Learning the cyrillic alphabet

A quick guide

The best reason to learn the cyrillic alphabet is to avoid navigation problems while visiting countries like Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Belarus or Serbia, which only to varying degrees accommodate westerners and the latin alphabet.

Ukraine, for instance, is not very well spoken in English, and additionally they use cyrillic script pretty much everywhere. In Serbia it's quite different. Especially the younger generation are proficient in English, and in many places you will find names represented in both latin and cyrillic script.

It's important to know that there might be slight variations between how the countries use the cyrillic alphabet, just like there's between several European languages. Think Danish/Norwegian "ø" to Swedish "ö", the German ß or the many accents and apostrophes in Czech and Slovak.

You can learn the alphabet with a few hours of practice. I actually learned it while I couldn't sleep on the night bus from Prague to Košice. And then I practice 5 to 10 minutes from time to time to make sure I don't forget.

How it works

At first, the cyrillic script can look quite confusing and otherworldly. But at the heart of it, it's not that mysterious. Each letter of the cyrillic alphabet has a latin counterpart.

The native name of Moscow - Russia's capital - is Moskva. The cyrillic way of writing this out is: Москва́

But this is actually a good example of why the cyrillic script can be tricky at first, because some of the letters we know in latin script are completely different. For instance the "в" is "v".


I learned by downloading an app that introduced the alphabet, and then let me practice the conversions. Remember to practice conversions both ways to get a sense of fluency.

Once I mastered the basics, I always made sure to try and convert signs and city names when I see them, to see if I can make sense of them.

As you practice, you will be able to do this faster.