Skip to comments.10 steps to get a kick-ass Russian accent
Posted on 11/02/2019 3:40:22 PM PDT by VRW Conspirator
Want to command respect as if you were a badass Russian villain in a Hollywood film? Reckon you can do a better job than Harrison Fords questionable attempt at a Russian accent? Russia Beyond has you covered.
A Russian accent is often imitated by English-speakers but rarely perfected. Youll probably be familiar with the mean-sounding tone usually heard in Hollywood Russian accents, but do you know which sounds Russian speakers most commonly carry through to their spoken English? Follow these tricks, and youll be sounding like a native in no time! 1. Replace the 'i' with 'ee'
There is no i sound in Russian, and many native Russians substitute it with an ee sound when learning English. For example, only an accomplished English-language student in Russia can pronounce the word big just like they do in England or America. In reality, a true Russian says beeg! For maximum effect, accompany this sound with a nostril flare, and watch your adversaries self-confidence slowly erode.
Test yourself: This fish is a little bigger than this insect (Like a Russian: Zees feesh eez a leetle beeger zan zees eensekt)
2. Randomly skip articles
There are no Russian-language equivalents for a or the, so of course this can be a tricky concept for Russians to get their heads around. Even Russians who speak fine English will mess this up from time to time. So, let them inspire you and be a little more liberal with your grammar!
Many associate tongue rolling exclusively with Spanish. The Russian roll is perhaps even a little slicker because its a shorter sound that doesnt really affect the flow or stress of the word, making it generally much less noticeable than in Latin languages. Try lightly flicking the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Its harder than it seems! Take inspiration from that tongue-rolling meme king, Vitas: Now try this tongue twister: The rich man ran in a round-robin race in Rotterdam.
4. Use a harsh 'h'
Russians have a tough time with the letter h, which is often replaced with a g when used in borrowed words from other languages. For example, the Russian word for hamburger is gamburger, while Russian teens enjoy reading stories about Garry Potter.
When speaking English, however, Russians usually have to use the kh sound instead, which is phonetically closer to the English h. This gives the sound a really harsh, back-of-the-throat, phlegm-filled edge, instantly making others less likely to mess with you.
Test yourself: Happy Halloween, Harry! (Like a Russian: kheppi khaloween, kherry)
5. Soften your 'e'
You wont often hear a Russian say a hard e, especially when following a consonant. To be legit, make your e sound more like a ye. In Russian, the name Yeltsin, for example, in fact, begins with a Russian e, which has been softened.
Test yourself: My friend said his left leg is better. (Like a Russian: my fryend syed kheez lyeft lyeg is byetter)
6. Forget about the 'th'
As you probably already guessed from all the zes in the example sentences, Russians have a hard time finding the halfway point between hard and soft sounds in English. To have a good Russian accent, you must pick either one the, for example, must be pronounced either as de or ze. Thick, on the other hand, could be either tick or sick. Dont worry if people dont understand you, by this point theyll be way too scared to try and correct you.
Test yourself: Take the third path to get to the theater. (Like a Russian: Tyeyk ze soord pat to gyet to ze teeatr)
7. Take your 'u' sound to the extreme
Russians really struggle with the uh sound that is common in English. To alleviate this problem, they have a range of options at hand. If its a short u, they usually replace the sound with an ah so young becomes yang, and but becomes bat.
When the u sound is a little longer, Russians tend to pronounce it as an oo. For example, the word hurt becomes khoort, while put is pronounced as poot. When theres a u involved, dont underemphasize it. Instead, really ham the sound up!
Test yourself: The young man is upset because the bird is cut. (Like a Russian: Ze yang men eez apset becaz ze boord eez cat)
8. Instead of 'v' go with 'w'
To be fair, not all Russians make this mistake. However, why not go for a stereotypical full monty here? After all, Russian doesnt have a w sound, so if anything, itll add authenticity to your Russian accent. Watch your enemies fear intensify as you tell them, I vill be back, or you vont vant to mess vis me.
Test yourself: Will you want to be wearing that waistcoat on Wednesday? (Like a Russian: Vill you vant to be vyering zet vyeistkot on Vednyesdyei?)
9. Lots of inflection
Everyone who comes to Russia will at least once endure the awkward experience of being asked a question, and having absolutely no idea theyre even being asked something. In English, things are clearer thanks to an upward cadence at the end of questions. Russians make things a bit more cryptic, often throwing in the stress somewhere near the middle of the sentence. Try saying this:
Do you want to come to the park?
Where did your voice rise? Be honest, was it on the word park? Dead giveaway! Now try again, inflecting on the word want, then bring the sentence on a downward slope:
Do you WANT to come to the park?
Much more confusing, right? Thats the beauty of it, though. If people are having a hard time with your true Russian question-asking skills, just give them a look that says, Whats wrong with you?
10. Have the right attitude
A convincing Russian accent suggests power and confidence this means speaking calmly and slowly with a deep, authoritative voice. As for the tone: it should be somewhere between, I dont have time for this, and you get what I mean, yeah? You cant smooth-talk your way around Russia; getting what you want often involves assertiveness and sternness, so be ready to wear this attitude in public at all times. Theres a reason they say Russians dont smile!
Just watch Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. You will have a realistic Russian accent down in no time.
I have a Czech acquaintance who grew up under Communism - it annoys him to no end when people assume from his accent that hes Russian.
Rules for achieving a mediocre or better Christopher Walken impression:
1: Let’s begin with the difficult one: the New York accent.
2: Always pronounce one syllable words using two syllables
3: You have to pause... occasionally... within sentences. But not too often or it becomes repetitive.
4: You have to draw out the final word of a sentence occasionally. But not too often or it becomes repetitive.
5: You have to crack your voice occasionally. What do I mean by that? Hard to explain without demonstrating. But again, not too often or it becomes repetitive.
6: Sound a little bit crazy. Do this often.
Also Russian doesn’t have the verb to be in the present tense. So you can drop an ‘am, is or are’ every now and then. “I very important man” “She very pretty voman”
“Moose and squirrel, moose and squirrel, meester beeg”.
Are youse crazy or what?
Russian accent eez sexy. But Russian men always seem dour and depressed.
(Sometimes that’s sexy, too.)
Exactly! I took Russian when I was deployed to Uzbekistan and at first talked like Boris Badenov (”Look, Natasha! Is moose and squirrel!”)
But I discovered that speaking close to the front & roof of the mouth, almost nasally, made for a more authentic sound. The rolled R is more subtle in Russian than Spanish, this is true.
The greatest initial hurdle is to learn Cyrillic and to hear it the same way as with the Latin alphabet. When the sound of a printed Cyrillic word comes to mind, then it is no longer an impenetrable code. And it’s much easier to learn if you think of it as modified Greek, which it is.
Basic Russian phrases & sentences are learned much faster when you don’t have to transliterate.
By the way, maybe you’ll notice I pronounced that with two syllables.
I’m a native-born (Anglo) American, but I have a degree in Russian. Mostly because of that, I already have a really good Russian accent when speaking English, should I so desire. I’ve also been mistaken as a native Russian speaker by native Russians—because I’ve been continuously (every day) perfecting my Russian accent (when speaking Russian) since I began learning the language in 1971 (age 14.)
Russian does not have the word “the,” nor the word “a.” So don’t use use either of those words when attempting to sound like a Russian when speaking English.
Also, when using the present tense, they almost never use any form of the verb “to be” (they do have the words, they just rarely use them.) So, instead of “I am ready,” they will say, “I ready.” (Not that all of them will make such mistakes when speaking English, some of them can be VERY hard to distinguish from native speakers of English.)
When I worked in NYC years ago I noticed very quickly New Yorkers tended to say that a lot. Putting ‘’what’’ at the end of a question. Instead of asking, “What are you, crazy?’’. They’d say “Are youse crazy or what?’’.
I met a guy that came over from Russia when he was a teen. He had NO Russian accent - it was hard to believe. I asked him how he learned to speak English so well.
“I watched a lot of cartoons when I first came over.”
Your Czech friend no doubt was required to take Russian in school while walking past Red Army tanks on pedestals.
My Polish priest speaks English as a third language. I get an askance look when I speak Russian to him; their enmity goes back centuries.
Exactly what I was going to say...Rocky and Bullwinkle, language teachers. Or at least accent coaches...
Yeah, so the New York accent and inflections are the hard part. All I know about it I saw on TV. I’m an Oregonian my whole life.
Moose and skwirrel.
My husband’s grandmother was English, and she always pronounced ‘squirrel’ as ‘squEErel’.
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