsheviki decided in 1917 that they were pretty redundant)

The names of these 2 letters are 'soft sign' and 'hard sign'.

Cyrillic 

English 

Example

Ь ь

-

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_63.mp3"] коньяк

(kon-yak) - konyak

Ъ ъ

-

[sc_embed_player fileurl="https://learntherussianlanguage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/russianlesson_alphabet_64.mp3"] отъезд

(ot-yezd) - exit

Whenever you encounter a soft sign (ь), try to make the character before it sound a little softer.

And whenever you come across a hard sign (ъ), see it as a break between letters. 

It will actually take some time before you get these letters. But don't worry, they're not that vitally important at the start. Just knowing that they exist and have an influence is more than enough.

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Want to test your Russian skills from this lesson?

[tqb_quiz id='2348']

About the Author Ari Helderman

I started learning Russian seriously in January 2016. 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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