English Pronunciation for Russian Speakers

There are significant differences between the Russian and English phonological systems which can make it very difficult for native Russian speakers to pronounce English words and intonation well. Becoming proficient in Russian to English pronunciation is important for communicating with non-Russian speakers. After all, you will want to get your point across in English no matter the context while avoiding misunderstandings.

What We Know About Russian

Russian has five vowel sounds without any differentiation between short or long vowels, but it differentiates between hard and soft consonants. A concept that does not exist in English. For vowels, English pronunciation for Russian speakers can be especially challenging. Below, find the common ways English words are mispronounced by native Russian speakers and what to be aware of when talking with others in English.

English vs. Russian Vowel Sounds

There are many differences between English and Russian, which can lead to cultural misunderstandings if neither person is aware. The Russian vowel sound /ы/ causes specific problems not only with vowels but also with the pronunciation of consonants. Russian speakers may hear an English /schwa/ or short /i/ as their /ы/ sound.

In contrast, English has twelve vowel sounds (five long, seven short) as well as eight diphthongs. Some of the most difficult sounds for Russian learners of English are, certainly, sounds like the vowel in /her/ which seems to be even more difficult to pronounce in words that start with /w/ such as /work/ and /were/.

Other vowel sounds that cause difficulties are the lack of differentiation between /bat/ and /bet/ or /reach/ and /rich/.

English vs. Russian Consonant Sounds

Russian consonants can cause specific problems stemming from the fact that they are often pronounced with a /y/ sound as in /yacht/ in combination with the consonants or with the Russian letter/sound /ы/.

Russian consonants at the end of a syllable become hard as a general rule (without the soft sign). Even if a Russian word ends with /d/, you pronounce it as /t/ which may cause problems with words like /bad/. A Russian English learner might pronounce it as /bat/.

A final /g/ will be pronounced as a /k/. An /s/ may be pronounced as a /z/ as in /size/. The /z/ becomes the unvoiced /s/. Further, the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds do not exist in Russian. Thus, words such as thin, then and the are very difficult for Russian speakers to pronounce.

The differentiation between the sounds /w/ and /v/ is not easy, so Russian to English learners often pronounce words like /vest/ and /west/ the same. The /ng/ sound at the end of words like bring is difficult to reproduce accurately and often sounds like /nG/ with the /g/ or even /k/ being fully pronounced.

The American /r/ sound is also difficult to master for Russian English learners and should be practiced a lot.

English vs. Russian Syllable Stress Patterns

As for stress patterns, Russians sometimes stress words in English that should not be stressed. Thus, extra focus should be put on the study of linking and reductions in English and word stress.

Some mistakes can even lead to cultural misunderstandings and leave the impression with English native speakers that Russians are rude. Russian English learners tend to ask questions with falling instead of rising intonation which is perceived as impolite by English native speakers.

Also, if you wanted to be polite and ask a favor in Russian, you could say: "Give me the pencil". In Russian you do not really say: "Could you give me the pencil?" and so on. Russian is much more direct. Another example is that when you ask a Russian e.g. "Do you want to meet tomorrow?" in Russian for some people it is perfectly acceptable to simply answer: "No". English speakers perceive that as rude and impolite.

English pronunciation for Russian speakers is sometimes difficult due to the differences in sounds for vowels, consonants, and syllabic patterns.

By practicing the following English words, you will improve your English pronunciation and be able to better communicate with English speakers:

English Vowel Sound Practice for Russian Speakers

  1. Start
  2. Rat
  3. Met
  4. Sit
  5. Meat
  6. Work
  7. Word

English Consonant Sound Practice for Russian Speakers

  1. Locked
  2. Marrow
  3. Star
  4. Vest/west
  5. Wonderful
  6. Hit/heat

English Word Stress for Russian Speakers

  1. Understanding
  2. Happiness
  3. Gratitude
  4. Implementation
  5. Unbelievable

By practicing these keywords out loud, you will improve your ability to pronounce these English words. From different vowel sounds to syllabic patterns, Russian speakers have lots to learn when it comes to mastering the English language.

Marike Korn