Tongue twister for Friday

For those who still struggle with sound Щ:


Practice makes it perfect!

And a recording just in case.

Random words: ЦЕНА/PRICE

The word for today is ЦЕНА (read like *ЦЫНА). Means “price”. ЦЕНЫ will be plural:

Acceptable prices on petrol

Acceptable prices on petrol

The reason why unstressed Е becomes Ы is as follows: normally unstressed Е becomes И, plus after Ж, Ш, or Ц  letter И actually becomes Ы as these three consonants are always hard.

Let’s play with this word a bit and change it to other parts of speech:

ЦЕННЫЙ (adjective) – valuable

БЕСЦЕННЫЙ (adjective) – priceless

Here Е is stressed, therefore it is pronounced like Э. But  if we decide to form a verb, that would be Ы as the verb is

ЦЕНИТЬ (verb) – to  value, as for example here:

Value (your) parents

Value (your) parents

How to read ЗШ and СШ

It’s quite hard to say ЗШ and СШ as they are very different consonants in terms of how they are pronounced, therefore to smooth it we assimilate them (make them similar). As often in Russian, the second consonant influences the first one, so it will be ШШ (a long Ш). Remember it can be within one word or after a preposition.

из Штатов (from States)

высший (highest)

без шуток (without jokes)

из школы (from school)

Unstressed Е after Ж, Ш, and Ц

We know that normally if Е is not stressed, it is pronounced as И.

Ж + Е = ЖИ                        Ш + Е = ШИ                                Ц + Е = ЦИ

Let’s see what actually happens to unstressed Е after Ж, Ш, and Ц. The trick is that И softens consonants but consonants Ж, Ш, and Ц are always hard, therefore we have to say И to Ы:

ЖИ = ЖЫ                        ШИ = ШЫ                                ЦИ = ЦЫ

So, we get the following pronunciation:

Ж + Е = ЖЫ                        Ш + Е = ШЫ                                Ц + Е = ЦЫ


1) It’s about pronunciation, not spelling. We still spell unstressed Е after Ж, Ш, and Ц.

2) Does not apply to Ё – be carefull: we sometimes omit the dots yet mean Ё, which is always stressed.

Words to practice (how would we read underlined letters? – consider both red lines and remember to separate stressed from unstressed):

жена (wife), шёпот (whisper), шикарный (classy), жираф (giraffe), цена (price), целый (whole), шёлковый (silky), желудок (stomach), центральный (central), Шереметьево (have you been there?).

When И becomes Ы

The good thing about letter И is that often, stressed or not stresses, it is read like И (when stressed though it will be longer).

Sometimes it can be read as Ы, for example after prepositions ending with a consonant as follows:


Why? If we retain И, the consonant before it will become soft. As we have to leave it hard, we have to change the vowel. To see why O sometimes changes to A or Э, please read this post. Just like in English, no pause between a preposition and the word after. Let’s practice:

(word for word) In prison (they) sit less than I in Internet!

(word for word) In prison (they) sit less than I in Internet!

Читаем букву “О” правильно

Just like in English, in Russian not all letters are pronounced the way you would think, so don’t trust what you see!

Of course, saying a few sounds in a word incorrectly in many cases won’t prevent others from understanding you, but hey, do you want to hear  “Where are you from?” every time you begin a conversation?

Here is a little tip how to reduce your accent.

Letter О is tricky. To put it simply, it can be read in 3 ways depending on the position it occupies (stressed vowels are marked with bold font).

1) О – when it is stressed: ЛЮБОВЬ (“love”)

2) А – when it is pre-stressed (before any stressed vowel): МОСКВА (“Moscow”) – here A is stressed but О before is not, so it will read like “*МАСКВА

– in the beginning of a word (when not stressed): ОСТАНОВКА (“stop”, e.g. bus stop) will read like “*АСТАНОФКА”

3) Э (very weak, something between Ы and А, a bit like in “little” between “t” and “l”) – everywhere else: КРУТО (“cool!”), ГОВОРИТЬ (“to speak”)

Remember! Stressed vowels are longer than non-stressed.

How would you read the words below?

Ходорковкий, хорошо, молоко, пропаганда, погром, тройка, Россия, пиво, меня зовут, спасибо, я не понимаю, помогите (help!!!), холостяк.

Семейный (adjective) – family

Холостяк – bachelor

Женат – married (about a man)

Разведен – divorced (about a man)

Жду чуда – waiting for a miracle

Russian poems you can learn in 120 seconds

If you know Russian numbers.

Russian is well known for its poets but often, especially if you have taken only a few Russian lessons, it is hard to be able to surprise somebody with a Russian poem. So numbers can help you. A particular combination of them can convey the individual style of almost any poet – if you keep up with rhythm, of course.

When you succeed, you can recite them to other people who don’t speak Russian and I guarantee they will sound like a real poem of a particular poet. Let’s take a few.

A.S.Pushkin   Alexander Pushkin, our romantic poet. His works are melodic, often melancholic, Byron-inspired.

  17 30 48,
  140 10 01,
  126 138,
  140 3 501.

You can find the recording here.

Or we can take Vladimir Mayakovsky. His poems are “rough”, they oftentimes resemble military marches.


   2 46 38 1
   116 14 20!
   15 14 21
   14 0 17.

Recording here.

You can also go for a cheerful poem which does not imitate anybody’s style.

2 15 42
42 15
37 08 5
20 20 20!
7 14 100 0
2 00 13
37 08 5
20 20 20!

You can find the recording here.

The trick is that if you don’t know numbers well, it won’t sound right – so keep trying!

Why are Russians so rude?

They are not.

English is very popular in Russian schools but unfortunately, many lessons come down to “opening brackets” and “please insert the correct form”, so nobody really cares for intonation. However, it is impossible to speak without intonation. Russians have to take it from somewhere. So no wonder Russians take it from the Russian language when they speak English.

In Russian, most of the time we speak with “falling” – or “descending” – intonation, something like your intonation is when you say in English “Ok. Just one minute” to your wife. Nevertheless, in Russian this “falling” intonation is standard and by no means rude. We even ask for things with this intonation and thank others with this intonation!

You would ask (1):

– Could you pass me the plate please? (and then go as high with your voice as you can to show how polite you are).

We would ask (2):

– Передайте, пожалуйста, тарелку. (and go very low – it is conventional and polite in Russian, and if you attempt for “ascending” you will sound like a mentally challenged person).

So, when Russians speak English, they often take intonation from request (2) and say request (1). This applies to thanking, asking and many other vital things we do on a daily basis.

Russians are not rude. They just fight on a foreign field while British fight at home in the World Cup of Polite.

On 1,000 variants of Russian pronunciation

Britain is a country of paradoxes. If you look at the map, you will see how small it is, yet when you start travelling, it seems endless. Gazing at its vast fields and wondering if anybody lives there at all, you look at the map again and think that on such a small territory people speak more or less the same language. Fat chance, expect dialects and variations everywhere. If dogs, ponies and sheep could speak, they would definitely have various dialects.

Same paradox with Russia. Don’t trust maps and headings.

Often, when I meet people interested in learning Russian, they often ask what “accent”, “variant” or “dialect” I speak and say they would like to have Moscow pronunciation. Looking at the map, they probably think we have many variants.

In truth, most people in modern Russia speak according to the Moscow pronunciation standard which is many centuries old. You probably already know such useful word as “ХОРОШО” (“good”, “ok”). Until about the 17th century, people (yes and even Ivan the Terrible!) would say “ХОРОШО” in many regions of Russia, including Moscow and areas to the north of it. Then Moscow absorbed some southern and eastern dialects and under their influence started saying “ХАРАШО” and kept writing “ХОРОШО”. Gradually this Moscow speak spread across Russia and prevailed due to the increasing role of Moscow. So, the Russian standard pronunciation is mainly based on this modified Moscow speak. In addition, people in Moscow pronounced “ЧН” and “ЧТ” as “ШН” and “ШТ” – so now we say “КАНЕШНА” and “ШТО” but not “КОНЕЧНО” and “ЧТО” (does not apply to all words). Of course, there were other differences in pronunciation and in the choice of words.

The way people speak in Russia now is rather unified. If you listen to Russians from various parts of our country, you will hardly spot big differences. We do differ sometimes in the words we chose. People in Saint-Petersburg traditionally pronounce some words a bit differently but it would not cause any misunderstanding, like here in Britain, but rather a smile.

Look at huge Siberia – not many Russian speakers are native there. Natives speak their own languages not related to Russian and look different from “European Russians”. Many Russians, including my family, moved to Western Siberia in the second half of the 20th century when gas and oil deposits were actively explored. The standard of Russian pronunciation had been finally established in the 19th (around 1830-1840) century, so they took “standard” Russian to distant parts of the country with them. Besides, native Russian speakers living in Russia are traditionally unified by same mentality, culture, religion and history, so no wonder.

“Today’s Moscow pronunciation” is often a subject of jokes. To put things simply, people in Moscow now make their “A” sounds very long, and this seems very funny (hoity-toity no less!) to other Russians. So speaking with “today’s Moscow pronunciation” is not recommended. Go for traditional Russian and don’t make your “A” sounds too long!