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  5. Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.2 …


Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.2 - The Cyrillic letters that will make your head spin, Episode #2

Previously on Intro to Bulgarian: Part 5.1 - Cyrillic letters that will make your head spin (Episode #1)

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

Where are we?

I think it's time for us to take a moment and look back on what we've learned. Some of you might be thinking, "What's going on? We haven't covered basic words and phrases yet!" I'm with you, and I understand your frustration. But I don't have it in my heart to teach you Bulgarian without teaching you our alphabet first. To us Bulgarians, the Cyrillic script is perhaps our greatest cultural achievement, and it fills us with a sense of pride. Every year, on May 24th, we celebrate, among other things, the fact that the 9th century Bulgarian king Boris I was forward-looking enough to provide Cyril and Methodius with the right environment to do their seminal work, after they had been banished from other lands. In fact, Cyril and Methodius are both saints of the Orthodox Christian Church. Think about that for a second - Slavic literacy started with the work of saints, who did that work in Bulgaria. Even if you are agnostic or atheist, how good is that narrative?

OK, so we've just had a moment (at least I have), so let's get back to some progress metrics. Thus far, we have learned:

  1. the place of Bulgarian amongst the other languages in the Indo-European family, and how those languages are connected in a real, deep, visible way.
  2. the origins of the Cyrillic alphabet, its importance to Slavic (and European) literacy and culture, and how crazy I am about it :)
  3. 18/30 Bulgarian Cyrillic letters! We're more than halfway done!
  4. if you've been paying attention to the example vocabulary, we've seen 85 words, 14 place names and 3 personal names in Bulgarian, all of which were chosen specifically because they were very close to their English equivalents. If you also count the 12 words I gave as a challenge in Part 4, you have a Bulgarian vocabulary of about 100 words!! Moreover, you already knew these words! :)

So bear with me. By the end of our Cyrillic lessons, you will realize that you already know much more Bulgarian than you imagine. Which brings us to our next six letters!

З з

That's not a backwards E - it is our letter Z. It is pronounced just like in English.


  • зебра - zebra
  • зона - zone
  • музика - music
  • ваза - vase
  • бизнес - business
  • Зимбабве - Zimbabwe
  • Занзибар - Zanzibar

Л л

This is our version of Greek "lambda" (Λ λ), which may be familiar to those of you with a math/science background. It is pronounced like the "l" in "list", "let" of "blink" before "е" and "и" (some examples here ). Before consonants or the remaining vowels, it is pronounced like the "l" in "feel" or "call" (examples here ). There are two more notable pronunciations, and we'll cover them when we make some more progress in Bulgarian.

Some words:

  • лазер - laser
  • лимон - lemon
  • лига - league
  • долар - dollar
  • Лима - Lima
  • Лолита - Lolita

П п

We stole Greek "pi" (Π π) for this one. Yeah, pi like the number. As you can probably guess, this is our letter P. Remember not to confuse this with our letter "R": Р р = R r, П п = P p. If you remember the discussion in Part 3, English has two versions for "p", "t", and "k" - one pronounced with a puff of air (or "rough breathing" as it's sometimes called), and one without. Compare the pairs of words "pin - spin", "pot - spot", "peck - speck". Bulgarian "p" is always pronounced like in the second word of these pairs (e.g. "spin", without the puff of air), never like in "pin" (with the puff of air).

Примери (examples):

  • палитра - palette
  • проблем - problem
  • полка - polka
  • папа - pope
  • пижама - pajamas
  • катапулт - catapult
  • Париж - Paris

Ф ф

Oooh, looky here! That's another beauty. This is our slight modification to Greek "phi" (Φ φ), which is pronounced like an F in both modern Greek and modern Bulgarian. In English, a lot of the Greek words that start with that letter have a "ph" in the beginning, like "philosopher". English also agrees it's pronounced like an "f".


  • философ - philosopher
  • фотограф - photographer
  • фигура - a figure (as in "I keep a good figure"), shape
  • форма - a form
  • формула - formula
  • фосфор - phosphorus
  • финал - a final

Ц ц

Here's another very characteristic Bulgarian letter. It stands for the sound "ts", which is not very typical for English. You can still find it as the "zz" in "pizza", or the "tz" in "waltz" and "quartz". This sound is very common in the other Slavic languages as well, including Czech, Polish and Russian.


  • пица - pizza
  • цар - tsar, czar
  • полицай - police officer (compare German "Polizei", where the "z" is a "ts" and "ei" sounds like "eye")
  • мецосопран - mezzo soprano
  • кварц - quartz
  • цеце - tsetse (the fly)

Ч ч

This looks like a weird Y, or an incomplete H, but it's neither - it's our letter for the sound "ch" as in "church", "chimney" and "chips".


  • чипс - chips
  • чар - charm (noun)
  • кич - kitsch
  • мач - match (e.g. a soccer match)
  • чай - tea, chai
  • Чарли Чаплин - Charlie Chaplin

Time to take a break

Whew! Good work everyone! We're almost there! Coming up next: the last 6 letters of Bulgarian Cyrillic. I think I've saved the best for last ;)

September 15, 2015



Cool! One thing, the Poles don't pronounce "цар" as "czar", more like "car", which brings them closer to the Russian pronunciation than Czech. In Poland the "cz" form sounds like "ch" in the word "check", while "c" - like the "ts" in "its". It's not Polish course you made here though, so I don't blame :P

Anyways, nice work, nice to see that Duolingo community tries its best to help everyone in their learning.


Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out!


You didnt mention about the allophony of л, id est dark versus light л.


I added some more explanation about the dark/light "l". There are, in fact, more "l"-like sounds in Bulgarian, and I will go over them as well in future lessons.


I can't wait for the next part, excellent tips so far. I really appreciate all the effort you've put in!


I'm not sure if you're still doing this little series or not, but I can tell you that this has helped me immensly. I don't think I would have given the Cyrillic alphabet a chance if I hadn't found your posts. So thanks!


Харесва ми как вмъкна "примери"


Колега, има ли линк към част 5.3?


Merci, not sure why I wasn't able to find this before


It has been a year, where is the course man ???


The Duolingo folks haven't gotten back to me unfortunately.


That's bad on their part. Very unprofessional. you should write a blog post about your incident. Do you have a blog ?


Really a shame. I really wish they’d come out with a Bulgarian course already. I’ve been trying my best with a Memrise course created by another Duolingo user (unfortunately lacks audio on all but a handful of lessons) and Mondly (pace is inconsistent, gets way too complicated too fast in some lessons, especially for beginners). I am learning out of respect for my best friend (from Varna like you), so at least I have him bounce things off of, but I really think I’d benefit from an actual Duolingo course, I like their style a lot.

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