More About This Mini-Course
How can it be used?
The book and the accompanying online videos together comprise a flipped classroom learning experience that can minimize the burden of phonetics instruction for Russian language teachers. The book and videos together can also function as a stand-alone phonetics course for students studying Russian independently.
Unlocking Russian Pronunciation consists of:
A book available from Kendall Hunt that serves as a textbook/workbook/reference manual and contains exercises, answer keys, and login information that provides unlimited access to the accompanying videos
A set of online video lessons corresponding to each of the topics presented in the book
A set of online videos providing detailed talk-throughs of the lyrics of each song
A set of online videos containing performances of the songs, featuring lyrics and guitar chords displayed in real time
US $36 hard copy / $18 digital rental
Seven Famous Russian Songs
Textbook and Extensive Video Library
Full Answer Keys
Detailed Instruction on Every Topic
Expert Coaching on Phonetic Nuances
Resetting Your Default Mouth Position
Russian Letters and How to Transcribe Them
How Hard and Soft Sounds Work Together
Consonants That Are Always Hard or Always Soft
The Effect of Emphasis (Stress) on Vowels
Type I Reduction: о/а
Type II Reduction: е/я
Special Rule for Grammatical Endings and Particles
How Singing Changes Pronunciation
Voiced and Voiceless Consonants
Devoicing at the Ends of Phrases
Regressive Assimilation in Consonant Clusters
Renegade Letters г and ч
Prepositions That Lose It (Stress)
Signs of Separation: ъ, ь
How to Pronounce -ться and -тся
How to Pronounce -ее and -яя
Special Russian Words
Unstressed же, ше, це
Exceptional Consonant Combinations
Secret Phoneme ж’ж’
Secret Phoneme Voiced х
What is it?
Unlocking Russian Pronunciation is a comprehensive multimedia experience designed to facilitate the development of speech that sounds authentically Russian.
Over the course of ten lessons, Unlocking Russian Pronunciation helps students:
Reset their default mouth position
Move from basic knowledge of Cyrillic to mastery of the rules of phonetics
Learn seven well-known Russian songs (although singing them is completely optional!)
FAQ for Students
“what-do-you-mean-you’re-not-Russian?!” level of mastery, I’d circle back and delve into the main body of the text. I would read first, then watch the videos that go with the lesson, then complete the exercises, check my work, and finally, especially, practice what I missed. The explanations will help you acquire a conscious command of phonetics rules, and the exercises will support the development of the automaticity that fluency demands. There’s another reason not to neglect the more “academic” portions of this book: the information here is extensive and lies beyond the scope of many Russian language courses as they have traditionally been taught in the US. I hope you come to believe that you are sitting on a gold mine!
Are there other resources you recommend?
Yes! I have a host of opportunities for you to improve your Russian pronunciation at learnrussianwithkira.com – definitely check them out!
I recommend that you invest in a phonetics textbook such as Зву́ки. Ри́тмика. Интона́ция. Уче́бное посо́бие, pubished in 2018 by Ири́на Влади́мировна Одинцо́ва, currently available from various online stores based both in the US and in Russia. Зву́ки и интона́ция ру́сской ре́чи, first published in 1969 by Еле́на Андре́евна Брызгуно́ва, is also an outstanding resource, and if you search you may be able to find the original or more recent editions online.
But the most important piece of advice? Go to Russia – in person or virtually! – and study in an immersion environment with the support of wonderful on-site specialists in phonetics. It's the experience of a lifetime and you will not be sorry! You can find links to these and some other amazing Russian language resources on the Resources page of this website.
How will this mini-course help me sound more Russian?
This course will teach you how to reset your default mouth position and it will help you take your phonetics to the next level, whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced non-native speaker of Russian. We will use a transcription system that make the subtleties of Russian pronunciation very clear. The system is a hybrid version of several I’ve come across over time; I used this particular system with my Russian students at Swarthmore College with considerable success – and with linguistics students who were not even taking Russian! All they needed was one extra session with me to learn the alphabet, and they were off and running. And, of course, the videos will help you incorporate everything you learn into your own speech.
Do I have to sing?
No! Simply speaking the song lyrics will help you improve the quality of your spoken Russian. However, a performance of each song is included in the accompanying online videos, and guitar chords are provided online and in the Appendix of the book, in case you’d like to give it a go. The songs here are in fact quite well known, and Russians will likely be delighted if you are able to sing them at gatherings around a campfire or at a kitchen table when you are visiting. I have found that singing these songs for Russians makes it possible to form instant bonds with new friends – music is a wonderful thing! But ultimately it’s up to you.
Is it ok to skip around in the book?
If you’re using this book on your own, you could begin right away with the “Song Lyrics & Chords” section in the Appendix and the Spoken Lyrics videos on this site. But if you want to reach a
FAQ for Teachers
Can I use this book in conjunction with any Russian language course?
Yes – it was designed to complement instruction at any level. The ten lessons of Unlocking Russian Pronunciation could be assigned over the course of a year or a single term. I have created a sample syllabus and lots of other materials that are available for teachers. The sample syllabus makes it clear that students are responsible for studying, practicing, and checking all of their own work. It also suggests some optional practice and assessment activities for you to conduct as the instructor, but the materials were designed to benefit students without any additional input or interaction from you.
Can I use this book alongside other instructional materials on pronunciation?
Absolutely. Many Russian language textbooks provide instruction on pronunciation early on, and many teachers have found online videos they like to use to get students speaking right away. If this is the case for you, go ahead and use that material as you have in the past. Just let students know that they will be revisiting these topics in greater detail as they work through Unlocking Russian Pronunciation, and that the answer keys are written as though students have had no access to other information.
How often should I assign a lesson?
I recommend assigning one lesson per week for ten weeks, although you may want to assign lessons more frequently in the beginning to facilitate the development of good habits.
Are answer keys included?
Full answer keys to every exercise are provided within the book, and students are encouraged to check their work and practice what they miss. Consequently, students retain full control over and responsibility for their mastery of the material, and the use of the book poses no burden for teachers in terms of grading.
What about assessments?
I would recommend asking students to transcribe a few words taken straight from an answer key every day in class for a little while, once they have worked through Lesson 2. I wouldn’t grade these mini-assessments at first, I’d just treat it as a game or a daily challenge – whatever students find fun. I might transcribe words incorrectly and let my students find the mistakes. On a written test, students could be asked to transcribe a few lines from a song. If you wish to assess student pronunciation itself, a goal-setting approach could be useful. For a more thorough discussion of assessing pronunciation, see the section below called Assessment Ideas!
Will the transcription system take a lot of time and effort to absorb?
These materials are designed to make your job easier, not harder! It may take you ten minutes to get the hang of the transcription system, but the videos really do walk you through it step by step. You could even assign some lessons to a few advanced students as a flipped classroom learning experience, and ask them to teach you how it works the first time around. Extra credit!
Can I skip around in the book?
The answer keys are written as though students are proceeding through the lessons in order, so it might be difficult to skip around. You probably could, but I think it would be easier not to!
Does it matter whether students read the book or watch the videos first?
I have written the book as though students are reading first and then watching, but either way might be fine. In fact, it might even work to assign only the videos and the written exercises, leaving the explanations in the book to serve primarily as a quick reference when needed. However, it’s critical that student spend significant time checking their answers against the answer keys in the book and practicing what they missed. Sometimes students think they’re done once they’ve completed the written exercises. If this is where their efforts end, they are missing out on a huge portion of the value of these materials.
What if I disagree with some of your transcriptions, or prefer to use other symbols?
If you prefer to transcribe certain phenomena differently, feel free to override my explanations! Transcription is more of an art than a science, and there is no need for rigidity in any approach to anything as fluid and organic as a living language. Besides, different systems of transcription serve different purposes. One system may be more suited to fully describing the intricacies of pronunciation, while a simpler system may be more helpful to second language learners. In the end, you are the expert and you have the final say in your classroom.
About the Author
Kimberly (Кира) DiMattia, Ph.D.
Кира in 1990
This is what I sounded like after one semester of Russian study as a freshman in college.
Кира in 1992
This is what I sounded like after a summer and semester abroad, 2+ years into studying Russian.
Кира in 1999
This is what I sounded like after 9+ years of study, including grad school, friendships with native Russian speakers and more time abroad.
The above recordings are kind of like "Before" and "After" selfies in audio form. Consider making some yourself! I would love to post links to some of your befores-and-afters on this site on Kira's page. Don't forget to see where you are now as one point on a path towards mastery, no matter how long you've been studying Russian. Too much shame in language learning is debilitating and inappropriate - no one was born with these skills! Try to love and appreciate yourself exactly where you are, and just keep going.
I am a second language learner, myself. I did not grow up speaking or hearing Russian. I have family who are descendants of Ukrainian immigrants, but I did not speak or hear Ukrainian growing up, either. Consequently, I had to establish a new default mouth position for myself in order to sound Russian when I speak. While my speech is imperfect, especially when it comes to intonation, I am confident that it is good enough to help you reach great heights on your personal language acquisition journey. I am very proud that when I had the chance to speak with renowned Russian phoneticist Еле́на Андре́евна Брызгуно́ва herself in 2002 or so, she commented that it seemed that I had indeed acquired the “articulation foundation” (артикуляцио́нная ба́за) of contemporary spoken Russian. It felt like meeting an idol – like I can die happy now! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my amazing phonetics teachers – especially Ири́на Влади́мировна Одинцо́ва. Please go find her textbooks online and buy them!
When I was in first-year Russian during my freshman year of college, my teacher asked us to record ourselves reading a passage from our textbook. It was hard to listen to, because I knew I did not sound Russian at all, but I saved it anyway. In subsequent years I was glad I kept it, and I decided to continue recording myself reading the same passage at various stages of my Russian language development. You should consider recording yourself, too. It's nice to have a before and after! If you click on the blue "play" buttons on this page, you can hear clearly that like you, I began at the beginning.
I grew up in Corning, NY, the daughter of two teachers. In the late 1980's I attended Oberlin College, where I majored in Russian Language and Area Studies, and then enrolled in graduate school at Bryn Mawr College, where I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in 1997 and 2007 respectively in Russian and Second Language Acquisition. My dissertation, New Russian Frontiers: An Empirical Investigation of Russian Interlanguage at the Superior Level, explored the nature of superior-level non-native Russian speech produced by US citizens who had learned Russian as a second language (although I purposely did not include phonetics as a topic of investigation). The main conclusion? If you really want Russians to embrace you as “their own”, it’s important – in addition to attending to all other facets of the language – to get to know the contexts in which words are employed. When you get the right word in the right context, people feel that you’re on the same page with them. So read and listen extensively to authentic texts, and when you make notecards to learn new vocabulary, always include a full sentence taken from an authentic context to support your lexical development if you can.
I was fortunate to be granted opportunities to teach Russian for several years at Oberlin College during Winter Term, at Bryn Mawr College as a graduate student instructor, and at Swarthmore College as a lecturer, before finishing my dissertation in 2007. At that time, wishing to devote all of my professional time to teaching rather than devoting half of it to scholarship, I left the field of Russian and began teaching math and, later, gifted education classes at the high school level. I am still happily installed in this capacity…although I do indulge my old passion from time to time and teach the Russian alphabet to my high school students.
Anyway, if there’s one take-home message I have for you, it’s this: if I can do it, so can you. Let’s go!
More on How to Teach Pronunciation
ACTR (the American Council of Teachers of Russian) very graciously invited me to give a webinar on teaching pronunciation on September 24, 2019. In that webinar I discussed a number of topics:
Resetting the default mouth position (the key to everything!)
Cultivating a playful mindset
Guiding students through developmental phases of target-like pronunciation
Engaging students in productive and reflective activities
Assessments and goal-setting
Tips and tricks for individual phonemes and overall flow
Fostering enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks
Making the most of being a native or a non-native speaker as a teacher
Creating a hybrid or blended course with Unlocking Russian Pronunciation, A Supplementary Multimedia Mini-Course in Phonetics Based on Famous Russian Songs
If you are a member of ACTR, you can email them to get access to past webinars like this one. I am also available for private consultations and visits to colleges and universities, although my schedule is somewhat restricted. I particularly enjoy visits where I get to run pronunciation and/or folk singing workshops with students and, separately, present to faculty on teaching pronunciation. If you are interested, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to hear from you!
As I said in the FAQ for Teachers section, I would recommend asking students to transcribe a few words taken straight from an answer key every day in class for a little while, once they have worked through Lesson 2. I wouldn’t grade these mini-assessments at first, I’d just treat it as a game or a daily challenge – whatever students find fun. I might transcribe words incorrectly and let my students find the mistakes or ask them to come up with little challenges for each other. Students could also be asked to identify vocabulary from the current unit of the main course textbook that share the phonetics issues featured in that week's lesson and to transcribe those words and phrases.
Written Assessment of Phonetics Knowledge
I would probably ramp up from ungraded mini-assessments to short graded quizzes before putting phonetics questions on tests. If I were running a small class with a collaborative feel, I might get some buy-in from students by asking them when they feel they'd be ready for the next quiz, but if I were running a larger class or wanted a tight-ship kind of vibe, I would simply schedule and announce them ahead of time, or give pop quizzes. On a written test, students could be asked to transcribe a few lines from a song or find the errors in an incorrectly transcribed set of song lyrics.
Oral Examinations of Phonetics Knowledge
If I wished to assess knowledge of phonetics issues orally, I would ask students to sign up for a 5-minute time slot during my office hours and pull a few topics out of a hat and ask students to teach me the ins and outs of those topics. Or I might ask pairs of students to teach the whole class a topic from that week's lesson before I assigned it to the rest of the students - if I trusted them to do a good job! Maybe I would suggest they take screenshots of the PowerPoint side of the video lesson and use them to present the relevant topics. Hmm...this is getting fun to think about. : )
Assessment of Pronunciation Itself
If you wish to assess student pronunciation itself, a goal-setting approach could be useful. When I taught a half-credit course in Russian Phonetics at Swarthmore I had not recorded any of the videos on this site. Instead I was using tapes (back in the day!) I asked students to self-assess every week by recording themselves repeating after a native speaker on tape in the language lab, by listening back to that recording, and by writing a reflection on what sounds/words they had managed to replicate pretty well and what remained elusive. You could do the same by asking students to record themselves repeating after me as they watch the videos here. I'm also considering creating Quizlets that will allow students to do quick practice with the words presented in each lesson (I would record myself reading the words so they have an aural template to work with). Students would be able to either repeat after me and record and listen back to their imitation of my speech, or they could anticipate how I will pronounce words and check their pronunciation against mine. So you could have them record one practice session, listen back, and take notes on their own performance.
My main strategy for assessing my students' pronunciation, however, was to ask them to submit four recordings of themselves reading passages one or two paragraphs in length. I used one passage for the first and second recordings and I used a second passage for the third and fourth, making sure that the passages contained all the features I wanted to assess. You could use the songs themselves if you want. I called these assessments Graded Readings 0, 1, 2 and 3, assigning GR 0 (the baseline) at the very beginning of the semester, GR 3 at the very end, and GR 1 and GR 2 at two points in between. I would listen to each recording and take notes on my own, and then I would call each student in for a 10- or 15-minute meeting to discuss 5 goals for next time and to practice those phonetics issues together. Now that we have smartphones, students could record these sessions with you to play back for targeted practice! I did not grade the baseline, but I did grade GR 1, GR 2, and GR 3. I gave each of the 5 goals a score of 0-5, resulting in a 25-point assessment. I'll include templates for you below. I invented these for myself but feel free to use and modify and share as needed. : )
Also, if you have assessment ideas of your own, send them my way if you like (using the form on the Contact page) and I may include them here so all can benefit!
Copyright & Ethics
The book Unlocking Russian Pronunciation © 2019 ACTR is available from Kendall Hunt at www.kendallhunt.com.
This website and all embedded videos © 2019 Kimberly DiMattia, except for images contained within the videos attributed to other creators. No part of this site, unlockingrussianpronunciation.org, including all embedded videos, may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
One More Thing!
Please do buy the book, and please don't share the video password. If someone asks you for it, just say, "I can't, we gotta be loyal to Kira!" We tried to keep it super affordable...just $36 for the hard copy and $18 for the eBook at this time. If you accidentally used a shared password without buying the book, please do go and purchase it as soon as you can... Thank you for your support! - <3 Кира
Site background image © sundaemorning/Shutterstock.com
Current photo of the author © Joe DiMattia
1990 photo of the аuthor © Lauren Beth French Stout
1992 photo of the author © Phil Fedchak
1999 photo of the author © Hmm...random passerby in St. Petersburg!