Typical Russian Mistakes 1

My name is Natasha and I’m a qualified Russian teacher and native speaker.

Usually I teach Russian to English-speaking people, so  I would like to share with you some common challenges and mistakes in learning Russian. I know that a lot of people think that Russian is too difficult to learn, but I think it’s not as difficult as some people  say. There are, however, some points that are hard to understand or learn, but I believe that this guide will help you  avoid many mistakes and improve your Russian language skills. 

The Cyrillic Alphabet 

Firstly I would like to start with the Russian alphabet, which is Cyrillic (not Latin), and consists of:

  • letters that have the same or almost the same writing and pronunciation as in the English alphabet (for example, K, O, etc.)
  • letters that look like English letters but sound different ( for example, B, Р, H, etc.)
  • letters that look unusual, but have a familiar sound in English (Б, Г, Д, Л, etc.)

English-speaking students have difficulties with the last two categories, especially when a letter is written the same as in English but has a different pronunciation. Thus, students often pronounce the Russian letter P [r] as English P [p], or Russian B [v] as English B [b], etc. (Example: the Russian male name Вова sometimes can be read as [boba] instaed of [vova]; the female name Нина some students would read as [hiha] instead of [nina] and the word ‘река’ (river) some would read as [peka] instead of [reka]).

Phonetic Differences

English-speaking students have difficulties with the pronunciation of vowel sounds я [ja], ё [jo], e [je], ю [ju]. In addition, a common mistake is not hearing the difference between the Russian sounds [u] and [ы]. For example, in the beginning students cannot tell the difference between words such as «быть» (to be) and «бить» (to beat). At first it is difficult to pronounce the sounds [u] and [ы] separately. The main reason for this is the absence of the sound [ы] in the English alphabet. 

English-speaking students find it hard getting used to the lack of aspiration (non aspiration) in the pronunciation of Russian consonants. That’s why they often read the Russian word дом [dom]- house with English aspiration or breathing and it ends up sounding more like [tom] to native speakers of Russian. Also, the palatalization of Russian consonants may be difficult, because usually we do not divide English consonants into soft and hard. But in Russian it is a very common phenomenon (стал [stal] – became; сталь [stal’] – steel) and it changes the meaning of the word completely. So students need more listening and pronunciation practice to understand the difference between soft and hard consonants.

Typical Russian Mistakes 2

Natasha Fisher, Former LOS Consultant