Ukraine is an incredibly linguistically diverse country and not in the way that you’re thinking. The country is linguistically diverse due to its history with Russia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and the rest of its neighbors.
Over time, Russia has come to be a strong influence within Ukrainian culture due to intertwined pasts and close proximity. Not only this, but our respective languages are highly similar allowing for an even closer connection to grow.
Whether or not this connection has been cherished or despised over the years, it is undeniable. And this connection is key to understanding the linguistic culture of Ukraine.
So, what are these languages?
You may have guessed by now that the two main languages of Ukraine are both Ukrainian and Russian.
Though Ukrainian and Russian are spoken throughout the country in varying degrees from region to region, most Ukrainians will tell you that Ukrainian is the dominant language within the country.
The development of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life is encouraged by the Ukrainian government, whereas only the free use of the Russian language is accounted for.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Russian language is pushed to the side as a considerable amount of people within Ukraine still speak it in their day to day lives.
On top of this, many notices and instructions will be translated into both languages.
How similar are Russian and Ukrainian?
In a short answer, very similar!
Both languages are not only from the Slavic family but are both known as eastern Slavic languages.
Due to their similar origins, both languages have almost the exact same grammar and vocabulary.
Many people claim that Russian and Ukrainian are mutually intelligible with a monolingual speaker of one language being able to understand a monolingual speaker of the other language.
This claim has been backed up by multiple studies that claim Russian and Ukrainian to be 90% alike.
Of course, this varies from region to region of Ukraine with the massive amount of dialects intersperse throughout the country, but the general consensus is that both languages are almost exactly alike.
Where exactly in Ukraine do they speak Russian?
67.5% of Ukrainians cite Ukrainian as their primary language while 38% note Russian as being their chosen language, with the majority of Russian speakers are situated within the eastern region of Ukraine.
The vast majority of Russian speakers can be found within the Donbas and Crimean regions.
What is the main language spoken in Kiev?
Ask any inhabitant of Kiev and they’ll tell you that the main language on the street is Russian.
It’s also acknowledged that the Ukrainian language is gaining traction, but most interactions are still held within Russian.
Despite any rumors you’ve heard, in reality, there’s barely any cold feeling towards the Russian language in Kiev and people will happily undertake a conversation in either language as long as they have adequate proficiency.
What about English?
The level of spoken English within English is still relatively low compared to its European counterparts.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t due to lack of care but the already complicated linguistic culture of Ukraine. And though spoken English may not be perfect, many Ukrainians of the younger generations will be able to understand your questions or statements.
Only 20% of Ukrainians claim to have conversational skills in the English language.
If you’re concerned about being able to get by using only English in Ukraine or simply curious about the use of the language within the country, especially in the capital, then head over to Speaking English In Kiev: Is It An Effective Means Of Communication?
How to learn Ukrainian?
So, you want to be like a native and you’ve picked Ukrainian as your language of choice. Perhaps you even just want to have an easier trip to Ukraine.
Either way, there are plenty of available pathways from which you can learn Ukrainian.
Start learning online
Of course, the preferable pathway of language learning for beginners is online.
You can learn at your own pace, to the beat of your own drum, and can build up a foundation of grammar and vocabulary before releasing your Ukrainian language skills into the real world.
Some of the recommended courses can be found with a simple search online.
If you’d rather dive right in and start speaking the language from the get-go – a Ukrainian language tutor may just be right for you.
Websites like 101 Languages has great free resources to kick start your learning experience, just make sure to open the web not the mobile version, as they will not be visible otherwise.
You can also try Dolingo, they have a decent Ukrainian program, and it is all free.
Consider hiring a professional tutor
But if you wish to get a more realistic experience of speaking Ukrainian, then there are plenty of Ukrainian speakers who would be delighted to tutor you through online calling services such as Skype.
Add some creative ways of learning
Why not get in contact with a Ukrainian speaking penpal if you want to improve your writing or watch some Ukrainian movies or TV.
All of these are effective methods of practicing every aspect of a language to get you ready for your stay in Ukraine!
So, if you’re planning on heading to Ukraine there’s no need to fret too much about the language.
There are plenty of resources of which you can avail if you wish to become conversational, proficient or even fluent in the language – it’s entirely up to you!
What matters is that you understand the complex linguistic dynamic within Ukraine and acknowledge that there may be misunderstandings from time to time.
And most of all, don’t hesitate to jump on into your Ukrainian language learning journey, you won’t regret it!
If you don’t think you’ll have the time, there’s always the option of hiring a personal tour guide.
See you in Kiev 🙂