Pronunciation of the Russian letter Ы. Minimal Pairs И/Ы.

pronunciation Jan 14, 2021
Today we are going to talk about the pronunciation of the letter Ы in Russian. I have been teaching Russian for more than 10 years, and I swear, every single student that I had looked at me funny when I introduced this letter. And majority of them struggled with it. So in this blog post, I will show you a few easy methods that will help you quickly get how to pronounce the sound this letter makes. 
1). If you need a quick lesson and don’t have any time to read past this point, well, here it is. Imagine somebody punched you in your stomach and you are hurting: ыыыыыы. Yep, that is the letter Ы. Not clear enough? Well, I suggest you keep reading. 
2). Everybody knows that the right way to pronounce “У” is to smile as hard as you can while still saying “yyyyyyyy”. Do it very slowly and try to analyze what changes are happening while you are doing this exercise. “УУУУУ" and smile, SMILE!  And this is how you get the sound "Ы"! Or, of course, you can just try the “punch in the stomach” method. It's up to you really. Just in case these two methods are still not working out for you, read more below. 
3). For this method you will need some extra supplies. But thankfully everybody  has this thing (or at least I hope). A TOOTHBRUSH! Did you not expect to be needing a toothbrush while learning Russian? Well, there are a lot of surprises along the way for you. So you can practice this method every day twice a day in front of the mirror, and, yes, you guessed it, while you are brushing your teeth. To start practicing you need to pronounce “И" or “EE” in English. Like in the word: strEEt. Then, get ready, you might look a little funny, and might be a little embarrassing if you have other people who live with you around, but that is a normal state while learning a new language. You stick your tong out, and put the end of the handle of the toothbrush (not the part that you brush your teeth with) in the middle of the back of your tong. So not on top of your tong, but on the the other side of it. And aim for the middle of the tong.  Now keep saying И and slowly and carefully start pushing your tong back. Look for the change in the sound and remember what you are doing while saying it. 
So the real difference between the Russian “И” and “Ы”  sounds is not the position of the mouth, because it is exactly the same, but the position of the tongue. It is positioned in the front, when saying “И”, it is positioned in the back (but not too close to your throat), when saying “Ы”. 
The good news is that probably by this point of the blog post you had a little bit or a lot of luck of making this sounds. The bad news is, that you cannot start with one sound and use the other one in real speech. So you need to learn the exact position of the sound, so you can make it separately and fast. And this is done with practice. That is why I said, twice a day every day. 
After you tried these methods a few times, you can start adding consonants: go from “УУУ” to “Ы”, or from "И" to “Ы”, and then when you got the sound, start adding consonants: мы,  ты, вы, бы, ры ...
After you feel comfortable doing that, then drop the first vowel and just do consonant pairs.
Some of the “fun” ones, that you don’t want to confuse are:
Был - Бил (there was, and He was hitting/beating)
Просты - Прости (they are simple / I am sorry)
Пыл - Пил (heat / he drank)
Дымка - Димка (Haze / Russian name)
Забыл - Забил (He forgot / He scored)
Носы - Носи (noses / cary)
Мыло - Мило (soap / cute)
Грызли - Гризли (they chewed / Grizzly)
Коты - Кати (cats / roll)
And the last step is to practice it in words and phrases. Try reading these: 
  • Милая Мила мылась с мылом. Намылилась и смыла — Так мылась Мила.
  • Буква Ы купила мыло, Им она посуду мыла. Мыло мылилось и мыло, Много сил у мыла было.
  • Мыла Мила мишку мылом, Мила мыло уронила. Уронила Мила мыло, Мишку мылом не домыла.
  • Не жалела мама мыла. Мама Милу мылом мыла. Мила мыла не любила, Мыло Мила уронила.

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