Learn To Read Russian in 15 Minutes! I did this one with my fabulous guest writer Peter Starr Northrop, aka bilgeathresh! If you want me to make these dang comics more often, visit my Patreon!
First I was like “hell yes reading Russian is easier than reading English”
(speaking might be harder, but actually just reading the alphabet is EASIER because English spelling is NUTS and basically ARBITRARY while Russian is almost entirely phonetic - if you say words out loud just like they are read, even if it’s not strictly right you will be understood 99,9% of the time)
Then I was like “huh, there are things I didn’t know about English pronounciation”
Then I was like WAIT WHAT
So! No, “Ы” is not equivalent to “I” unless I have been pronouncing it all wrong all along. It’s actually a pretty tricky sound, differs between Ukrainian and Russian, and I don’t think I ever heard it in English ever at all. Basically it’s “ee” but HARDER. Less squeaking. Just go to google translate, type it in and listen. If you need to navigate transcribed Russian->English texts for some reason, “y” is often used to signify it. And “j” is used in place of “y” instead, because we don’t have that sound at all and it’s kinda similar.
"Е Е Я Ю", while they are indeed called "ye, yo, ya, yu", aren’t always read like that. They can also (when prefaced by a consonant that is not "Й") mean just the "soft" version of the sound, just like "И/Ы", and also that said prefacing consonant is soft. No, it does not make sense to call them hard and the "regular" group soft. It’s the other way round. And "И" is usually grouped with them while "Ы" with the "А О У Э", and specified that "И" os the only one of the soft ones that doesn’t imply a "Y" in the open syllable (in Russian that’s a syllable that starts with a vowel) (if a syllable starts with one of those vowels but the previous one ends with a consonant, you put "Ь" or "Ъ" there, that’s what they are for, they are called "the soft sign" and "the hard sign", "Ь" also softens the previous consonant while "Ъ" makes it hard, the latter barely ever used) (no, Lenin is not "Lyenin", it’s "Ленин", not "Льенин", "е" just means that the sound is softer than in English).
Our language teachers try to convince us that the soft vowel letters stand just for the softening of the preceding consonant or inclusion of “Й”/”Y”, but that’s bullshit. There’s a difference in how a vowel sounds too. If you are familiar with German, think difference between “U” and, uh, the U with two dots above it (sorry I’m shit at German). Soft/hard, yeah.
There’s a small bunch of exceptions in correlations between soft/hard vowels and consonants: after “Ж” and “Ш”, the always hard consonants, you always write “И” even though it sounds hard, like “Ы”, and after “Ц”, also an always hard consonant you write “И” in most cases, unless it’s at the end of the word or one of the set exception words: “Цыган на цыпочках подошел к цыпленку и сказал “Цыц!”“. After “Ч” and “Щ”, the always soft consonants, you write “а” and “у” instead of “я” and “ю”, even though they sound soft (or not as much? it’s pretty subtle). I have no idea why, English doesn’t have a monopoly on crazy arbitrary spelling rules.
There’s a trap in a letter that is E with two dots above it. It’s read (and called) “Yo”, unlike its sister E which is “Ye”. There’s a reason why I described it and didn’t type it, and this fucking reason is that it’s missing on many keyboard layouts (including mine) & in many typographies. Simple “E” is typed instead. How should you know which one it is? Try to find books / other texts where it’s present for a start, so you’ll just remember which words are whic (“yo” is much less common) (another strategy is to use a dictionary, those usually have all letters). If you first have a text to read which doesn’t have it and don’t have a dictionary on hand, well. Magic.
Another thing this guy forgot is that while “e/a” in “bed” and “bad” (no difference between the two in Russian) is strictly speaking “Э”, this letter is pretty rare! If the vowel in unstressed and there’s a consonant before the vowel (and this consonant is not “Й” (yes, it’s a consonant in Russian)), the letter used is “Е”. So instead of a softer sound (that “e” normally stands for) you say the harder one. How do you know? Magic! It’s one of the very few things in Russian spelling that are basically magic. Well, OK, it’s not that incomprehensible: most times it’s the softer one. “Э”, unlike in English, is a very uncommon sound and mostly comes from foreign words that have not yet been fully assimilated. So, for example, “Potter” as in “Harry Potter” is “Поттер” and not “Поттэр” as would logically seem. “Поттэр” looks like the accent is on the second syllable which is weird if you know what the correct accent is.
And I’m pretty sure that “Batman” is “Бэтмэн” or “Бэтмен” (some people feel it’s so foreign and unusual it shouldn’t even be assimilated with this “э/е” rule), not fucking “Батман”. Unless, again, I’ve been pronouncing it wrong all along… but that’s unlikely. There’s a reason the word is spelled like that in Russian context, we usually take foreign words and spell them like they are pronounced in the original language. Of course, the question is what language that is. However, I’m pretty sure this one’s English.
Oh, and how exactly is “Й”/”Y” (like in YES) ELONGATING the sound??? Does “y” in “yes” sound like a longer “ae” to you, like “ae:s”??? If so, we are speaking different languages o.O It’s a distinct sound, it’s a consonant, and it accompanies vowels so often there are additional letters for when a vowel is prefaced by it.
It sounds slightly different in Russian than in English, but just slightly. It’s an always soft consonant so the vowels after it are always soft too. It’s also a bit shorter if it’s a part of a vowel, which is a hard rule and if you need it to be longer you insert an extra “Й” before it. So “Yes” in Russian is not spelled as “Ес” like would seem logical, but as “Йес”.
If you need to read out loud (or write down what someone says), remember that Russian vowels when unstressed go rogue. “O” and “A” become very close to each other and it’s basically impossible to tell them apart if you don’t know how a word is written. It’s #1 most common mistake in elementary school. Unstressed “Э”, “Е” and “Я” turn into kind of muffled “И” (the “Y”/”Й” if it should be there stays, but you can’t quite make out what’s after it).
Another pronounciation thing is “ringing/muffled” consonants. Those come in pairs: Г/К, В/Ф, Б/П, Д/Т, З/С, Ж/Ш. When a ringing consonant is at the end of the word or just before a muffled consonant, it’s pronounced as the muffled one instead. No, as you can see, not all consonanats are there. Л, М, Х, Й, Н, Р and Ц don’t play this game at all, although Х counts as muffled if there’s a ringing consonant before it.
If all of this looks long complicated, consider this: those are universal rules and pitfalls of Russian spelling. Well, okay, if you are learning listen->write, like Russian kids do, there are actually many more pitfalls, but if you are learning read->say, like foreign languages are usually learned and like bookworms (like me) get most of their vocabulary, this is all you need. THIS IS ALL YOU NEED. _THIS_ _IS_ _ALL_ _YOU_ _NEED_. No, you will not have to memorize words one by one. No, you will not come across a new word that you suddenly have no idea how to read. These rules are universal. Always. Forever.
(Unless you are reading Ukrainian instead, which, GASP, is a different language with slightly different rules! Many Russians have trouble with this idea for some reason.)
Russian spelling is so straightforward that up until university I used Russian letters to transcribe English words instead of actual transcription symbols. It was not perfect and did not catch many nuances, but it helped me learn that “cucumber” was “кьюкамбэ” and not “сюсюмбер”, “кукумбер”, “какамбер” or a dozen other variations I could come up with.
P.S. Oh, and the horrifying word “здравствуйте” aka “zdravstvuyte” aka “hello”?