Russian Pronunciation: Soft-Indicating Vowels

This lesson introduces five "soft" (palatalized) vowels of the Russian language я, е, ё, и, ю. You will also learn a rule of the Russian pronunciation called ikanie.

The basic rule to make a "soft" Russian vowel is to combine a sound of English y with corresponding "hard-indicating" vowel. For example, to get Russian я you should say y + a as if they are one whole (ya).

Note that when a soft-indicating vowel (such as "я") follows a consonant (as in "мясо"), it in fact has the sound of the corresponding hard vowel (the [a]-sound of "a" for "я"). The effect of the "softness" is achieved because of the way you pronounce the consonant letter (soft [m']+[a] instead of the hard [m]+[ya]).

Я as in yahoo  

This vowel is pronounced like English ya in yahoo. Practice these words:

яма ряд яхта мясо
ya-ma ryat yakh-ta mya-sa
hole row yacht meat

E as in yes  

The Russian sound of e is easy, because it is close to ye in English yes. Do not confuse it with English letter e, which sounds like Russian э. Practice these words:

место лето песня весело
myes-ta lye-ta pyes-nya vye-see-la
place summer song merrily

In the word весело, an unstressed e sounds like an abbreviated Russian и. This rule is called ikanie and it is also applied to unstressed я and э.

Rule #2

In unstressed positions, Russian letters Я, Е, Э are pronounced like an abbreviated Russian И.

Ё as in yolk  

This letter is pronounced like yo in yolk. As you can see, ё is formed from y sound and vowel o: y + o = ё. Now practice these words:

ёж ёлка плёнка
yozh yol-ka plyon-ka
hedgehog fir-tree film, tape


Rule #3

The letter Ё is always stressed in Russian words.

И as in meet  

This letter is simply pronounced like ee in meet. There is no 'y' sound in front as with the above vowels. Practice these exercises:

игла Индия пикник лист
eeg-lah een-dee-ya peek-neek leest
needle India picnic leaf

Ю as in you  

The letter ю denotes the same sound as the English word you. Practice these words:

юг Юпитер плюс
yook yoo-pee-tyer plyoos
south Jupiter plus sign

Quick reference on "soft-indicating" vowels

Russian letter Symbol Pronunciation
Я (stressed) ya as ya in yahoo
Я (unstressed) ee as ee in meet, but very short
Е (stressed) ye as ye in yes
Е (unstressed) ee as ee in meet, but very short
Ё (always stressed) yo as yo in yolk
Ю yoo as the word you
И (stressed) ee as ee in meet


First page > Russian "Hard" Vowels > Page 1, 2

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

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