RUSSIAN LANGUAGE - FREE LESSON

THE ALPHABET

Fоr the purpose of clarification I shall divide the letters into three groups as follows. The letters are here listed in the order they come in the English alphabet and are given in upper and lower case printed form. The whole alphabet will appear in the Russian order and with handwritten forms added further on.

1) Consonants with a similar pronunciation to English. A few share the same or similar printed letter but most do not and some are false friends.

Russian

pronounced as

English

 

Б б

 

B

 

Д д

 

D

 

Ф ф

 

F

 

Г г

 

G

 always hard as in garden

К к

 

K

lower case is just smaller version of capital.

Л л

 

L

ditto and handwritten l does not rise.

М м

 

M

ditto

Н н

 

N

beware false friend. Russian has no H.

П п

 

P

 

Р р

 

R

beware false friend. P and R are tricky.

С с

 

S

never as English hard C.

Т т

 

T

lower case is just smaller version of capital.

В в

 

V

beware false friend.

З з

 

Z

 

 

2) Consonants not represented by a single symbol in English.

Ж ж

as S in PLEASURE

Х х

as CH in Scottish LOCH

Ц ц

TS If this seems an impoosible letter remember it often occurs at the end of English words -- FITS

Ч

CH as in in WHICH

Ш ш

SH as in SHE

Щ щ

SHCH as in FRESH CHEESE or CASH CHEQUE

 *In some dialects щ is more like a prolonged version of ш. In the interests of clarity I recommend the form above, which is Moscow pronunciation.

There is more to be said about consonants but first to the vowels.

3) Vowels

Russian has ten vowels: five approximate to ours but are more consistant.. Listen to the tape for this.

А а

as A in father

Э э

as E in bed

О о

somewhere between the O in pоt and the O in port but rounder*

Y у

as dоuble OO in hoot. Beware false friend.

Ы ы

something like EE in bee but harder. The cоrrect version of this does not occur standard English. If you can do a black country dialect, you will get it. Otherwise say EE, but keep the centre of your tongue down so that it does пot touch the soft palate (roof of the mouth). This comes with practice.

 The other five vowels in Russian have (when occurring in the middle or end of a word) the effect of palatalising or 'softening' the preceding consonant. This is best done to start with by imagining a Y sound in front of the vowel. Thus:

Я я

аs YA in yard

Е е

as YE in yes

Ё

as YO in yolk

Ю ю

as YOU

И и

as English EE. This is the pair to Ы but in this case the tongue is allowed to rise to its normal English position.

Й й

This is as the previous letter but shorter and occurs only as the second sound in a diphthong. Its name means 'short e'. As Y in BOY.

NB

Most consonants can be pronounced 'hard' or 'soft'. The latter effect is produced usually by a following 'soft' vowel, the second five listed above. What actually happens is that the tongue gets ready to pronounce the initial Y sound of the vowel and thus affects the following consonant. This is the usual way that consonants are affected but there are also two signs in the alphabet which have no sound of their own but affect the foregoing consonant.

ъ

The hard sign is little used in modern Russian and occurs only to keep two parts оf a word separate in pronunciation.

ь

The soft sign palatalises the foregoing consonant when there is no 'soft' vowel to do this (and, rather surprisingly, superfluously, sometimes when there is).

This will all seem clearer when you have studied the vowels and used the cassette, but hearing the difference between hard and soft consonants takes time and practice.

Nouns

Russian nouns are all grammatically masculine, feminine or neuter. This applies equally to inanimate objects and seems strange to anyone brought up in English where 'things' are 'it'. However, it is a common feature of many Indo-European languages. Although 'man' is masculine and 'woman' is feminine, in general grammatical gender does not really relate to sex; the usual word for 'dog' is feminine and for 'wolf' masculine. Fortunately there are spelling conventions which , in the case of most nouns, tell us clearly the gender of the word. There are a few exceptions but in general the following is true:

Words ending with a consonant are masculine.

Words ending in А or Я are feminine.

Words ending in Е or О are neuter.

Words ending in a soft sign may be either masculine or feminine and must be learnt. Remembering them with an adjective is useful for reasons shortly to become apparent. (Adjectives come in the next lesson.)

THE and A and the verb TO BE and some writing tips.

In Russian there are no words for 'the' and 'a' .

Это дом can mean 'this is is а house' or 'this is the house'. Also in the present tense the verb 'TO BE' is not used. This may make you feel at first that you are learning a kind of pidgin Russian, but this is not so. Of course we begin with simple sentences but they are sentences as a Russian would say them. We should be grateful for this simplicity at this stage while getting to grips with the printed word and the handwriting.

Do not be afraid of this; it is easier than it looks, provided that you are strict with yourself from the beginning. Always write Russian words in Russian script and be careful about the height of letters. If you choose to do your small t thus т, гemеmbеr that it is like a small capital T; it is the same height as м, н, etc. Also remember to start л, м and я. with a little hook and to put a line under ш and over т if you use the m sort of t in handwriting.

If you are studying via e-mail, you will need to type your homework. However, I would advise you also to practise the handwriting. You don't want your Russian to be limited to the net, useful as it is. <g>

 I do apologise if any of the Russian here comes out as rubbish. I have had to resort to all kinds of trickery to get it this far. This version is being produced in Word 97 using Times New Roman font. This uses Unicode and does not allow for stress marks, so I shall use colour instead for this.

STRESS

Russian, like English, is a stressed language in that every word has the stress on a particular syllable. However, this requires more detailed attention in Russian as the stress is movable. Think about the English words subject [noun] and subject [verb]; although the stress is on a different syllable according to meaning, it does not change for any other grammatical reasons. In Russian, however, stress changes for all sorts of reasons and often quite capriciously. There are a few rules that help and these will be given at appropriate points in the course. However the most important rule is to be aware of the problem at all times and always note the stress mark when reading [In my lessons all texts will have the stressed vowel in red but un the real world a sloping diacritic is placed above the vowel]. These marks are given in all reading matter intended for students, and will be included in all texts etc in your course. They do not occur in books, papers etc intended for Russians as they acquire an instinct for correct stress from birth onwards, rather as we acquire or idiosyncratic pronunciation. I doubt if any non-native speaker can ever feel 100% sure of Russian stress, but the more conscientious you are about it from the beginning [even when reading silently] the better an instinct you will acquire. Remember that when conversing and when reading non-student material there are no marks to help you, so lay the foundations while you have the help available. This is particularly important for postal students, as I am not there to nag you, and you must not set up bad habits. Stress is the factor in pronunciation that has most affects your intelligibility when talking to a native.

This is the end of the explanatory part of lesson 1. There is a separate page for texts. Please click bear below for texts

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