Learn Russian Pronunciation Podcast Ep. 17

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Welcome to episode 17. Today we’ll deal with a very common pronunciation problem: The names of places. Like I mentioned back in Episode 2, the first time I heard someone say ‘Рим’ I had no idea what they were talking about. I figured out it was a city, but the vowel was so different I didn’t get it until she added, Колизей, Ватикан…Понимаешь?

“Oh! She’s talking about Rome.”

Place names are always tough to pronounce because we so much want to say them the way we do in English. So let’s start with some places in the U.S. Listen carefully, and repeat:


That was the Russian version of Washington. Notice the ‘V’ sound up front. The letter W always poses a problem for Russians. They say ‘Vash’ instead of ‘Wash’. And do you hear the consonant cluster in there? An ‘N-G-and-T’? Listen again and tell me if the G (Г) is voiced or not.


The G is devoiced, becoming what sound? A ‘k’…vash-ink-tone

You might think, Why do I have to work on this? Surely they’ll understand me if I call the city ‘Washington’. That’s its name, after all. That’s true. I’m sure they would…but it would be pretty jarring. I mean, when you’re speaking English, you wouldn’t tell your friends, “Yeah, so me and my buddies we’re gonna take a trip to Москва this summer. Then we might head over to Paris, and then to København.” In English, we say Moscow and Paris and Copenhagen. Those are the correct pronunciations and it’s odd to hear them any other way…even if those are correct in their origin languages.

Next: Which U.S. state is this?


Again, the English W is problematic for Russians…even though they have the fundamental sounds. They could say…Дэл-у-эр…But they prefer to make it a V sound. Listen again.


So, Russian prefers a ‘V” sound for our ‘W’ except…inexplicably…for the city of Wichita. Listen..


See? They can do it if they apply themselves. Here, Russian makes an effort to approximate the sound. They use ‘У-И’ to make our ‘W’.

Another letter that Russian can never decide on is the English letter ‘H’. Sometimes they make it a G sound. Can you guess these locations?




The first one was Hawaii. Listen again…Then Ohio…very odd, to my ear, having that G (Г) in there. But what can you do? And then Birmingham. It ends with a ‘gehm’ sound. And yet, these next ones, which also feature an English ‘H’…Russian went with a ‘X’ sound.




Go figure. And speaking of odd choices, check this one out. The great state of…


Oddly, Russian changed the “sh” sound – MISHagan…to a “ч”. It’s as if they based it purely on the spelling and not how it actually sounds. Right? Someone saw the “ch” there, and said: Ok, here’s the official spelling. We’ll just use out letter Ч for that.

Same with the city of…


Russian has a “Ш” sound…but someone saw that ‘ch’ and went with Ч.

Sticking with North America, which city is this?


So, Toronto – Торонто – is a great example of how, in Russian, all unstressed O’s sound like ‘uh’.

And still in Canada, Russian went with the French version of Montreal. Listen..


No ‘T’ sound in there. And careful with that soft-sign at the end. Listen again…

Before moving on to cities and countries on the other side of the Atlantic, let’s review that phrase we learned in the last episode. Try to say…I’m going to McDonalds.

Я иду в Макдоналдс.

Was our ‘В’ voiced or devoiced? It was a full ‘В’ because of the M in Макдоналдс. Now say you’re going to Starbucks.

Я иду в Старбакс.

Because of the voiceless ‘Ст’ combination, our ‘В’ is reduced to an F sound.

Now, the verb иду translates as going…but only by foot, going to places about town. Places you could conceivably get to by foot. So let’s learn the vehicle version of that. It’s very similar.


For ex: I’m traveling to Toronto. (obviously by vehicle)

Я еду в Торонто.

Our ‘В’ is devoiced, because of the voiceless T in Торонто.

Your turn. Try to say: I’m traveling to Chicago.

Я еду в Чикаго.

I’m traveling to Washington.

Я еду в Вашингтон.

I’m traveling to Montreal.

Я еду в Монреаль.

Excellent. Ok, now let’s move across the pond, as they say. Which European capital is this?


Paris. And this city?



Again, a reminder that all unstressed O’s sound like ‘uh’. And that, really, is what I’m using all these names for in this episode…as a reminder of the various pronunciation patterns we’ve learned.

Next: Listen to how Russians pronounce their city of St. Petersburg…


What happens to the G (Г) at the end? Devoiced, which turns the Г into a K sound. “boork”

Or in Spain, the city of….Мадрид

Again, there’s our pattern of devoicing the final consonant. A devoiced Д sounding like T.

But remember, if we add a vowel after the Д, it becomes voiced again. So try to say:

Papa was in Madrid.

Папа был в Мадриде.

Same with the devoiced ‘Г’ at the end of St. Petersburg. If we add a vowel, the voicing returns.

Mama was in St. Petersburg.

Мама была в Санкт-Петербурге.

The capital of Ukraine is Киев. A devoiced ‘В’ because it’s the final consonant. But if we’re in Kiev, we add that ‘yeh’ sound, which brings the voicing back.

My husband was in Kiev. (And let’s include the word ‘my’ this time.)

Мой муж был в Киеве.

Hear the voiced ‘В’ now? But if we’re traveling to Kiev, we don’t add that sound.

Try to say: I’m traveling to Kiev.

Я еду в Киев.

Let’s do a few more. I’m traveling to Oslo.

Я еду…в Осло.

…to Paris.

Я еду в Париж.

…to Madrid.

Я еду в Мадрид.

…to St. Petersburg.

Я еду в Санкт-Петербург.

Speaking of cities and pronunciation…What I find interesting is that the Ukrainian city – currently called Днепр after the river – used to be called Днепропетровск. They only changed the name just a few years ago, I’m sure to make it more visitor friendly. Which figures. I finally get the name down, and they go and change it.

Anyway, practice with these new place names we learned, and I’ll see you in Episode 18.