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The Cyrillic Alphabet


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  • Added on: April 26th, 2008
Hey all,

I am going to be spending sometime in the Balkans and Eastern Europe and was wondering if anyone knew of a good website so I could pick up the basics of the alphabet that helped them while travelling?

I had a look around online and I've come across pages with different number of numbers etc. It all got very confusing... Cool

Haci Richard

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  • Added on: April 26th, 2008
This site looks pretty good, especially as it tells you about the different varieties you'll run into in different countries.
"Suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either."


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  • Added on: April 26th, 2008
Wikipedia has a basic chart for the alphabet used in parts of ex-Yugo, though for some of them you'd need to know the letters in that language which are not in English (c and c with marks are both ch, etc...Lonely Plant should have these and a few others).

I first learned the alphabet used in parts of ex-Yugoslavia in a Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian course, so I am probably biased towards that, but I do think it is the easiest of all of the Cyrillics Smile (has the fewest that are different than English to learn).

I worked with that alphabet for maybe a week in the course, in 2001, and it helped read street signs in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria in 2007. It's up to you of course but for those countries (and of course Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia, which is not usually on most people's travel list), I would not worry about learning each country's additional characters - they are close enough with this one.

It will really help when you are matching street signs to street names on maps...I was surprised at how hard of a time some travelers I met there had because of that difference.
Make cay, not war - Kesmen


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  • Added on: May 7th, 2008
Cyrillic may not be terribly useful in ex-soviet bloc countries outside of Russia. My experience in these countries has largely been anti-Russian and I've met some unmistakable hostility towards Russians and the Russian language. Most of the bloc countries are now EU, have re-adopted their own native languages, and resent the Russian language that had been forced on them and everything Russian that went with it.

Outside of Russia, Cyrillic may be of limited usefulness except in Bulgaria and the Ukraine. I was spat on in Latvia by the bus ticket lady for using Russian, and cursed out by a taxi driver in the Czech Republic for trying to communicate in Russian. And my Russian is dreadful, no one would confuse me with a native speaker. Yes, older people often speak fluent Russian in these countries but it will get you a cold shoulder in response. Cyrillic in print in eastern Europe is not common. These people are holding a grudge.....

Saricie K

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  • Added on: May 11th, 2008
Originally posted by Sophie9:
Cyrillic may not be terribly useful in ex-soviet bloc countries outside of Russia....

Outside of Russia, Cyrillic may be of limited usefulness except in Bulgaria and the Ukraine...

Not necessary, it depends where you travel to in "Eastern" Europe (a very big region covering many countries). Outside of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine use Cyrillic alphabet. Never been to Belarus, but I found there are not many signs in Latin alphabet in Ukraine and people tend not to understand English. Cyrillic alphabet is also used in Bulgaria, Macedonia, while Serbia and Montenegro use both Latin and Cyrillic. I think all the rest countries use Latin, including Romanian-speaking Moldovans (but not its breakaway republic of Transdniester) So if you don't travel to the aformentioned countries, you may not need to know too much Cyrillic. Since I don't know any Russian, I do need to relie on reading some Cyrillic signs myself. It will surprise you how well those people from the Baltics in speaking English. Even in Bulgaria and Macedonia, I found people speak English quite well (young people I mean), but it is nice to greet in their language first!
Visit my bilingual website at http://travel.saricie.com/index_en.html


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  • Added on: May 11th, 2008
If you study up on the phonetics of the cyrillic characters, taking buses and reading street signs becomes much easier. Its not that difficult considering there arent many characters to memorize. The language itself is a different matter.

I once amused myself by learning the numbers from one to 10 in arabic, and that too was useful.

Learn the alphabet, the numbers from one to ten, and point, and point, and you can even shop.

DVa kilo, (2 kilos)

've forgotten them now. but... They come to me when I visit russian speaking countries.


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  • Added on: May 12th, 2008
It's easy to learn, and absolutely worth it, even if you don't know any thing else in the languages. It helps most with signs, subways, maps and directions and it will also just raise your general comfort level--especially in Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Makedonia.

You should also learn the latin alphabet of Former-Yugo. Same sounds as Cyrillic, just with latin letters--and only a handful of extra characters than English. You will probably use that alphabet more if you don't go past Serbia.

Be careful about which sites you use, as they're not all completely accurate with pronunciation. Some are even missing letters for the respective language. Since Cyrillic spans multiple languages, you may want to start with one language and learn some basic phrases to give the script more context. Russian is probably your best bet as there are many resources available and they will always be in Cyrillic (as opposed to Serbian, which would be my second choice since you'll be in that area).

Technically, it's a little confusing to just learn the Cryillic script without focusing on one language, because although they share most of the same characters, there are some unique ones to each language, and even some of the shared characters have slightly different pronunciation.

But don't let this confuse you. Just pick a language with Cyrillic (Russian!). And then, once you know the alphabet and a few words, switch to another Cyrillic language and learn the small differences and extra (or substitute) characters. There may be a site that lists all characters (like wiki), but again, I think this is too confusing and not at all a natural way to learn.

When I have some time, I'll look for more sites, but here is one for now. http://www.friends-partners.org/oldfriends/language/russian-alphabet.html
Again it helps if you have context and can hear a few words being pronounced.


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  • Added on: May 20th, 2008
Originally posted by Sophie9:
I was spat on in Latvia by the bus ticket lady for using Russian ...

For Latvia, that's actually quite friendly!

But seriously, at present, more people in Latvia speak Russian than Latvian, and about 30% of the population is ethnic Russian. This had caused major tension from what I hear, and probably contributed to the chilly reception. (I imagine the bus driver thinking - "Great, a foreigner visiting Latvia learns Russian before she comes! F*ck her!")

As for the original question, I found a bit of Cyrillic knowledge useful in Ukraine. (Though I should emphasize on "a bit" -- just sort of picked it up as I went along)


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  • Added on: May 20th, 2008
You really do need Cyrillic for Ukraine. Ukrainian has a few different letters than Russian, but it is mostly the same and you'll be able to sound out words. Whether or not you know the word is a different story.

However, just being able to sound out words like: пица, кофе хаус, такси, and ресторан will allow you to read pizza, coffe house, taxi, and restaurant. So you'll be in good shapre for common cognates at least.


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  • Added on: August 28th, 2008
Originally posted by Sophie9:
I was spat on in Latvia by the bus ticket lady for using Russian, and cursed out by a taxi driver in the Czech Republic for trying to communicate in Russian. And my Russian is dreadful, ....

In Latvia (and the other Baltics) there is a strong anti-Russian sentiment. If you don't speak Russian fluently, don't use it at all. I find the situation in those countries very tricky - they don't like to hear Russian being used as a sort of lingua franca.

In Czech and other countries of Central/Eastern Europe speaking Russian is like trying to use French with a cab driver in the USA or UK, just because it's taught at schools.

Back to the OP.
Try with Russian. The other languages using cyrilic alphabet have only a few letters that are different, the same way as there are å, ä, ö, ñ in different European languages using latin alphabet.
gdzie mnie wiatr poniesie


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  • Added on: July 30th, 2010
I found this and this sites are good for learning. They include sounds how to vocalize the Russian alphabet.

I have noted there is much of Russian speaking people in Baltics in some cities. For example in East Estonia almost whole of the population speaks only Russian.

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