Cyrillic and how to learn it

The Russian language uses its own form of the Cyrillic script (Кириллица in Russian). Several other Slavic and non-Slavic languages also use Cyrillic. If you can already read Cyrillic just fine, that’s great, but this post will still be useful to you. If you have absolutely no knowledge at all, then this is a great starting point for you!

Oh, and by the way: Cyrillic is pronounced as [sih-RIH-lihk] in English…in case you didn’t know.

Throughout this post, you will learn many useful things such as: what Cyrillic looks like, where Cyrillic comes from, how Cyrillic has changed in the past several hundred years, what other languages use Cyrillic, how to type in Cyrillic with your computer, and of course — how to learn Cyrillic quickly and easily!

Wanna jump straight into my guide for learning Cyrillic? Scroll down to the bottom!

What does Cyrillic look like?

The modern Russian alphabet

Where does Cyrillic come from?

Author: Todor Bozhinov

Cyrillic was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 10th century, because (according to Wikipedia) Boris I of Bulgaria wanted Bulgarians to have their own writing system. It is derived from the Ancient Greek uncial script, but adds consonants from the older Glagolitic alphabet. It is named in honor of two Eastern Roman Empire brothers, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, hence the name “Cyrillic.”

Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius did not create the Cyrillic alphabet, but they did create the Glagolitic alphabet. Modern scholars believe that Cyrillic was developed by early disciples of Cyril and Methodius, possibly Clement of Ohrid.

How has Cyrillic changed?

Note: the character that looks like <ɣ> is written today as <У>, it was a vertical form of <Ѹ>.

If you look at the image above, and compare it to what you saw earlier…you will notice that the Cyrillic alphabet has made some changes over the past few hundred years. The image above is a page from “Azbuka” the first Russian textbook, printed by Ivan Fyodorov in 1574.

Since I’m blogging about Russian, we’re going to focus on the changes Russians has made with the Cyrillic alphabet. The following are changes to Russian’s version of Cyrillic:

  • Early: <Ѹ> to <У>; Not much data on the loss of <Ѿ>; Iotated A and <Ѧ> merge after denasalization; Gradual discarding of <Ѫ, Ѭ, Ѩ>
  • 1708: Elimination of <Ѕ, Z, Ѯ, Ѱ, Ѡ, Ѧ>; Elimination of all diacritics and accents (except <Й>); Introduction of <Я>.
  • 18th-19th centuries: Introduction of <Ё>; Gradual loss of <Ѵ> in favor of <И>; Gradual loss of <Ѳ> in favor of <Ф> or <Т>.
  • Shortly after 1917: Replaced <Ѣ> with <E>; Replaced <І> and what remained of <Ѵ> with <И>; Replaced what remained of <Ѳ> with <Ф>; Dropped the archaic mute <Ъ>; Dropped <Ъ> in final positions.

What languages use Cyrillic?

Below are the languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. This list is not complete, many smaller and often unheard of languages use Cyrillic.

Slavic languages

  • Old Church Slavonic, Church Slavonic
  • Belarusian
  • Bulgarian
  • Macedonian
  • Montenegrin
  • Russian
  • Rusyn
  • Serbian
  • Ukrainian

Non-Slavic languages

  • Abkhaz
  • Bashkir
  • Chechen
  • Chuvash
  • Kazakh
  • Kyrgyz
  • Mongolian
  • Ossetic
  • Tajik
  • Tatar
  • Uzbek

How do I type in Cyrillic?

If you are serious about learning and practicing Russian, you can not resort to using one of those ‘online Russian keyboards.’ You can also not always use the Character Map. It is sooo much easier to set up your computer to type in Cyrillic, via the keyboard!

The only thing is: you have to re-learn how to type! This is because Russians use their own keyboard layout, and therefore our <t> does not match up with Cyrillic <т>. Click here to see the Russian keyboard layout.

Windows 7 users

Follow these steps:

  1. Go to Start > Control Panel
  2. Click on Region and Language
  3. Click on the Keyboards and Languages tab
  4. Click Change keyboards…
  5. Under ‘Installed services’ click Add…
  6. Find ‘Russian (Russia)’ and expand it, expand ‘Keyboard’, click Russian and click OK
  7. Click OK until the Region and Language window goes away 🙂 You’re now ready to type in Russian. Simply click ALT+SHIFT to switch from English to Russian, or do it via the taskbar (You should see EN down there now, it will show RU when you have the Russian keyboard enabled).

Other Windows users

Click here

Mac users

Click here

How the heck do I learn Cyrillic?

Learning something brand new is never easy — but it’s not impossible! YOU can learn the Russian alphabet and be able to read and write, it’ll just take a little time. If you think learning Cyrillic is too much of a chore, think about the Japanese language. You have to learn two syllabaries in Japanese: hiragana and katakana; and then on top of that, you have to learn thousands of Kanji (Chinese characters). 33 letters of the Cyrillic script is nothing!!!

Follow the steps below, and become a master in no time!

  1. Read my revamped Alphabet page (Wait just a second! Keep reading…)
  2. Make use of the downloadable & printable resources on the Alphabet page. Print them and study them as often as possible.
  3. Immerse yourself in the Cyrillic alphabet, so you have to learn it. This means that you cannot take romanized notes (no writing “zdravstvuytye” to help you remember “Здравствуйте”).
  4. Quiz yourself as often as possible by continuously reading Russian texts (even if you don’t understand them). If you run into letters you cannot remember, write them down and put them at a high priority.

With time, you won’t even have to think about it — you’ll know Cyrillic! Then you’ll have to start working on how to type fast, and of course how to use proper handwriting!


Whatever you do, do not tell yourself that you don’t have to learn Cyrillic. If you are learning Russian, YOU HAVE TO LEARN CYRILLIC! No exceptions…unless of course you are blind. But I don’t have to worry about that, because if you’re blind you cannot be reading this right now.

3 thoughts on “Cyrillic and how to learn it

  1. For typing on the Mac (and I guess other computers too) you can get a rubber skin which overlays the keyboard with Russian and western letters on it. Simply reset your keyboard (as you describe), place the skin on top and way you go. Cost next to nothing and mine at least pops off when you don’t need it. Takes a little time to get used to because the western letters are still there (do all Russian keyboards do this?) and reflexes are strongly engrained.

    Also, on iOS at least there are apps for tablets and connect to the computers as a remote keyboard. For these you simply set the keyboard to Russian and away you go. Personally I prefer the skin method myself because it feels more like a real keyboard.

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