Class Report

Decoding the Russian Alphabet

Teacher: Karyn Dubravetz (above)
Documentarian: Erica Zimmerman
Location: Washington Post Express conference room
Class Date: Jan. 6, 2014

Ever see your name spelled in Cyrillic? It’s basically like being transported back to your pre-reading days, when letters looked like squiggly lines.

Karyn started the class by giving everyone a placecard with their name in Cyrillic. She classified the 33 letters in the alphabet as friends, frenemies, and strangers. This covered letters that mostly match ours, letters that look like ours but are pronounced differently, and foreign-looking characters such as щ and б. We then attempted to read signs (obvious example above!) with American words spelled phonetically in Cyrillic. Spoiler alert: “Cheeseburger” sounds like “chayyyzvurgerr.”

What was the weirdest thing you learned? There is no single Cyrillic letter for the sound our “J” represents, so J.J. Abrams’ initials look really weird on movie posters, with two characters per “J”: дж. дж. Also, Winnie the Pooh has a very different look in Russia:

What can people read/watch/do to learn about this topic? Glad you asked!