How to Learn the Cyrillic Alphabet Fast

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.

I thought, “Fun!” 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 the Cyrillic Alphabet For Free

This is one of the images I used. There are so many others online—search and choose one that makes sense to you.

Chart of the Cyrillic alphabet showing each letter with its corresponding phonetic pronunciation in English, such as 'A a as in father' and 'Б б as in but', against a plain background for clear readability.
There are tons of images of Cyrillic characters like this on Pinterest.

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. First, I got this image on my phone and saved it to easily reference it without bringing the printer paper everywhere.

Step 2 – Look for patterns. I immediately noticed 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, from what we know of those vowel sounds, we now have A-E-(backward N)-O-Y. A-E-(backward N)-O-Y, repeat that. You know where the I and the U come into A-E-I-O-U, so if you remember A-E-(backward N)-O-Y, you can begin to recognize the vowels in Cyrillic.

Step 4 – Connect 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 them in memory. Done. “D” looks like a house, and my brother Daryl is an architect who designs houses. Done. Connect letters and symbols to situations or people in your life that make them easy to remember.

Step 5 – Memorize the rest. I know, it’s 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 review and test yourself.

Once you are on the ground, signs are everywhere, 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 – Ask a local if the letters you know aren’t there. We learned how to write our names, and I discovered 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 can 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.

Side view of an old bus with faded red and white paint, featuring Cyrillic script that reads 'СОЛОВКИ СОЛОВКИ HOTEL,' parked in a grassy area with a glimpse of blue-roofed buildings in the background.
Cyrillic script on a bus. © Anne Nygård, Unsplash.

Other Ways to Learn the Cyrillic Alphabet

Some people, including myself, learn best by immersing themselves in the culture by traveling to countries where the language is spoken. Engaging with locals provides invaluable real-life practice and cultural understanding.

But if you don’t procrastinate and have time (and money sometimes) to invest in learning before your trip, try one of these methods—or a few!

Online Language Courses: Enroll in online language courses specifically tailored to the language you want to learn. You can learn Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, or other languages with online platforms like Pimsleur.

Language Apps: Use language learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel, or Rosetta Stone. These apps often include Cyrillic alphabets in their lessons.

Tutoring: Hire a tutor who is a native speaker of the language you want to learn. They can provide personalized guidance and practice sessions and help you perfect the pronunciation of phrases like “I’m hungry” or “Hello, my name is…” in the language you’re practicing.

Language Exchange: Find language exchange partners who speak the language you’re learning and are willing to help you practice. Websites like iTalki and Tandem can connect you with language partners worldwide.

Online Resources: Explore online resources such as YouTube tutorials, language blogs, and websites dedicated to teaching Cyrillic alphabets and languages.

Flashcards: Create flashcards with Cyrillic letters and their corresponding sounds to help memorize the alphabet more effectively.

Immersive Learning: Immerse yourself in the language by watching movies, listening to music, and reading books or news articles in Cyrillic script. This helps familiarize yourself with the alphabet and improve comprehension.

Practice Writing: Practice writing Cyrillic letters by hand to reinforce memory and improve fluency in reading and writing.

Join Language Communities: Join online forums or social media groups where learners of the language gather to ask questions, share resources, and practice together.

Close-up of a text in Cyrillic script with selective focus, creating a blurred effect on the document's edges, highlighting the texture of the paper and the ink's detail.
Cyrillic writing. © Miguel Alcântara, Unsplash.

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 in many other languages worldwide.

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 are 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:

  1. Ukrainian: Official language of Ukraine.
  2. Bulgarian: The official language of Bulgaria.
  3. Serbian: Used in Serbia, Montenegro, and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  4. Macedonian: The official language of North Macedonia.
  5. Belarusian: The official language of Belarus.
  6. Kazakh: In Kazakhstan, although there’s a transition to the Latin script.
  7. Uzbek: In Uzbekistan, with plans to transition to Latin script.
  8. Kyrgyz: In Kyrgyzstan, it is also transitioning to Latin script.
  9. Tajik: Official in Tajikistan, 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!

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