While doing research for a recent trip to the Balkans (Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Greece), I read somewhere that it would be helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet if possible before going. “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.
Related: Tips for Traveling in the Balkans
That didn’t happen.
The first I saw of the Cyrillic Alphabet was upon landing in Bulgaria, realizing I never did make the time to learn it. Time was short because I was there and I wanted to know what the “Pectopah” signs meant that I kept seeing everywhere.
So here’s how I did it.
This is the image I used (there are so many, and I have no idea if this one is a good one to use or if it’s complete or not – my guess is not – but it’s the one I used and you are welcome to copy it).
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 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 AEIOU we now have AE(backwardsN)OY. AE(backwardsN)OY, repeat that. You know where the I and the U come in to AEIOU, so if you remember AE(backwardsN)OY, you can figure out those vowels.
Step 4 – Start connecting letters to people or stories. I noticed that L in English is pi in Cyrillic, for some reason my mom came to mind. Her name is Lori and she can’t eat pie, because she has several food allergies. Done. D looks like a house, and my brother Daryl is an architect who designs houses. Done. Keep connecting letters to situations or people in your own life that make them easy to remember.
Step 5 – Memorize the rest. This is the hardest part because it includes the most work for your brain. The best thing you can do is just review and test yourself and review and test yourself. There are signs everywhere so testing isn’t hard. Start reading signs and if you get stuck, use your cheat sheet. The first thing I read in Cyrillic was on a container in a cafe “XXXX”, I had no idea what it was until I started decoding the letters and the word “Yogurt” appeared spelled exactly like that. What a super sleuth I was becoming!
Step 6 – With letters that 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 knowing the alphabet will open up to you. And the signs everywhere that say “Pectopah” will finally make sense.
Good luck and please let us know in the comments if these tips help you or if you have anything to add!