I have heard a few people asking the same question about familiarity with the Latin script in Russia, so I decided this is worth addressing. An American technical writer once asked me if the Latin script in “Кнопка Shift” (“the Shift button”) was as unintelligible to Russians as “кнопка” was to Americans. For anyone who is curious, I told him Russian computers had the English word “Shift” on the keyboard, so people were used to seeing it. On a more serious note, I will list some of the questions about the Latin script in Russia.
Are “English letters” confusing for Russians?
Readers of non-Latin script languages tend to have a hard time imagining a Latin-script only perspective, so these questions can often be baffling. At least in Russia, you are routinely exposed to the Latin alphabet. Computer keyboards have both Cyrillic and Latin letters on the same keys, and you toggle between the two by pressing Alt + Shift. URLs and email addresses are (mostly) in Latin letters. Many international brands retain the spelling of their names in Latin letters in Russia. Moreover, math and chemical formulas still use Latin letters. In short, no, Latin letters don’t look like a hodge-podge of symbols to a Russian speaker.
So Russians can read English?
You might have noticed how I’ve been careful to say “Latin” and not “English” letters. While virtually everyone can read and recognize the Latin script, not everyone will read English. In fact, the most prevalent way of reading Latin letters is the Latin way. So, “a” become “ah,” “bee” becomes “bay”… well, you get the idea. A Russian who hasn’t taken English won’t know that the “u” in “cut” is pronounced like an “uh” — they will probably pronounce it like an “oo,” closer to the Latin.
I’ve seen Russian written in Latin letters; why not do that all the time?
The Russian language only uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Any Russian text you saw written with the Latin alphabet is what is called transliterated. That means the sounds of the Russian were approximated using Latin letters. There are several systems of transliteration; however, there is no agreed upon standard for “spelling” Russian with Latin letters. The reason Russian words might have been transliterated was because of encoding restrictions of some of the older applications, where only Latin characters could be displayed properly. This practice is really a workaround and is frowned upon.
For these reasons, you should only use the Cyrillic script for your Russian documents. If you are working with a professional copyeditor or translator for your Russian communications, they will be able to verify that all Russian text is legible and not corrupted. Learn how I can help you produce professional content in Russian.