How to pronounce Russian vowels

Russian pronunciation rules are rather simple as compared to English. For example, there are no words in Russian that sound the same but have different spelling like English "might" and "mite". By and large, Russian words will sound correctly if you simply read them letter-by-letter.

In this lesson you will learn how to pronounce ten Russian vowels. You will also become familiar with several basic pronunciation rules. You will find that almost all Russian vowels have pretty close English sounds. In general, Russian vowels are divided into two basic types: "soft-indicating" and "hard-indicating" vowels. The "hard-indicating" vowels are а, э, ы, у, о. Russian "soft-indicating" vowels are formed from their "hard-indicating" counterparts by adding an English sound of "y" at the beginning. Thus you will get such "soft-indicating" vowels as я, е, ё, ю, и.

Notice, that vowel groups are marked as "soft-indicating" and "hard-indicating" because they indicate whether the preceding consonant is "hard" or "soft" (for example, in "та" the "т" is hard [t], but it's soft [tʲ] in "тя"). In this sense, the Russian pronunciation system should be looked at as a unity of vowels and consonants. For now, do not worry if you do not understand what "hard" and "soft" mean. Just try to learn the pronunciation of vowels and memorize what group ("soft-indicating" or "hard-indicating" ) each of them belongs.

If you really want to learn Russian vowels, you should practice. Here we give guidelines on pronunciation of five "hard-indicating" Russian vowels. They are accompanied with exercises so that you could practice them with real Russian words.

How to pronounce "A"  

A as in Ah

This vowel is pronounced in two different ways depending on stress. When stressed, it is close to the sound of the English word Ah, but shorter. When unstressed, it is pronounced like u in the word nut. Practice these words:

мама папа вата вода масло
mah-ma pah-pa vah-ta va-dah mahs-la
mother father cotton water butter

You've probably noticed that the letter o is pronounced like unstressed a in the words вода and масло. This is an important rule of the Russian pronunciation.

Pronunciation Rule #1

In unstressed positions, Russian letter O is pronounced like unstressed Russian A. In other words, it sounds like English u in nut.

See: When is the Russian letter O pronounced as A?

How to pronounce "O"  

O as in more

Note: In US English, as in "more" without the 'r' sound.
In UK English, it is also similar to "aw" in "law"

You already know that unstressed letter o is pronounced like unstressed a. But when it is stressed, is sounds like English aw in law. Practice these words:

кот точка молоко стон окна
kot toch-ka ma-la-ko ston ok-na
cat dot milk groan windows

How to pronounce "Ы"  

This vowel does not have an equivalent in English. Try to invest some time in learning it and differentiating from other sounds. To get Russian sound ы, you should  place your tongue in the position right between the positions of English sounds i in kit and u in sugar. Then make a new sound of ы. Note that this sound is different from the English i in bit. Now practice these words:

дым быт был мыло мы
dim bit bil mi-lo mi
fog everyday life was soap we

How to pronounce "У" 

У as in wood

The letter у sounds like oo in wood. In unstressed positions, it is pronounced a little bit quicker than in stressed positions. Practice these exercises:

стул губа музыка звук
stool goo-bah moo-zi-ka zvook
chair lip music sound

How to pronounce "Э"  

Э as in net

This sound is close to e in pet. Practice these words:

этот Интернет темп шест
e-tat een-ter-net temp shest
this Internet tempo pole


Quick reference on "hard-indicating" vowels

Russian letter Symbol Pronunciation
A (stressed) ah as Ah, but shorter
A (unstressed) a as u in but
O (stressed) o as aw in law
O (unstressed) a as u in but
Ы i no English equivalent
У oo as oo in wood
Э e as e in pet


Next page > Russian "Soft-indicating" Vowels > Page 1, 2

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Word: становиться
Meaning: to become, get, grow
Pronunciation: [stah-nah-VEE-tsuh]

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Russian: Одежда
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