Russian Slang and Idioms. Lesson 15.

Milk in RussianToday we will talk about phonetics and pronunciation. I’ve been receiving numerous requests from you to make a lesson about the pronunciation of the Russian words, and why Russian letter “o” sounds almost like Russian “a” in some words, while in other words it sounds like “o”. So, I decided to create this new lesson and clarify a few things for you. Everything is really easy, don’t worry. So, let’s quickly go over the Russian alphabet and pronunciation of the Russian vowels.

Today we will talk about the pronunciation of Russian vowels and in our next lesson we will talk about the pronunciation of Russian consonants.

Russian Alphabet

Russian alphabet is also known as Cyrillic alphabet. It consists of 33 letters: 21 consonants, 10 vowels and 2 letters that do not make any sounds. ( Click here to watch my video and learn Russian alphabet.) There are 10 vowels in Russian language: a, о, е, ё, и, ы, у, ю, э, я.

Russian vowels

Pronouncing Russian Vowels

When it comes to pronunciation of the vowels – it all is very easy. You will notice that unstressed vowels sound much less distinct than stressed vowels. This is called vowel reduction. In other words, the sound of the vowel changes. For example, let’s compare these two words: кот (means cat) and окно́ (window).

“O” in word кот is stressed and is pronounced as [o]. KOT.
The first o in word окно́ is unstressed and is pronounced as a [a]: ak-NO.

Now let’s discuss this Russian pronunciaiton rule in more detail.

Pronouncing  o

Stressed o sounds like [o]:

кот [KOT] cat
торт [TORT] cake
полка [POL-ka] shelf

Unstressed o sounds a lot like Russian unstressed a [a]:

порошок [pa-ra-SHOK] powder
молоко [ma-la-KO] milk
пока [pa-KA] bye

Pronouncing e and  я

The next two vowels that we will discuss in this lesson are e and я. Both of them when unstressed make a similar sound. Let’s start with vowel e.

Stressed e sounds like [ye]:

лес [LYES] forest
петь [PYET’] sing
редко [RYET-ka] seldom

In the word редко, letter e is stressed and o is not stressed. This means that vowel e is pronounced as [ye] and vowel o is pronounced similar to Russian a: редко [RYET-ka].

Stressed я sounds like [ya]

яблоко [YA-bla-ka] apple
мята [MYA-ta] peppermint
пять [PYAT’] five

In the word яблоко you can see again that the first letter я is stressed, and the other two vowels o that follow it are unstressed. Because these two vowels o are unstressed they sound similar to Russian a: яблоко [YA-bla-ka].

Now let’s see what happens when either e or я are unstressed.
Unstressed е, я that are not at the end of the word sound similar to Russian и [ee]:
ведро [veed-RO] bucket
песок [pee-SOK] sand
язык [yee-ZIK] language, tongue

And here is a little infographic that demonstrates the pronunciation rules:


Let’s sum it up:
1. Stressed o sounds like o: кот [KOT]. Unstressed o sounds similar to Russian a: пока [pa-KA].
2. Stressed e sounds like [ye]: лес [LYES]. Unstressed e sounds similar to Russian и: ведро [veed-RO].
3. Stressed я sounds like [ya]: яблоко [YA-bla-ka]. Unstressed я sounds similar to Russian и: язык [yee-ZIK].

Hope this lessons answered your questions about the pronunciation of the Russian vowels. We will talk about the pronunciation of the consonants in our next lesson. If you would like to learn a few basic conversational Russian expressions, you can get my free ebook – Basic Conversational Russian in 7 Days. In the ebook you will learn over 70 conversational Russian words and expressions. The ebook comes with a free Learning Schedule that you can print out and track your progress. Enjoy!

I’ll talk to you very soon.


Study with Maxim Achkasov


The courses of Russian as a foreign language with Russian4real take place online via Skype. The teacher works with adults individually since he is convinced that each person must receive maximum time for practice and professional attention while learning a foreign language.