Now, when you are familiar with the alphabet (assuming you did put some effort and tried to remember a couple of letters), let's learn to read. If the first lesson didn't help, here is a small bonus which can help you to remember the alphabet faster.
Reading is important. And believe me, it’s a huge step. Here’s why:
- You will become more confident in your ability to learn Russian.
- You will never be totally lost since you’ll be able to read street signs.
- You will be able to check your restaurant bill and avoid getting ripped off.
- You will be able to impress a lot of folks with your new skill.
- You will be able to learn the lyrics to some of the most awful Russian pop tunes (don’t worry if you don’t understand a word; many of these songs make no sense anyway).
Most importantly, since Russian has so many words borrowed from other languages (most notably French, German, and English), you will actually understand quite a few words – шоппинг (shopping), компьютер (computer), инвестиция (investment), менеджер (manager), коттедж (cottage), журнал (journal), ресторан (restaurant), пляж (beach, but in French it sounds just the same la plage), картофель (potato, which sounds just like the German, Kartoffel), etc.
And those are just everyday words. As you read more specialized texts, such as financial or science news, you will encounter even more familiar-sounding words.
As you remember from the Lesson 1 - there are 33 letters in the modern Russian alphabet, but you will only have to memorize the pronunciation for 31 of them (the other two are silent). The good news is that there are no bi- and trivocals in Russian (unlike in English with its “th”, “ae”, etc). Plus you don’t need to worry about which sounds not to pronounce (unlike in French). Don’t worry about sounding just right since your main goal right now is to start reading.
Now, keeping the guide to letters and sounds handy try reading some shorter words.
You should understand these words without translation once you read them since when read correctly they should sound the same or nearly the same as they do in English. Now you are ready to move on to longer words with a less favorable consonants-to-vowels ratio.
Now, here is a couple of things why @TokoyamiSenshi assumed that reading is not really straightforward and not everything can be read exactly as it's phonetically written (which is not true).
Reading and Stressed vowels
If you join the sounds of individual letters together you will be able to read the majority of words in Russian.
One vowel in each word is always emphasized greater than the rest– it is called the stressed vowel and marked with the acute accent ´ (in textbooks for the begginers usually and never in normal literature of course). While stressed vowels are pronounced rather distinctly, unstressed vowels undergo reduction and changes. For example, the vowels 'A' and 'O' are reduced to the "u"-sound as in "under" when they occur in unstressed positions.
Placing the stress correctly is important when speaking Russian. Improper word stress not only makes you sound unnatural (imagine yourself saying "computer" with the letter "o" stressed) but it can also change the meaning of a word. The stressing is also not fixed, it can fall to any vowel in the word.
Consonants and Vowels
There are 21 consonant letters in Russian: б, в, г, д, ж, з, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ. The consonant letter й is sometimes called a semivowel.
There are 10 vowel letters: а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и.
Two letters of the Russian alphabets do not designate any sounds. They are the "soft sign" (ь) and the "hard sign" (ъ).
Letters vs. Sounds
With few exceptions, Russian consonant letters can be pronounced either "soft" or "hard" depending on the type of a letter that comes after them. For this reason, the 20 consonant letters of the Russian alphabet can designate 37 distinct consonant sounds. This might be a bit hard to understand right now, but even if you continue just pronounce sounds as they are, without making them hard or soft - people will still understand you, it will only make you sound more foreign.
In general, Russian vowels are divided into two basic types: "soft-indicating" and "hard-indicating" vowels. The "hard-indicating" vowels are а, э, ы, у, о. Russian "soft-indicating" vowels are formed from their "hard-indicating" counterparts by adding an English sound of "y" at the beginning. Thus you will get such "soft-indicating" vowels as я, е, ё, ю, и.
You will need this as you go futher into pronounciation, for now it's enough if you manage to remember which letters are consonants and which are vowels.