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Sounds you need to learn in Russian

Hello, I've been learning Russian for a few months now and I thought I'd make a little post about what sounds exist in Russian but not English. Note that technically English and Russian share 0 sounds because they are spoken with a different accent, but I'll classify them as the same sound if the IPA are the same :)

Sounds you don't need to learn:

й = y in boy

ц = ts in cats

у = oo in moon

к = k in kangaroo

е = ye in yes

н = n in no

г = g in go

з = z in zoo

ё = yo in yodel

ф = f in fire

в = v in vampire

п = p in pig

о = o in more (pure o sound)

л = l in lamp

д = d in dog

э = e in bed

я = ya in yap

с = s in sad

м = m in mad

и = i in ski

т = t in time

б = b in boy

ю = yoo in you

Sounds you need to learn:

а = similar to a in bad. Technically a different sound, it's a bit shorter

ш = similar to sh in shy, but again, it's technically a different sound. It's a bit harsher

щ = like a strong sh sound

х = ch in bach

ы = mix between ee and ih

ж = like the s in leisure, technically a different sound

ч = like the ch sound in chad

Turns out you only need to learn 6 sounds!

February 9, 2017



Thanks a lot Mickey. This was very helpful.


Nice writeup! Some input from a native speaker:

щ is almost exactly like s in sugar

I think you can't describe the proper ы sound with English sounds, unfortunately -- that's probably the hardest one to teach. I think here is how you could try making it though: say the long ee as in teen, and while saying that, retract your tongue back a little without changing its shape, vertical position and without changing the position of your jaws.

I'd kinda argue about the ч. In is similar to ch in chad or charter, yes, but you make it differently and it's not the combination of т + щ. I see how you would think that based on the English ch, but I'd say it's sufficiently different in Russian. That said, if you just say 'ch' you'd be understood fine, I think.

For ж, you are correct about the s in treasure, but you can also try making the zh in Zhivago about two times longer than it is in English and you'll get a very similar sound.

And lastly, I've always thought that а is the closest to u in 'but' if you make it a longer sound, 'cause a in bad is closer to the Russian э. But that may vary based on who is saying the English version and how...

Hope this helps.


Thanks for the comment! A few things:

  1. щ is the IPA sound ɕ, while the English sh is the sound ʃ. They're technically different sounds, which is why I included it in that part of the list. It's useful to know how to learn to pronounce it though, so thanks.

  2. The IPA I used said that the ч = t͡ɕ, which is a combination of т + щ. Maybe you speak a different dialect or it's a generational difference.


Re 2, I don't know about IPA, but the first sounds of the two words тщетно and честно are distinctly different and a native speaker will be able to tell them apart easily.

You may be able to arrive to the correct ч sound if pronouncing тщ quickly, but it's much easier to get there by just modifying how you say ch a little... that's all I mean.

  • 122

The thing is, щ is a long sound. We do not have a half-щ anywhere as a separate sound.

Тщетно (at least, how I pronounce it) starts with a palatalised t, the kind rarely used outside ч by most speakers, and then has a full щ. So the combination is definitely different from ч.


Oh ok, I'll edit the post


«щ» is [ɕ:] or "ɕɕ"))

And if «ц» and «тс» are the same for me, but I do can feel the difference between «тщ» and «ч», as in «честь» and «тщеславие».

  • 1936

щ is almost exactly like s in sugar

I'd say "sh" in "sheet" is closer to the Russian "щ" sound.


а = u in mud

"х = ch in bach" — it's wrong

щ is soft ш

You forgot the "р"

in the end you need to learn only 4 sounds (р, х, щ, ы) and learn how to soften consonants where it is written "ь"


I have trouble pronouncing ы, ш, and щ. Those last two sound the same to me... And the first one is the most difficult. I sound it like "ooey" in my throat. Sounds weird

  • 122

Teachers do have advice for you. Clench a pen between your teeth and start saying "eeeeee" (as in "meet") without really brining your tongue forward. Replace a pen with a knife to boost your motivation.

This give you a sligthly exaggerated sound After a few days of practice, try the words ты, вы мы to put it into context and make it more natural.

Ш has your tongue rather low, a bit spoon-shaped with a downward bend. As a reasult, the amount of noise is lower than in "sheep". Щ is a long sound and has your tongue raised extremely high, almost pressing against the roof of your mouth with all its middle part. And the sound is very, very noisy.

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