If you, like many students of Russian, struggle with pronunciation, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered seven useful tips that will help you improve your pronunciation. This post doesn’t include phonetic charts. Why? Because they never work. Instead, we have created a list of recommendations that work.
Of course, if you want to sound like a native speaker but it’s just not happening, practice with a tutor to start making progress.
1. Imitate the Russian Accent
Have you ever heard how Russians speak English? Imitate their speech while speaking your native language. When you try to copy that “terrible Russian accent,” you have to change the way you pronounce words. To create the right sounds, the usual positions of your organs of speech have to change.
By the way, it’s not as easy as you think.
2. Listen and Repeat
To improve your Russian pronunciation, listen to how Russians speak. Try to copy them by pronouncing sounds as close as possible to what you hear. Next, record yourself and listen to how you speak. If it’s not close enough, try again. After all, practice is everything.
3. Roll Your Rs like a Russian
Most people agree that the most difficult sound to pronounce in Russian is “р” (r), the rolling “r” sound. To master this, add a “d” sound before the “r.” For example, say “fdridge.” What you hear is quite close to the correct pronunciation of the Russian “р.” Because there is no equivalent sound in English, learning this sound may take a while, so be patient and keep practicing.
4. Length the Vowels
Don’t shorten Russian vowels. Stretch them out like Russians do, and always pronounce them. Let them be heard. Imagine you’re calling your dad: “Da-a-a-ad.” Good. Now say, “да-а-а” (d-a-a-a – yes). Perfect!
5. Don’t Puff Out П, Т, and К
Put you hand in front of your mouth and say “pen.” Feel it? The burst of air? In linguistics, this is called “aspiration.” In English, plosive sounds are pronounced with that characteristic puff of air. The voiceless plosives are “t,” “k,” and “p,” and they are aspirated in normal speech. Their Russian counterparts—п (p), т (t), and к (k)—are not aspirated.
Now try to say “pen” without producing this effect. Relax your tongue and lips, and practice:
парк (park – park)
пиранья (piran’ya – piranha)
пиво (pivo – beer)
6. Devoice Consonants at the Ends of Words
Voiced consonants “б” (b), “в” (v), “g” (g), “д” (d), “ж” (zh), and “з” (z) lose their voices at the ends of words and turn into “п” (p), “ф” (f), “к” (k), “т” (t), “ш” (sh), and “с” (s). This is called “devoicing.” “Парад” (parade) is pronounced “parat,” and “сладкий” (sweet) turns into “slatkii.”
7. Practice Pronouncing Consonant Clusters
One of the reasons people sometimes think Russian sounds quite rude or aggressive is that in many words, three—or even four—consonants follow each other:
здравствуйте (zdravstvuite) – hello
доказательство (dokazatel’stvo) – proof
обязательство (obyazatel’stvo) – obligation
These combinations of consonants are called clusters. The only way to deal with them is to repeat them again and again.
Practice Russian with a Professional
The key to success in Russian pronunciation is practice—the more, the better. So, work with a Russian teacher to have fun with lessons in phonetics while you practice your pronunciation.