Cheat-sheet for Russian language learners Useful tips for those starting to learn (or teach) Russian

Sounds are pronounced, whereas letters are used to record these sounds (write) or reproduce them vocally (read). It is important to denote the difference between letters and sounds in Russian language, as one does not always equal the other.

There are 42 sounds (6 vowels and 36 consonants) and 33 letters in Russian language. Vowels are formed with the help of your voice, whereas consonants are a combination of noise and voice or just noise.

It was found that it is easier to begin learning Russian by starting with only a subset of vowel sounds and consonants. It is important to introduce most common vowel and consonant pairs (syllables) first and slowly progress on to more complex combinations. Syllables are then used as building blocks to form the first words.

Like in most languages, Russian words have stress. Stress always falls on the vowel sound in the word. Some letters change sound, depending on the stress. For example unstressed O sounds as A. Let’s take the word “мо-ло-кó” for instance. It has 3 letters ‘О’, but 2 ‘А’ sounds and 1 ‘О’ sound, because the stress falls on the last syllable. Unlike in some other languages, stress in Russian is implied, i.e. it is not signified in any way or form in common written practice.

It is important to pay close attention to syllables starting from the very first lesson. It is much easier to read in any foreign language when the words are broken apart into syllables, and stress is clearly shown. This representation also invokes students’ visual memory and letters are memorised with ease.

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Another important aspect at the introductory stage is the proper use of intonation when forming sentences. There are 7 base units in Russian language commonly referred to as “Intonational Constructs”. Only the first 3 intonational constructs are introduced initially:


  • Intonational Construct – 1 (IC-1) is used when making statements. The sentence always ends with a full stop.
    • For example – Мама мыла Милу.  
    • Decreasing tone, receding swards the end of the sentence.


  • Intonational Construct – 2 (IC-2) is used when asking a question with WH words i.e. When? Who? Where?
    • For example – Где мама? Где Мила?
    • Stress is always on the question word.


  • Intonational Construct – 3 (IC-3) is also used to form a question, however question words are omitted.
    • For example – Мама здесь? Мила здесь?
    • Increasing tone towards the end of the sentence.


Feel free to put this cheat-sheet to practice, regardless of whether you are just beginning to learn Russian or are a teacher looking for an alternate approach. We also invite you to subscribe to our Free Beginners Course and test this method out.

Do you have any questions? Just use the comment box below. We will be happy to help!

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