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Problematic Alphabet Explanation

This is really a small issue, but I didn't know any other way to report it. In the alphabet explanation page here: https://www.duolingo.com/skill/ru/Alphabet-1

It says: (to be more precise, "о" is the sound in "law")

I am "native" in both Russian and (American/Canadian) English and can assure you that these sound nothing alike. You are probably thinking of British English where it sounds somewhat similar, but it doesn't work at all for American English.

There are much better examples. Wikipedia has "mOre" as an example, which works fairly well with all varieties of English.

Note: Just noticed this: Ёё⁰ (yaw), it can be misleading as well, even though note 0 clarifies it. I would use yo-yo as an example, it's simple and familiar, and can be written with just ёs (even if it isn't) :)

November 3, 2015



OK, we may change it (though Ё does not sound like yo in "yo-yo").

Can you provide the recording of how you pronounce "law" and "yaw" where you live? I didn't think the vowels sound much different from Ё in any variety of English.


Thanks for pointing this out Ynhockey. I was definitely confused when I read that in the tips and notes too.

Shady_arc, I can see what you're saying for UK English though because the top UK English result for "law" on Forvo sounds similar to the ё: http://forvo.com/word/law/ by "TopQuark (Male from United Kingdom)"

But for how people in the US pronounce "law" the top recording on Forvo gets it right: http://forvo.com/word/law/ by "snowcrocus (Female from United States)"

The best explanation I've seen (at least for American English) is that ё sounds like "yo" in "your".


Fine, if you think so. To my ear every single recording on that page is somwhere around the Russian sound for "О". American ones are a bit too open, British ones a bit too deep.


Interesting. I mean, obviously I'm not as well versed in Russian so all I can speak definitively on is the American English sounds. But from the audio resources I've found online (http://www.russianforeveryone.com/RufeA/Lessons/Introduction/Alphabet/Alphabet.htm http://masterrussian.com/aa032301b.shtml http://masterrussian.com/russian_alphabet.shtml) ё seems to not sound like the way Americans pronounce "law".


Well, if you listen to yaw, you'll notice the following:

  • the American one sounds like Ё with a good portion of Я
  • the British one sounds like a parody of Ё, i.e. in Russian that would be "you are trying too hard"
  • the Australian pronunciation sounds spot-on.


The other problem with 'yaw' is that it's not a common word. Every native speaker can figure out its pronunciation, but assuming there are some students of Russian here who are not native to the English language, it's better to use a more widely-used example.

As to the general issue: We agree that there is no exact English equivalent to Russian o or ё. However, it's better to use a deep sound than an open a-like sound. If a foreigner in Russia speaks with an unnaturally deep o, people will still understand them, while with an open sound like in American 'law', understanding is not certain at all.

As an anecdotal example, I frequently encounter Americans speaking Hebrew fluently but with a heavy American accent. The Hebrew o sounds like the Russian o, and they usually end the accented ones with a 'w' sound (like in yo-yo or grow). It's unnatural but fairly similar and not confusing.


Not sure if you're following this topic or not so I'll reply directly to your comment.

While we're on the topic, I took another look (this time more thorough as at first I just wanted to begin the tree!) and saw "Уу (book)" in the tips and notes section. My understanding was that the "у" sound was more like the "oo" in "soon" than the "oo" in "book". The "oo" in "book" is more of an "uh" sound.

For your reference, on forvo it seems JessicaMS has the most natural sounding pronunciation: http://forvo.com/word/book/ and for "soon" both of the top US speakers sound right: http://forvo.com/word/soon/#en


I know. It is hard to choose between the two because it sounds about halfway inbetween. To my ear, at least. So, you think "oo" in "hue", "soon" and "poo" is a better match across dialects?

Here is a recording I did with the best impression of a Russian pronunciation of these words I could make. I cannot really say it sounds like any accent of English that way.

maybe book by lemony (Australia) and Mollydub (Ireland) are very. soon by Coder is adequate, though tense, kangaroo by TopQuark is also about the same...


Yes, I think those are much better matches across dialects.

In the recording, "soon" sounds really close to the way it's pronounced in American English. "Book" in the recording, sounds silly. Since "soon" is much closer with the Russian pronunciation, it seems like the clear choice.


Hm. Can we use "moor"?


OK, "soon" is better because "kangaroo" is way off in BrE.


I don't think "moor" is a common word in American English. I've never said it and had to look up it's definition and pronunciation. It may be more used in British English.

I think the "oo" in "kangaroo" like you suggested works well though.


Regards "moor", it's a common enough word here in Britain (where we have moors), but pronunciation of it varies from one end of the country to the other, rendering it useless as a guide - not to mention that in most of the country it's a homophone of "more".

Incidentally, "book" is only really pronounced with the oo sound (rhymes with "Luke") in Liverpool and the area immediately around that city, as are words such as look, hook, cook, nook, and so on - in most places, they don't have that sound.

"Soon" is indeed a better universal choice.


As you indicate, it depends on which English accent you have. I have a U.S. American accent (originally New Jersey), and the "aw" in "law" is not far off from the Russian sound of "о." My wife has an Iowa accent and her "law" would be more like the Russian letter "а" or the "o" in "hot," which I bet is what you mean. No examples for this sound will help everyone. What they are trying to avoid is, probably, having people say the diphthong that American and other English often uses for "long o," which sounds rather like "o-oo" or "o-u."


I keep mistaking o for a so I think it is good comparison! But you are right those sorts of explanations do need to specify which English dialect they work for. My impression is that the sound or is what was meant, law and lore are the same in my British accent. But I might have it wrong which would explain my mistakes.


I now think o sounds more like the a in as. Or cat. Not law, or or.

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