Russian Speakers: is there a difference between these two?

считать vs читать

It seems to me that считать should be ssss- shitat and читать should be shitat.

But I can’t hear the difference.

Is it just my English tuned ears are not tuned enough to Russian and there really is a difference?

1 Like

Считать is usually pronounced as if it were spelt щитать, so this issue boils down to the difference between щ and ч, which is quite distinct. For foreign spekers maybe even more than between ш and щ
Some tips on the difference:

[Edit] For convenience, I’ve added these further details as a separate reply rather than as an edit to my previous reply.

There are a couple more points about this topic that may interest you, since you are following a listening method:
First, notice that ч is pronounced similarly but not identically, to English ch. Besides, it may be pronounced as ш in a few contexts (but not in most, and certainly not in читать), although much less frequently nowadays than in the old Moscow accent. An example would be конечно. I’ve read that young people tend to pronounce it as normal ч even in this word.
Ш is similar but still different to English sh (which is way “softer”, to borrow Russian terminology).
Besides сч ,there are a couple other combinations which are more often than not pronounced as щ
e.g. мужчина is routinely pronounced мущина.
There is another sound, which is a voiced equivalent to the щ phoneme. It doesn’t correspond to any letter in the alphabet but only to some letter combinations. For example, both сж and double ж (жж) are often pronounced as a voiced щ, particularly in everyday conversation. Examples are сжигать/сжечь and its forms сожжёшь, сожжёт, …

Thanks. For the tips.

Ugh. I think I’m going to have to try to train my brain to hear the difference because they pretty much sound the same to me. Doh!

I guess it’s a little like how my Colombian friends can’t hear the difference between “chair” and “share”.

Yeah, it’s exactly the same phenomenon :-D!
I personally find it useful to first learn to pronounce the sounds, for which some instruction about mouth shape, tongue position and so on comes in handy (I am aware that this is not helpful at all for other learners). Once I can pronounce correctly each sound, it becomes easier to distinguish them when I hear them. This is the so-called “listening with your mouth” approach.

Pronouncing щ or сч as ss+ch is a very old-fashioned way of speaking, to the point of having virtually disappeared from modern everyday Russian speech. Nowadays щ is a single sound, longer and much “softer” (because of a different tongue position) than ш.

Well, I’ll try to explain this and not to complicate even further.
Считать - has 3 meanings. Depending on the meaning, it can be pronounced differently just for the sake of clarity.

Считать = to have an opinion about something.
Считать = to count.

  • For a foreigner strugling with our ШЩЧЦ kind of hell, in both cases above it can be pronounced just as Щ in щука, щит, щётка, (щи:)
    ** But the native way of pronouncing “СЧ” sounds like you replace these two letters with two ЩЩ, but with the initial length and rhytm of “СЧ”.

Считать = to scan (a bar-code on the register, for example). In the context, you can pronouce it as ЩЩ and everybody will understand you. But in this case it would eliminate ambiguity if you don’t replace СЧ with ЩЩ, but spell both sounds.

The difference between Ч и Ш(щ):
Ч has an initial impulse, or an attack as it’s called amongst Russian brass musicians (not sure if it’s the same term anywhere else). But, Ч has not length, so you pronounce next sound in a word right after that initial attack.

Щ has not that attack, but can have some length. The difference between lengthes can be as subtle as between “bean” and “bin”. Sometimes you hear it, sometimes you not, but every time you have to pronounce a word with these sounds, you kinda “mean” this difference in your mind and this mental move itself has an impact on the length of tone.

And all of the above sound slightly differentl when the natives speak fast.

So yes, Считать = shhhitat (or the other case = s-chitat), but Читать = chitat’ (as in “chip”) .

Great detailed explanation, thank you very much. I’ll keep on pronouncing all instances of считать the same, so as to preserve my sanity or what little is left of it :-D, but it’s great to know the native way.

Sure, those differences are not the most important thing, as long as you can at least understand while listening. I’ve never had a conversation with a foreigner, where I couldn’t understand them because of an accent. Though, it takes a few seconds to realise that it’s a foreigner speaking to you in your mother tongue, we’re generally not as used to it as English speakers for example.

Thanks. It’s super interesting the way your baby brain drops the ability to hear all the different phonemes. I can intellectually conceive of what you’re talking about but I don’t hear it. Funny. I get I’ll try what ftornay said.

It’s kind of similar between spanish ‘d’ and english ‘d’. My english ‘d’ is somewhere between the top of my teeth and the top of my mouth. The spanish ‘d’ seems to be between the teeth. I can “feel” it when I do it but I can’t hear it when someone else does it.

What brought this up was I keep thinking I’m hearing читать (translated in my head as “to read”) when I hear Считать (translated in my head as “to count”). So I have to have this translation rule of “could be saying count, could be saying read” and guess from context.

I’ve likely got a few dozen false mappings similar to this for other similar words I can’t really hear the difference between.

It’s good to hear though, that native Russian speakers can figure out that the inept foreigner is trying to say “to count” when they mean “to read” LOL.


Thanks again.

Do you actually hear sss-chitat for Считать or does it sound like chitat but you just know?

1 Like

It’s good to hear though, that native Russian speakers can figure out that the inept foreigner is trying to say “to count” when they mean “to read” LOL.

I’m afraid I misled you someway. The sounds Ч и СЧ have only one disctinction and a native listener would be alert to this distinction whether it to read or to count. Sure, eventually we will figure it out (some way or another)), but generally by the context.

I hear it. This is also about the next sounds and their rythm, that distincts sss-chitat’ and chitat.

But the second one (ch) is much more shorter and more articulated at the start.

Sometimes the third one i is barely or not pronounced at all. And it sounds like chtat’, insted of chitat’.

I was never aware of the “to scan” definition for this one. Thanks! Who says you cant’ learn Russian by reading English?

1 Like