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Lesson Number 6. Russian vowels.

Updated: Oct 22, 2018

In English, reading a new word is like a lottery.

The language is derived from Germanic, but was significantly influenced by Latin, French and others, so the rules of pronunciation were so mixed up that they almost don’t exist now.

There is a poem which shows how ridiculously different letters in English words might sound:

The “ough” Poem

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead –

For goodness sake don’t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there’s dose and rose and lose

– Just look them up –

and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart –

Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!

A dreadful language?

Man alive!

I’d mastered it when I was five!

After this poem, you might appreciate that Russian is a phonetic language (I already mentioned it here), that means the letters sound more or less as they are written.

There are certain rules though, but better to remember these rules than be confused by every second word in English without any!

I would like to start from the pronunciation of Russian vowels.

The English letters A, E, I, O, and U are called vowels. The other letters in the alphabet are called consonants.

Russian vowels are:

А - Я

О - Ё

Э - Е

У - Ю

Ы - И

We will talk about it later, but you’d better remember that the first row of vowels is called ‘hard-indicating”, meaning that consonants before them are hard; and the second row - “soft-indicating”, they are formed by adding the sound [Й], or English Y:

А (ма́ма, ма́ска). Я = Й + А = English sound YA (я́хта, Я́на)

О (кот, во́дка). Ё = Й + О = English sound YO (ёлка, ёж)

Э (э́кспорт, э́го). Е = Й + Э = English sound YE (Е́вро, Е́ва)

У (Уга́нда, стул). Ю = Й + У = English sound YU (Юг, компью́тер)

Ы (шо́рты, Крым). И doesn’t have sound Й in it. English sound [i] (икра́, Ира́к).

The soft-indicating vowels are pronounced with Й in the beginning of the word, after another vowel or Ь/Ъ.

If they follow a consonant, they lose the sound Й! They become А, О, Э, У, but at the same time soften the previous consonant. For example:

Я - Ка́тя

Ё - мёд

Е - те́ма

Ю - Мю́нхен

In the next lessons we will talk about what a softened consonant actually means, and discover some more rules of reading and pronunciation of Russian vowels.

The rules of Russian vowels seem complicated; if fact, it all becomes much clearer when you get to read the words. To do it correctly though, a Russian teacher is needed.

If you want Skype lessons with me, or 121 in Glasgow - don’t hesitate to contact me.


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