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  5. Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.1 …


Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.1 - The Cyrillic letters that will make your head spin (Episode #1)

Previously on Intro to Bulgarian: Part 4 - The Cyrillic letters you think you know

Pronunciations for the example words in this lesson can be found in this Memrise course

We learned the letters that both look and sound like their friends in the Latin alphabet - A, E, O, K, M, T.

We learned the letters that looked the same, but were naughty and decided to be pronounced differently - В, Н, Р, С, У, Х.

That marks the end of familiar territory. For the next 18 letters, we're going to travel to several countries, through several thousand years, and miraculously emerge at the end of all that with a victory. The prize? Knowing the full Cyrillic alphabet as used in Bulgarian, which pretty much means being able to read anything in Bulgarian!

Because we've only been looking at 6 letters at a time, and we have 18 more to cover, I'm going to take you over that final threshold in several steps.

И и

This looks like a backward N, but it's pronounced approximately like the "ee" in "feel", but as short as the "i" in "fit". It is much like the "i" sound in many Romance languages - e.g. Spanish "dia", Italian "pizza", French "filet mignon".

Example words:

  • икона - icon
  • интерес - interest
  • хит - (musical) hit
  • Ипанема - Ipanema
  • аниматор - animator
  • рима - rhyme
  • ситар - sitar
  • китара - guitar

Й й

That's almost the same as the previous letter, except for the half-circle above it. It is pronounced like the "y" in "yes", "yet" or "day", never like the "y" in "pony" or "my".

Some examples:

  • Йорк - York
  • Йемен - Yemen
  • пай - pie
  • май - (month of) May
  • майор - major (army rank)
  • кейк - cake

Б б

This is our "b" as in "boy" or "brother". Remember the whole thing about distinguishing between b/v? Well, to summarize: Б б = B b, and В в = V v. It may look confusing, but I promise you'll be a pro in no time.

Oh just give me some example words! OK, ok, here you go, jeez...

  • брат - brother
  • банка - bank
  • бутик - boutique
  • бойкот - boycott
  • бар - bar
  • Босна - Bosnia
  • бебе - baby
  • Бахрейн - Bahrain

Г г

This is just a thinly-disguised Greek "gamma" (Γ γ). It is pronounced like the "g" in "gum", "gold" and "log", but never like the "g" in "barge" or "mirage".


  • гето - ghetto
  • гримаса - grimace
  • граната - grenade
  • грам - gram
  • сага - saga
  • гигабайт - gigabyte

Д д

This may look like a weird "A", but it's actually our letter D, as it has been borrowed from Greek "delta" (Δ δ). It represents the same sound as in English.


  • Далас - Dallas
  • Сан Диего - San Diego
  • ден - day
  • дама - dame
  • модерен - modern
  • борд - board (i.e. of directors)
  • Адидас - Adidas
  • диадема - diadem, tiara

Ж ж

Now that's a badass letter, isn't it? It represents the same sound as the "g" in "mirage", "genre", and the second "g" in "garage". Lots of words of French origin in English have that sound. It's one of those letters that made it into Cyrillic from the earlier Glagolitic script (Ⰶ), because there was no such sound in Greek. This sound occurs in Bulgarian a lot more frequently than in English, and some of that is also due to French loan words.


  • жанр - genre
  • мираж - mirage
  • гараж - garage
  • желе - jelly, gelée
  • Женева - Geneva
  • режим - regime
  • мажоритарен - majority (adjective, as in "majority vote")

Time for a break!

How are we doing so far? Is this format of explanation followed by several examples working for you? What can I do to make the study of the Cyrillic alphabet more interesting to you?

See you in the next episode - Part 5.2!

September 14, 2015



Is it true that "Ш" come from the Hebrew letter "ש"?


Yep, it is! :) In fact we'll see that next.


thats one of the hypotheses


Your explanations are fabulous. I can already read Bulgarian Cyrillic, but I'm reading your explanations just for fun, and it's a good refresher. I think this is a great way of teaching. You could make a Memrise course with these words, and bill it as a pretty good "Learn to Read and Type Bulgarian" course.


Also, a second thought: Ж is totally a badass letter. Glad someone else agrees with me on this.


Thank you for your comments! I'm really glad you're having fun! Learning languages should never feel like a chore.

I'm not really familiar with Memrise, but I'll take a look - I've seen it mentioned a number of times on Duolingo, and now I'm curious.


It's a platform for memorizing things. It uses spaced-repetition which is kind of like a 21st century reboot of flashcards. Definitely worth checking out!


Well interestingly they have a ton of Bulgarian courses on there already. Do you think there is a way to spin this series so it provides value over what's already available?


I think that if there were one course just with these explanations of the alphabet plus memorizing lessons with these vocab words, that would be a great way to learn the alphabet, much better than just the "а=a", "б=b", "в=v" type courses that they have now.

I don't know how deep you're planning to go otherwise, but none of the other popular courses look too coherent, and so far yours is great, so I guess it's up to you.

Also, I saw in one of the courses that you use мерси for "thanks". Is that true?


Haha you are ahead of the class, and yes - one of the ways to say thanks is merci. Once we're done with the Intro series, I'm doing a Basic Bulgarian series, and the first lesson I've planned goes over common greetings and expressions, including "thanks" and "you're welcome".


Hey, just FYI - I ended up making the Memrise course (see link on top of previous post), and for each of the lessons in this series there is a "level" which provides pronunciations for the words. Let me know if it's any good - it's the first time I'm using Memrise so obviously a lot more to learn.


Много добре


As an English speaker, this is easily the best tutorial I have found on learning Cyrillic so I can read Bulgarian. And the writing style is superb!

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