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Учительница: Listen how Anya Kirby, Maya's piano teacher, sings the Russian alphabet for you: Play Try to sing it together with her!
Ученик: I can't sing! What are the words in your table?
Учительница: They are the Russian translations of the English words, where the Russian letters are pronounced similarly to the English ones.
Play А - армия, Б - банан, В - водка, Г - гусь, Д - делегат, Е - Ещё нет! Ё - жёлтый желток, Ж - доктор Живаго, З - зоопарк, И - Индия, Й - Тойота, К - крокодил, Л - лампа, М - модель, Н - нос, О - Волга, П - проза, Р - роза, С - старт, Т - телефон, У - гусь, Ф - фото, Х - Лох-Несс, Ц - муха цеце, Ч - чек, Ш - шорты, Щ - щекотливая щека, Ъ - съем, Ы - Так и быть! Ь - семь, Э - Э! Ю - Ютуб, Я - соя.
Ученик: The words are very similar as well but some are not.
Учительница: My table isn't perfect. Help me! Make your own not perfect table. That would be a good way of learning the Russian letters.
Ученик: What a strange expression this ticklish cheek.
Учительница: It isn't a common expression but when pronounced as one word, the letters shch give you a sound similar to the Russian letter Щ. If you try your best to pronounce this sound correctly, you will certainly get this ticklish feeling − possibly even in both cheeks. Strangely enough in the Russian translation of this expression, the letter Щ occurs twice so we have an even more ticklish feeling around our cheeks when we pronounce it.
Ъ and Ь are not letters but signs. The first one is called the hard sign and the second one is the soft sign. They are not pronounced themselves but they influence the way that other letters are pronounced. The translation for съем is I will eat, for семь is seven − as you can see, the only difference in the way they are written are these signs.
Ученик: You have such funny looking letters. I can't remember them!
Учительница: OK, I'll read the Russian alphabet for you:
Play А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я.
Let's learn the vowels first, there are only ten of them: Play а-я, о-ë, у-ю, э-е, ы-и.
Look how I wrote the same sounds another way - I used only six vowels and one semi-vowel й now: Play а-йa, о-йо, у-йу, э-йэ, ы-и (я=йa, ё=йо, ю=йу, е=йэ).
Ученик: I have noticed that Russians pronounce their vowels differently!
Учительница: Of course, it would be good if you read more about stress and Russian vowels and Russian phonology. The key to learning about Russian vowels is to repeat, repeat and repeat them after native speakers. That is how Russian children learn to read in school. Тhe first vowel all Russian children learn at school is A and the second one is У. You can make two meaningful words out of them: Уа! and Ау! Notice, that both words have an exclamation sign.
Ученик: What do they mean?
Учительница: Уа! - is how babies cry to gain the attention of their mothers. Ау! - is what you shout when you are lost in a forest.
Ученик: These words are exactly what I need!
Учительница: Do these vocal exersises! That is what you need! Russian babies as well cry Агу!
Names of Russian letters
Ученик: Hm. Let's start. I want to learn the names of the letters. After all this talk, I want to at least be able to spell my name.
Учительница: No rush. Russians don't spell with letters the way you do.
Ученик: They are so strange! Do you mean that they always manage to understand each other without it?
Учительница: Just the opposite. When you consider the quality of their telephone lines, they probably need to spell things out more often, but they do it in a different way to English. They don't pronounce the names of the letters. Instead they say the names of cities, rivers or common names that start with this letter. If you want to be confident when you spell in Russian, it is advisable to learn not just the alphabet, but common Russian names as well. Elton John might do, but you can't be certain of the result: some Russians would expect Elton John to be spelled as Элтон Джон when others as Елтон Жон; so you never know, you may end up with Э and Д or Е and Ж or any other combination.
Ученик: Then what do those letters need names for?
Учительница: The old names of the Russian letters had some sense. The letters were renamed after the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.
Ученик: Why didn't they name them the way they are pronounced?
Учительница: Unfortunately, that was not so easy. It may not be possible in every case, since not all the letters are pronounced in Russian. It is difficult to reproduce pure sounds separately as one letter can represent several sounds and the same sound, can be represented by several letters.
Ученик: You gave me this table yourself. Now you are telling me that it is incorrect. The sounds don't correspond to the letters − is that right?
Учительница: Strictly speaking − yes, but the letter ë is always pronounced the same, though you will never see this letter in a book, you will find the letter e instead.
Ученик: Even better. Why did you give your table to me then? Is there the faintest hope of an explanation?
Учительница: For guidance − some people don't like the idea of not knowing something completely. English equivalents can give you some sense of security.
When you have learnt the letters a bit read the lesson on Russian phonology and then start learning more about stress and Russian vowels. It's very important!