Information & Chat > Russian & Ukrainian Language. The Cyrillic Alphabet.

Learn to read Russian signs

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Welcome to an interactive project for learning some basic Russian language reading and understanding skills. 

With the assistance of our most excellent Culture and Language moderator Chrismc and several of our Russian ladies/gentlemen as our ongoing language advisors, we can post Russian signs.  Let's start with a level of a beginner and allow members to learn as we go.  This is a thread designed to allow someone to start at their level, no matter how new, and grow to at least a basic level of reading and understanding proficiency.

We'll depend on our very talented Russian members to "grade" our responses.  Please do not make fun of each other or be critical.  It is important that each person be allowed to make mistakes and for help to be given so they can learn without fear of ridicule.

When you think about it, reading signs is one of the most important abilities for a traveler, yet most don't know how and spend a lot of money on guides and translators even for the ability to move about a region or city. 

Here are some goals for this thread:

1) Help members learn the the four basic forms of upper and lower case printed letter and upper and lower case cursive letters.

2) Over time we can teach our members how to navigate the basics and save some money in more simple travel and navigation by recognizing and understanding street signs, travel/traffic signs, and by understanding basic advertising signs.  As we do this our members will have the power of control over their own travel and not be totally dependent for every move on someone else.

3)  We will assist our members with the written basics of a beautiful language system and give them tools to better understand their new family members.

Rules of the road:

A) Please post any signs you find, but at first let's keep them very simple. 
B) Post only 3-4 at a time so that our members have time to read and then work on translating them.
C) Allow a little time between photo postings for members to respond and practice and for our panel of Russian experts to make comments and corrections if needed.
D) Offer encouragement to each other as this will help build confidence.

Remember the goal is not to offer a class on how to read complicated journals or newspapers.  We are striving for the simple:  Just the basic understanding skills for travel and advertising signs to assist in navigation.
First I'll post some alphabet resources and then we can slowly add some basic photos.

In my humble estimation, understanding the alphabet is vital to learning Russian.  Many times we listen to good language programs and learn to speak words and phrases but we don't do it perfectly or we say words with an accent.  Neither do we fully understand what we're saying because every single language CD progam takes grammar shortcuts...designed to teach us the basics but we usually miss something in the process. 

Knowledge of the Russian alphabet will help rid you of some accent issues...perhaps not all....but when you know how a letter should sound and what that letter is (instead of a memorized phrase or word) you can say words and phrases correctly and be more easily understood.

The Cyrillic Alphabet
Russian is naturally phonetic so once you learn the alphabet your learning/speaking will accelerate more rapidly.  Unlike English which requires us to learn the letters, the name of the letters, and the sound of the letters, Russian is more simple.  The name of the letter is the sound of the letter in most cases.  Much easier.

Russian has a total of 33 letters.  To make them simple lets break them down into parts:
- There are 10 vowels.  Broken down into 5 "hard" vowels and 5 "soft" vowels.  They are paired and easy to learn.
- There are 21 consonants.
- There are 2 letters which have a name but they have no sound.  They are silent and simply serve to tell you how to place emphasis on surrounding letters.  One of them the "hard" sign is no longer used in modern Russian so you will rarely see it unless you're reading a very, very, very old book.  The "soft" sign you'll get to know and use.

You may find it easiest to learn the alphabet in order from "Ah" to "Ya."  When I learned it, I divided it into 3 equal groups of 11 letters.  Then practiced and practiced until I had them memorized and could repeat them without looking.  Do it however you deem best.

Learn the alphabet by both writing and speaking it.  Writing it will solidify your visual comprehension and help as you begin to read signs and directions. 

Our first resource is for learning the alphabet.  You should practice and learn each letter using 4 forms.  Those forms are:  Printed in upper case and lower case, and in cursive writing style in upper and lower case.

Why learn the cursive?  3 reasons:
1. Russians never print anything.  A shopping list or directions from your hotel to an apartment will always just naturally be written in cursive.  Many letters look very differently from upper to lower case and from printed to cursive.  Just one quick example, a printed P looks like this П, but a lower case cursive P looks something more along the lines of an English lower case n.

2. Russian signmakers have a habit of mixing printed and cursive styles in signs.  A word with 6 letters could very well have 3 printed letters and 3 cursive.  Because they look very different you'd never be able to read the sign by learning only the printed alphabet.

3. When your lady sends you a Christmas card, shopping list or love note, she will always write it in cursive.  With only the printed alphabet you will have no clue what she wrote.

Okay, here we go!

Go to this website and follow the link.
1) Place your cursor over each letter to listen to the alphabet as it's spoken. 
2) Practice writing each letter, using both printed cases and cursive cases.

This site even includes a basic quiz to test your ability to put the alphabet in order.

-Listen to this for 10 minutes day for 30 days and you'll have learned it permanently.
-Write the alphablet 3-5 times each day for 60 days and you'll have learned it permanently.

If you have problems with Real Player then use one of these alternate sites instead:
(Just hit the "next" button until the alphabet appears.  Click on each letter to listen.)

Or, try if those two don't work.

A) Each of these websites pronounce the C letter as "ehs" like an English S.  The Cyrillic C does take the place of an English S, true.  But if you will remember that it can be either "ceh" or "ehs" words depending on usage you may find that words will flow easier and are easier to learn. 

Just two quick examples: the Russian word for soup is суп and is spoken as "suup."  Try starting that word with an "ehs" sound and you'll murder it.  Use "ceh" and it will flow nicely.  Example two, take a common word for souvenir which in Russian sounds like "sue-vah-ner."   The "ehs" sound just doesn't cut the mustard.  Again, "ceh" flows nicely.

B) The two alternate websites say there are 11 vowels and 20 consonants.  Ignore that.  We'll teach you a very simple and quick way to learn the vowel sounds (5 hard and 5 soft = 10 paired vowels) very soon. 

C) Alphabet letters 10 and 11 look like a backward English N, or "И" as in the girl's name Irina (Ирина).  Letter number 10 is pronounced just like "E" and number 11 just like a very long-long-long "E."  In addition to a sound (the long E) number 11 also has a name:  "E Krat-kah."  Sometimes you'll hear it referenced by it's name instead of sound.  But make a very long EEEEE and you'll be fine.  (Number 11, that long EEEE, is never in caps so you can learn the lower case printed form and lower case cursive form and be just fine.)

For now just concentrate on learning to sound and print/write the alphabet.

We're not going to spend a lot more time on alphabet so practice daily! 

Later in some signs we'll come across basic things like numbers and days of the week, both necessary to do things like buy train tickets or make purchases, but let's not worry about that now.

To tantalize you about what is ahead, here are just 2 very simple Russian signs.  We'll throw them out now to let you see where you are headed.  Again, work on that alphabet so we can make the journey together.

Sign One:  Can you use the Cyrillic alphabet to spell the Russian version of "Coca Cola?"

Sign Two:  At least in printed letters write the word for "buffet."


Another self explanatory sign. You will observe that the "П" is a "P" and the "C" is an "S" and the "И" is an "I" making the ПЕПСИ become PEPSI.


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