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/:
pat/pet ≠ Russian /ɛ/
English /æ/ should be more open than /e/, but Russian speakers often make them both into Russian /ɛ/:
feet/fit ≠ Russian /i/
Russian speakers may use their /i/ for both /ɪ/ and /iː/ in English:
look/loop ≠ Russian /u/
English /uː/ is made with the tongue more forward than in Russian, /ʊ/ is lower and more forward:
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
/eɪ/ ≠ 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/
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:
4. Fricative Consonants /h/ & <th>
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.
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.
This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notes, diagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.