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Russian language distribution

Russian is a Slavic language spoken by 300+ million people world-wide. Most people living in Russia use it as a first language, and many other people in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe know it as a second language. It holds official status in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, as well as the unrecognized states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria.

In countries lacking official designation for Russian, such as Ukraine and the Baltic States (where schooling in Russian was mandatory under the Soviet regime), a solid majority of residents may speak it as a second language, in addition to having significant native-speaker minorities. Russian also remains the lingua franca of choice throughout the rest of the former Soviet Central Asian states and the Caucasus, where it is effectively the language of commerce, government, and travel (despite lacking official status).

It is, to a lesser extent, an important language in Mongolia, where it is a compulsory second language in schools, and is the most widely spoken foreign language, and where signs remain in Cyrillic. Surprisingly enough, Russian has also become the third most widely spoken language in Israel, owing to a massive exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Russian remains perhaps the most important Eurasian travel language because English is very rarely spoken throughout the Russophone countries.

Pronunciation guide[edit]

Russian print and cursive

Consonants and vowels in Russian (and Slavic generally) are soft (palatalized) or hard. Consonants are pronounced soft if followed by a soft vowel or the soft sign, else hard. Some consonants are always soft or always hard, regardless of the following vowel.

One important note: the cursive Russian alphabet looks very different from the printed alphabet. The printed alphabet is rarely used when writing by хэнд. (The same goes to other Cyrillic-written languages.) On the upside, though, as a traveler, you are quite unlikely to have to read much handwritten Russian!


The vowels are listed in alphabetical order. Please notice that these vowels also occur in hard/soft pairs: a/я, э/e, o/ё, ы/и, y/ю.

Unfortunately, vowel ё is very often written as

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