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Mastering the Russian Alphaébet as a Russian Student

Blog > Languages > Russian > Mastering Russian Writing is A Whole Process!
 “In language lies death or life. “

Russian proverb

Well, that sets the tone…now it is up to you to show us that you are full of vigor and vitality, ready to fight with all the difficulties that may arise on…the path to learning Russian!

It’s clear that the twenty-first century has dilapidated the literary heritage and literary spirit of earlier eras. For Slavic languages, as for all other living languages,when learning a language, the emphasis is put on orality and speaking with hopes of getting across in commercial, diplomatic, and other professional fields…

There are many oral methods nowadays (some of them the most complete and solid for that matter). This is the case for the Russian language as well as for Latin languages.

However, if one really wants to adopt an idiom as if it were his or her mother tongue, becoming a bilingual Anglo-Russian means taking one very serious look at the written word.

Before discussing questions of syntax, grammar, and conjugation, let’s focus today on writing Russian!

The Russian Keyboard: How to Write in Cyrillic with the Qwerty Keyboard?

Like everyone else you have an American keyboard and yet you have correspondents with which you want to write in Russian on the internet. Well, don’t despair. Nothing is easier.

The keyboards of our computer  are a derivative of good old British typewriters, Remingtons etc.

Keyboards have undergone several variations to adapt to the linguistic requirements of each culture or state.

The QWERTY is one of the most used keyboards on the planet, because of the all-powerful English forces in the world.

turns-road Watch out! The road to Russian is not always smooth and has many turns…

However, it is quite possible to access the various characters of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet with an American-English keyboard.

To do this, you must install a Russian keyboard which will allow you to then switch from one language to another, and write in English if necessary, then in Russian by changing your language settings (in the configuration panels most often). There are also some shortcuts depending on your computer.

This is the case of Viton, which is especially recommended for Windows. In general, on Apple devices, a Russian keyboard is automatically installed.

Just imagine being on your usual keyboard, but being outside of your habits and comfort zone. Russian letters will appear when you type.

It could be better to buy transparent stickers to stick onto your QWERTY. Each key will specify the original Latin character (which will be neither hidden nor masked) as well as the Cyrillic letter you wish to type.

This is much less practical, but needs no installation. Virtual keyboards are exclusively accessible online. You could find just what you need on Lexilogos. Just click on the desired letters to type your text in Russian!

Some modules, like Translit.net, work on a phonetic mode of writing Russian. It helps, but it is not ideal in the long term, so as not to take up bad habits…

Learning the Cyrillic Alphabet in Order to Write Russian

Being digitally equipped to write Russian is great. But knowing how to read Dostoevsky’s language and master it to the point of writing it is a different thing.

However, we must assimilate the Russian letters to be able to use them in our own writing.

The history of the bicameral Russian alphabet is long: it has its origins in the Carolingian era, and even beyond that, as monks named Cyril and Methodius apparently adapted the Greek graphological to transcribe in the Slavic languages which were only oral at the time.

Between Old Slavonic and Slavonic (the liturgical language of the Russian nation), the modern Russian language was born rather late: in the 18th century.

old-chapel A very old orthodox chapel with art bearing the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Russian grammatical and syntactic rules are fixed, while Russian spelling is strictly phonetic rather than etymological or historical. Hence the successive alphabetic reforms and the scarcity of “exceptions.”

All in all, since the Bolshevik reforms of 1917-1918, contemporary Russian can be articulated in around 33 letters (rather than 26 in the Latin alphabet).

Consonants can differ based on the tone.

Russian writing follows academic standards: your handwriting must conform to the standards, otherwise it will be deemed illegible!

Know that the Cyrillic method was born and evolved over several alphabets which were used to transcribe Turkish and Mongolian languages. Your familiarity with the Russian alphabet will therefore be a springboard for studying rare languages such as Chuvash or Dungan.

During your hard work and daily homework, try to keep one goal in mind: memorizing the Cyrillic alphabet!

According to TED translators, here are three tips that could help you to learn a foreign language such as Russian:

  1. Let technology help you out. Dmitrochenkova has a great idea: “A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away,” she says. Ditto for changing the language on your browser. Or you can seek out more structured learning opportunities online. Dutch translator Els De Keyser recommends Duolinguo for its gamified approach to grammar, and Anki for memorizing vocabulary with its “intelligent” flashcards.
    .
  2. Think about language-learning as a gateway to new experiences. To Spanish translator Sebastián Betti, learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would open up, from “visiting theme parks, attending air shows, enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, to learning about photo-essay techniques.” In other words, he thinks of fun things that he wanted to do anyway, and makes them into a language-learning opportunity. Many of our translators shared this advice. Italian and French translator Anna Minoli learned English by watching undubbed versions of her favorite movies, while Croatian translator Ivan Stamenković suddenly realized he could speak English in fifth grade, after years of watching the Cartoon Network without subtitles. So the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, find one in the language you’re trying to learn.
  3. Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign penpals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.

What Tools Are Necessary to Learn Russian?

You are probably thinking that I may be setting the bar a little high.

Well…it’s with great intentions that we attain great results!

Fortunately, the Russophile is not completely on his or her own. Many tools are at his or her disposal to overcome the difficulties of writing Russian – whether digital or more traditional.

The more classic tools have been around for a long time, and for good reason: they have proven to be effective over the years

Among them, think about returning to something from your childhood and buy a lined notebook where you will copy, copy, and re-copy isolated letters, then words, then paragraphs…

There is no secret here: the repetition and the training will make a difference as it encourages quick and deep assimilation of each element you are drawing.

The only prerequisite required is the following: to know a little bit the Russian alphabet and the letters that make it up.

soviet-russia Decipher the signs of the dark past of Soviet Russia.

If this is what you are looking to do, two famous publishing houses have some titles to offer in this regard:

  • Oxford Dictionaries,
  • Russian for Dummies.

The most effective tool, which is as good as the previous ones, remains hiring a private Russian, who is either a past graduate student of the language or a native of the Russian country.

The disadvantage is that it is slightly more expensive. The advantage is that you can go far beyond the banal learning of Russian writing and also address Russian culture and Slavic literature.

Finally, e-learning has some very useful PDF downloadable manuals (thank you Google!) and online portals (such as Russian-Facile.Fr) and OS X, as well as Android applications etc. These are the Italki and Memrise with their simple principles.

Russian Writing: Is it Difficult for an English Speaker?

Most high school students speak Spanish, Italian, German, or French…These are all idioms that use the Latin alphabet and have some of their lexicon in common with English.

The same can not be said of Chekhov’s language, which belongs to a totally different world. Kids will ask themselves whether it won’t be too difficult a task for an English-speaker.

Naturally, the learning solutions will be different according to what kind of Russian writing you are looking to do:

  • on a computer (printed characters, automated);
  • in person, where the most skilful can be considered art.

It is much easier to type on a computer keyboard than to take up a pen and draw out the characters.

However, this last step is essential if you would like to truly master the Pushkin language and become a bilingual…

The difficulties of written Russian are evident:

  • totally different cursive system;
  • lexical morphology without any relation to ours;
  • more letters than in English.

But there are also some positive points that should not be neglected:

  • the exoticism of Cyrillic makes learning like a game;
  • Russian is written like it is pronounced, and vice versa;
  • the outline of the letters is inherited from the Greek, itself a cousin of the Latin: there is a certain kinship there, too;
  • Much like English, Russian is written from left to right and from top to bottom.

In conclusion, if writing Russian is considered very complicated…what about Arabic, ancient Hebrew, or Japanese and Chinese?!

Where and Why You Should Buy a Cyrillic Keyboard

We saw that it was possible to write Russian with a QWERTY and even to customize your computer.

For experienced Russian speakers, there is an even better option. The next step is to acquire a 100% Russian keyboard for all your digital needs.

russia-comp Go even further and buy a Russian keyboard!

If you buy a Russian keyboard, now, when you log on to  your computer, you will not think in English, but in Slavic.

It is a device you will need to receive Russians as a host family.

Whether it’s USB, wireless, or Bluetooth-powered, different models exist for you to get the best out of your Russian language learning.

Thanks to the Internet, a few clicks will find you the best priced keyboard for all your Russian language needs.

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