Treats and tricks of the Russian alphabet.

Have I ever mentioned that teaching is a counterpart of learning most of the times? Not only do you (as a teacher) come across a rainbow of personalities and backgrounds, which is remarkable on its own, but also learn a whole lot of new creative approaches to interpreting the language that have never sprung to your mind before! It’s so much fun!

Remembering how to write Cyrillic is being hailed as a milestone in learning Russian. Trying to grasp why Russian ‘Р’ actually carries the sound of the English ‘R’, Russian ‘H’ is somehow related to the English ‘N’ and Russian ‘B’ is far from sounding anything like the English ‘B’, but more like ‘V’ may appear hard.

Some of the letters you just have to memorise by repeating, writing them out and repeating again. Banal but effective. Others, however, may appear easier to assimilate by coming up with associations. I’d like to share some of them, which have emerged in my lessons.

‘Э’ got the title of the backwards euro sign € only with a single line. ‘Г’ to some, supposedly, looks like a gun. ‘И’ most certainly is a backwards N, ‘Я’ is a backwards R, ‘З’ looks exactly like the number 3, ‘Ч’ is very similar to the number 4. Needless to say that the letters ‘А’, ‘О’, ‘К’, ‘М’, and ‘Т’ have the exact same writing and very identical sounding in both, Russian and English.

If you ever have trouble remembering how to write ‘Й’ – ‘и краткое’, which to many doesn’t look any different from a regular ‘И’ (especially stressed), you can call it ‘И’ with a squiggle – that is exactly what my student does. To be able to read correctly it is very important to differentiate и́ (‘и’ with the stress) and й;  though a lot of the times the existence of ‘Й’ as a separate letter is highly underestimated. If you omit the squiggle in writing, it is not a big deal, as it will still look good to us, natives.  However, when you read, you have to spot the right letter as they carry 2 distinctive sounds. In English transliteration they’ll look something like ‘ee’ (as in ‘bee’) for и́ and ‘y’ (as in ‘yacht’) for й.

My favourite of all times, though, is ‘Ж’ – the spider. Would anyone like to argue with that?