While doing research for a recent trip to the Balkans, I read somewhere that it would be helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before going, if possible.
“Fun!” I thought, since learning new languages is one of my all-time favorite things to do.
I immediately Googled “Cyrillic alphabet” and was faced with more options than I knew what to do with, so I picked one image and printed it out, planning to study it on an upcoming road trip.
But that didn’t happen. Then, upon landing in Bulgaria, I saw the Cyrillic alphabet for the first time, realizing I never did make the time to learn it. Time was short because now that I was there, I wanted to know what the “Pectopah” signs meant that I kept seeing everywhere.
So here’s how I did it.
How to Learn Cyrillic Alphabet
This is one of the images I used – there are so many online – do a search and choose one that makes sense to you.
Think of this alphabet like a code. Many of the words are actually spelled the same in English (obviously, not all of them but many), like “Pectopah” which you will learn in a moment.
Step 1 – Save this image on your phone. The first thing I did was get this image on my phone and save it so I could easily reference it without having to bring the printer paper everywhere.
Step 2 – Look for patterns. I noticed right away that the only consonants that are the same in English and Cyrillic are KMT. I know that’s only three out of many, but knowing this helps since they are popular letters.
Step 3 – Memorize the vowels like you would in English. Instead of A-E-I-O-U, for what we know of those vowel sounds we now have A-E-(backwardsN)-O-Y. A-E-(backwardsN)-O-Y, repeat that. You know where the I and the U come in to A-E-I-O-U, so if you remember A-E-(backwardsN)-O-Y, you can begin to recognize the vowels in Cyrillic.
Step 4 – Start connecting letters and symbols to people or stories in your life. I noticed that “L” in English is pi in Cyrillic, and my mom came to mind. Her name is Lori and she can’t eat pie due to an allergy. My brain connected these and stored it to memory. Done. “D” looks like a house, and my brother Daryl is an architect who designs houses. Done. Keep connecting letters and symbols to situations or people in your own life that make them easy for you to remember.
Step 5 – Memorize the rest. I know, easier said than done. This is the hardest part because it demands the most work from your brain. The best thing you can do is just review and test yourself and review and test yourself. There are signs everywhere once you are on the ground, so testing isn’t hard. If you haven’t begun your travels yet, look up anything in Cyrillic online and test yourself. If you get stuck, use your cheat sheet.
The first thing I successfully read in Cyrillic was on a container in a cafe that said “йогурт.” I had no idea what it was until I started decoding the letters, and then the word “Yogurt” appeared, spelled exactly like that.
What a super sleuth I was becoming! It truly feels like cracking a code, which can become addicting and fun if you are a code (read: language) nerd like I am.
Step 6 – If the letters you know aren’t there, ask a local. We learned how to write our names, and I found out that “J” is a shape similar to the uprights on a football field. I like football. Done.
It’s amazing what just knowing the alphabet will open up for you. And the signs everywhere that say “Pectopah” will finally make sense… Let this word be your first test, you can do it! Comment below once you’ve decoded it.
Cyrillic Alphabet FAQs
What alphabet do native english speakers use? The English language uses the Latin alphabet, also known as the Roman alphabet. This alphabet consists of 26 letters and in addition to English, it is used for many other languages around the world.
Is the Cyrillic alphabet the same as Cyrillic script? Yes, the terms “Cyrillic alphabet” and “Cyrillic script” are often used interchangeably.
Is it difficult to learn Cyrillic? Learning Cyrillic can be challenging, but it’s definitely doable with some time and effort.
How many letters in the Cyrillic alphabet? The Cyrillic alphabet typically consists of 33 letters.
What languages use the Cyrillic alphabet? The Cyrillic script is used for nearly 50 languages, with slight differences between languages. Russian is the most widely spoken language using the Cyrillic alphabet. Other languages include:
- Ukrainian: Official language of Ukraine.
- Bulgarian: The official language of Bulgaria.
- Serbian: Used in Serbia, Montenegro, and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Macedonian: The official language of North Macedonia.
- Belarusian: The official language of Belarus.
- Kazakh: In Kazakhstan, although there’s a transition to the Latin script.
- Uzbek: In Uzbekistan, with plans to transition to Latin script.
- Kyrgyz: In Kyrgyzstan, also transitioning to Latin script.
- Tajik: Official in Tajikistan, where it’s written in the Tajik variant of Cyrillic.
Good luck and please let us know in the comments if these tips help you or if you have anything to add!
More on travel in the Balkans:
- Travel in the Balkans: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, and Greece
- Driving Through the Balkans with Busabout: The Ottoman Trek
- 5 Tips for Traveling to Albania
- Split to Dubrovnik: Sailing Croatia with Busabout
More on travel in Europe:
- How to Travel Europe Cheap. Two Weeks For $1500 (Including Flights!)
- Ninja Packing Tips: Packing list for Europe with just a 30L backpack
- How to Get the Most Out of Two Weeks in Europe
- 6 Tips for Using Budget Airlines to Get In and Around Europe
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