“We are received according to our dress, and sent on our way depending on our spirit.”
Whether it’s to visit Moscow or St. Petersburg, to study in Russia or have a Russian pen pal, many Americans are currently studying the Russian language.
However, a major source of fear for many American Russian students is writing in Russian, whose Cyrillic alphabet seems incomprehensible.
But it isn’t!
In Russian, each letter corresponds to a phonetic sound, unlike in English where the same letter can be pronounced several different ways. The language is therefore not as difficult as it might seem at first, especially compared to languages such as Chinese or Japanese, whose pictograms are so numerous that even few natives know them all.
Conversely, the Russian alphabet can easily be learned after a few months of study, provided you’ve supplied a good dose of motivation and regular revision.
Discover all our tips to perfectly master Cyrillic writing!
Learn the Russian Cyrillic alphabet
The rules of the Cyrillic alphabet
Created towards the end of the 9th century in Bulgaria, the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used in the Russian language, is made up of 33 symbols, with 7 letters more than the Latin alphabet that we use in English.
Learning the Cyrillic alphabet is, of course, indispensable for learning Russian, but it’s also useful for learning other languages too!
In fact, the Cyrillic alphabet is also used in:
- Slavic languages (Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian)
- Turkish languages (Uzbek,Kazak, Bachkir, Tatar)
- Uralic languages (komi, sami, husband),
- Mongolian languages (Mongol, Buryat, Kalmyk)
- Iranian languages (Kurdish, Tajik, (kurde, tadjik, Ossetian)
- Romance languages (Romanian Transnistrian),
- The Sino-Tibetan language (Dungan).
Learning the Cyrillic alphabet can be a real bet on the future: Russian students can, later, more easily discover other European languages. Moreover, the Cyrillic alphabet is the third official alphabet of the European Union, after the Latin alphabet and the Greek alphabet.
For students reluctant to learn the Russian alphabet, know that it has some similarities with our English alphabet: in addition to a similar structure, composed of consonants and vowels, it has 7 Latin letters (A, E, 3, K, M, O, T).
Learners of Russian must both memorize the symbols of the letters but also (and above all) learn their pronunciation!
Here is the list of 33 obligatory signs to learn for Russian:
The table above is ranked in the recommended order to learn Russian writing: the best is to start with the Latin letters, then the Greek letters and finally the Russian letters, so that you are increasing in difficulty as you go.
The student will not necessarily need to learn the rules of the symbol for soft and hard palliatives, which indicate pronunciation and not the writing and meaning in and of themselves.
It is still advisable to perfect your pronunciation before traveling to Russia or heading there to Russia, however!
The most difficult thing when learning the Cyrillic alphabet is to avoid falling into the trap of false cognates. Although some letters may look like our Latin letters, they are usually pronounced differently. We must not try to make connections between our mother tongue and this Slavic language that do not exist.
Learning the Russian alphabet is also a major asset if you want to become an expert in computer coding since there are four variants of the Cyrillic alphabet in Unicode!
Study the alphabet daily
To become an expert in Russian writing, the key thing is studying regularly!
Pushkin's language is very different from English or German, so students will need to be serious and stay motivated if they want to learn all of the Russian letters.
An ideal way to do this is to make revision sheets, starting with the Russian alphabet, then gradually working through Russian vocabulary by themes:
- Russian personal pronouns,
- Russian prepositions,
- Greetings in Russian,
- Russian verbs,
- Russian adjectives,
- Russian grammar,
- Russian adverbs,
- Russian expressions,
- Russian surnames and first names, etc.
Writing the Cyrillic alphabet out in the form of words allows the student to internalize these new letters more naturally until he no longer needs to go through the mental process of English-Russian translation.
For young learners, it is also possible to listen to Russian nursery rhymes (available on Youtube) which go through all of the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet!
The key thing is to visualize the signs mentally, then to write them out without any errors in your study guide, and to repeat this study daily. After a few weeks, you’ll have the Cyrillic alphabet perfectly memorized!
Learning to write the Russian letters
Installing a Russian keyboard
Installing a Cyrillic keyboard on your computer is a great idea!
First of all, installing a Russian keyboard on your computer makes it possible for you to create study guides digitally, which will, in turn, make learning more fun, especially for young learners.
What's more, having a Cyrillic keyboard will give you access to online Russian classes or Russian-language exercises online. These free Russian classes are available for all levels and will help you perfect your Russian writing, whether at the beginner, intermediate or advanced level.
Here are the steps to install a Russian keyboard on Windows:
- Go to "start" and then "control panel",
- Click on the menu "clock, languages and regions",
- Click on "languages",
- Click on "add a language" on the top bar,
- Select "Russian" from the scroll-down list,
- Click on "options",
- Click on "download and install the language pack”.
With a few clicks, you'll be able to access a Cyrillic keyboard and you can even change the language of your computer if you’re at a more advanced level.
It is also possible to download free Cyrillic keyboards from the Internet. But it’s worth noting that some online exercises will provide a Russian keyboard directly on their platforms.
The numeric keypad makes it possible to become familiar with the Russian alphabet, but does not replace physical writing. To be bilingual in Russian, it will be necessary to practice writing these new letters on paper!
Write the Russian letters well
Just like the Latin alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet is bicameral and has both upper and lower case versions of its letters. However, students tend to confuse Russian and English writing, due to the similarity of some of the letters.
In Russian, the lowercase writing of some Latin letters differs from our English alphabet, and screwing up just one letter might be all it takes to make your text illegible for a Russian native who does not know our alphabet.
For example, in Russian, the letter "M" is written not "m" in lowercase but "м", like a small cap!
Here is how to write Russian in uppercase and lowercase:
Unlike in English, Russian letters here must be separated from each other and understood individually in order to be comprehended by the reader. It is therefore not a question at first of developing your own handwriting, but to conform to standard Cyrillic writing styles.
For a good example of writing in Russian, it is a good idea to have a Russian pen pal. It’s easy to find one on many of the platforms for online language learning and discussions.
Letter writing can be a great way to study the writing of a native, and then try to copy their style and reproduce it yourself!
In addition to increasing your knowledge of Russian culture, your pen pal will also be able to verify and correct your usage of the language of Dostoyevsky.
It’s a great way to learn Russian while having fun!
If you prefer to learn Russian at home, look up "learn russian online" in your browser and find private tutors to teach you.
Learning to write in Russian in cursive
Most Russian students would recommend learning the written version of the language!
Cursive handwriting in Russian differs from its printed form, which is mostly used in textbooks. Inspired by the skoropis style, italic writing helps to standardize some Russian letters and make them more pleasing to the Western reader.
Moreover, correspondence in Russian is done mainly in cursive, and typed or printed writing is primarily reserved for writing on the computer!
For the majority of students, cursive writing is actually much simpler than typed writing. In Russia, young children learn to handwrite letters well before they learn the alphabet’s digital form since the "drawing" formed by the italic letters makes it possible to better memorize the orthography and the spelling of Russian words.
Mastering cursive writing for the Cyrillic alphabet is important for any learners who want to learn more about the history of Russia. Indeed, most historical texts are written in cursive script, which is faster and more readable than typed Russian.
Some websites also offer educational videos to learn to master Cyrillic script!
Check your Russian handwriting with a teacher
How can you learn Russian written in order to become a true polyglot?
To perfect your Russian writing, nothing beats a Russian language course London based on elsewhere in the UK. Do not skimp on reading in Russian in order to perfect your knowledge of writing.
As well as improving your handwriting, a Russian teacher can also help you to work on:
- Russian pronunciation,
- English - Russian translation,
- Oral expression,
- The tonic accent,
- Russian literature,
- Russian songs etc.
You can, of course, learn the Russian alphabet yourself, but perfecting your writing will require a bit of guidance from a Russian native. Russian language courses will make it easier for you to plan a trip to Russia or to organize a language exchange, both great ways of expanding your Russian vocabulary.
By studying intensively and regularly, a Russian tutor can help you memorize words and give you advice on teaching techniques to learn to write Russian and also to speak Russian with a perfect accent.
To take Russian lessons, the student can consider:
- Language schools,
- Classified ads in shops for private tutors,
- Russian lessons in middle school or high school,
- Russian courses in university,
- Private lessons through an agency,
- Private tutoring classifieds online.
At Superprof, the average Russian tutoring session costs about $25!
What's more, over 92% of our teachers offer their first class for free. Why not take a free Russian course and test your motivation for learning this Slavic language!
So, don’t wait any longer and sign up now in order to become an expert in Cyrillic writing!