The top 5 English pronunciation challenges for Russian native speakers

Did you know that Costa Ronin, the amazing Russian actor, actually learned English at the age of 15 from a radio station that played English music?

While learning English through listening is a step above learning it from books, it still leaves the learner with pronunciation gaps. Specifically for Russian native speakers, many sounds of English are simply absent in Russian, which leads speakers to struggle with those pronunciations.

Let's explore the top sounds that are tricky for Russian speakers in English, so you can take the first step in improving your clarity on those sounds. Coach Eliza Simpson breaks these down in this video.

The Top Challenges for Russians speaking English

1. The placement of the “l” sound

The “l” sound is one of the trickier sounds for Russian native speakers.

Take the word "absolutely". Russians will make the first “l” sound with the tongue almost reaching the roof of the mouth. Phonetically, it sounds like "llju".

Americans will make the sound with the middle of the tongue lower, away from the roof of the mouth, sounding more like "loo"

2. The pronunciation of diphthongs

A diphthong is a slide between two vowel sounds, for instance, the [ai] sound in the word “like.”

A common Russian pronunciation of the word "like" might be close to the phonetic [lajk].

Instead, an American speaker would slide from the “a” to the “ih” sound, as in [laik].

If you still struggle with the difference between these two sounds are, that’s okay. It’s a very nuanced difference between the two sounds, but one that can help improve your clarity and comprehension when speaking.

3. The "i" spelling

Because English spelling is unreliable, when you see an "i" spelling it is not necessarily pronounced the same way. Two options of pronunciation are "ee" and "ih", the former being a longer vowel and the latter a shorter one.

Being able to pronounce "ee" and "ih" differently is a key skill that Russian native speakers struggle with. This can manifest itself in the difference between the words “fill” and “feel”, which are often pronounced interchangeably by Russian speakers. Clarity with these sound pronunciation will greatly help in avoiding any potential misunderstandings.

4. “v” and “w” spellings

The distinction between these two sounds is tricky for native speakers of many languages, including Russian.

The English “w” sound is made when the corners of the lips move towards one another and the lips are rounded. The reason why this is harder for Russian speakers is because it sounds very similar to the “v” sound made in Russian, where the lips move toward the teeth.

5. The “th” spelling

Oftentimes, Russian native speakers will use the “d” sound when presented with words that start in "th", like the, that and they.

A native English speaker will use the “th” sound, which is made quite differently. The tongue position in "th' is lower than "d", and rather pointing towards the bottom of the front teeth.

Focusing on a detail like this will definitely help improve your clarity.

How to improve your clarity and confidence in English

Here at BoldVoice, we are dedicated to giving you the individual attention to help you improve your English so that you can feel confident in all settings, especially when it comes to advancing your career.

As our Hollywood coach Eliza Simpson says, practice makes progress. Using BoldVoice will allow you to practice all of these sounds with individualized feedback on your pronunciation progress. You'll also get tailored videos from coaches like Eliza on how to make all these tricky sounds until you reach full clarity.

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