10 English Pronunciation Errors by Russian Speakers


What are the main errors for Russian speakers in English pronunciation? Here we have highlighted the top ten experienced by students at Pronunciation Studio in the areas of vowels, consonants, stress and intonation. The audio is firstly a likely Russian speaker pronunciation, followed by GB English:

1. Vowel Sounds

Russian contains a vowel system of 5 or 6 vowel sounds, whereas GB English has 19 sounds, Russian speakers may replace 2 or 3 English vowel sounds with one Russian vowel:

hut/heart ≠ Russian /a/

Russian speakers tend to replace English /ʌ/ and /ɑː/ with Russian /a/:

heart hut
barn bun

cart cut

pat/pet ≠ Russian /ɛ/

English /æ/ should be more open than /e/, but Russian speakers often make them both into Russian /ɛ/:

man men
pat pet
sand send

feet/fit ≠ Russian /i/

Russian speakers may use their /i/ for both /ɪ/ and /iː/ in English:

feet fit
read rid
scene sin

look/loop ≠ Russian /u/

English /uː/ is made with the tongue more forward than in Russian, /ʊ/ is lower and more forward:

look loop
should shooed
book boot

2. Double (diphthong) Vowel Sounds

English contains 7 double vowels, which move from one position to another. Russian speakers may replace some of these with single vowels:

/əʊ/ ≠ Russian /o/

English /əʊ/ starts in a neutral position then moves to /ʊ/, though Russian speakers often pronounce it as a single Russian /o/. This may be in part owing to its spelling, which always contains the letter <o>:

go, alone, don’t

// ≠ Russian /ɛ/

Russian speakers often pronounce /eɪ/ as a single vowel, starting in a similar position:

play, take, main

3. Approximant Consonants /l/, /r/ & /w/

Clear /l/

Russian speakers tend to raise their tongue at the back of the mouth for all /l/ sounds. In GB English this only happens at the end of a syllable.

love lose allow

/r/ & silent <r>

English /r/ is smooth, the tongue tip doesn’t touch the mouth, Russian speakers often trill the tongue:

right round arrow

<r> is silent in GB English except before a vowel sound, Russian speakers tend to always pronounce it (see ‘r – the strangest sound?‘ for full details):

Park mother’s car there. 

/w/ vs /v/

Russian doesn’t contain the clear distinction between /w/ (lips) and /v/ (teeth+ lower lip), so the sounds are often confused for Russian speakers. In English these sounds are always indicated by their spelling:

very lavish
wild walk

4. Fricative Consonants /h/ & <th>

/h/

Russian speakers may produce this sound in the mouth /x/ rather than in the throat /h/:

how happy harry

<h> is also often silent in connected speech (see this article for full explanation):

He wouldn’t have done.
Where’s her handbag?

<th> ≠ /s,z/

English dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often replaced with /s/ and /z/ by Russian speakers:

/θ/ think bath ninth
/ð/ those Northern father

5. Plosive Consonants /p,t,k/

In English, the plosive consonants /p,t,k/ are normally made with an explosion of air, which doesn’t happen in Russian, this may lead to the sounds sounding more like /b,d,g/ to English native speakers:

Park, Tim, car
Put this tea in the cup.

6. Final Consonant Devoicing

Where voiced consonants occur at the end of a syllable they become voiceless: /d-t/, /g-k/, /z-s/, /v-f/:

bad, rug, choose, love

7. Weak Syllables: schwa /ə/

English is made of strong and weak syllables. The most common weak syllable contains a schwa sound /ə/, which can be spelt with any of the vowels /a,e,i,o,u/. Russian speakers often pronounce the vowel as it’s written, making it too strong:

/ə/ about manner sailor cactus lentil

8. Word Stress

Like Russian, English can place the stress on any syllable:

ˈamicably underˈstanding caˈtastrophe

9. Sentence Stress

Choosing the main stresses in an English sentence (normally just 2) and making other syllables weak can be challenging for Russian speakers:

Are you ˈhaving a ˈparty this weekend?
The ˈweather forecast looks oˈk.

10. Tone

Russian speakers may import their tones from the first language which is relatively flat with sudden jumps in pitch.

I don’t see how it is so bad.
My job is very interesting. 


– Read about Russian speaker Nikita Nemygen’s experiences studying these skills at Pronunciation Studio in his article How not to speak “фром май харт”  in Russian Gap.
– Learn more about the different stages of Accent Reduction in “What is Accent Reduction?“. 
– Take a free introduction class at Pronunciation Studio (info and booking here) or an individual assessment class in London and online. 

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By | 2017-01-31T17:26:24+00:00 May 12th, 2015|Accents, International Accents, Pronunciation, Teaching|11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Olena October 9, 2016 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Did we sound like this? 🙂 Thank you, it is very useful

    • Joseph Hudson October 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Olena. The recordings are deliberately exaggerated to highlight each possible error.

  2. Anon October 14, 2016 at 11:32 am - Reply

    I love how “I don’t see how it is so bad” with a Russian tone sounds somewhat Italian.

    • Joseph Hudson October 17, 2016 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Italian? I will tell him, he’ll be thrilled!

    • David VonderBurg September 4, 2017 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      One can’t give an “example” of an accent by a fluent-English speaking Russian–it would just sould like a near normal Emglish accent–so the need to exaggerate each word tends to make it sound a bit farcical, but necessary.

      Keep in mind, a Russian speaker (newly learning English) might very well say “I don’t see how is so bad” and omit the “it” word, thus making him “sound” more Russian than Italian. That’s not the purpose of this exercise, but to use proper English phrases instead and show how each word is pronounced using a Russian accent.

      So You get an ENGLISH phrasing with EVERY word Russian-accented resulting in “eet” sounding Italian.

  3. Oleh October 16, 2016 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    A bit exaggerated, but interesting, it is very helpful. are there any more?

  4. vladimir October 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    I would add strong palatalization when pronouncing Russian /i/ or /e/ instead of English vowels. They do this even in Russian speech when pronounce English borrowings like word test. They pronounce it almost like тесто = dough

  5. Daria November 9, 2016 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Oh… Fortunately none of my friends has such pronounciation. Moreover I’ve never heard smbd speaks like this. I mean russians.

  6. Victoria December 6, 2016 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you very much. It is very interesting adn useful for russian speakers.

  7. Dzmitry March 23, 2017 at 9:47 am - Reply

    I believe, it was not a Russian native speaker who tried to imitate Russian accent. The accent sounded a bit Italian. It should not be a problem to find a Russian learner of English, who would demonstrate a nice Russian accent.

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