How Good is the English In Ukraine?

One of the trickiest part of living in this wonderful Soviet country is the English in Ukraine. In short: it’s not that great. If you’ve ever traveled to other Eastern European countries such as Poland, the English level in Ukraine falls off very quickly as soon as you venture into Ukraine.

Here are some general rules about how to navigation the language barrier in Ukraine.

If The Person Is Under 30…

Then there is a good chance they have a decent grasp of English. At least that they can understand you. Many people in Ukraine are shy of speaking English in public, or out loud. Don’t put them on the spot. But if they’re under 30, most likely they can at least understand most of what you are saying.

Whether they are comfortable (or capable) of speaking back to you is a toss-up.

Major City Centers Are Better

The closer you are to the center of a city, the more likely you are to find someone with a grasp of English. Nearly all under 30s in the Kiev city center will be able to communicate with you in English. But take the metro a few stops out…and that changes. A lot.

The same holds true in Odessa, Lviv, and other places.

How To Ask If They Speak English

As I said, some people in Ukraine are afraid to speak English. They may be insecure about their ability or uncomfortable saying it in public. So let’s take an example.

Say you’re trying to order food at McDonald’s. Please don’t actually eat at McDonald’s in Ukraine 😉 –there is a lot of amazing food. But McDonald’s is an American company, so you go to get a bite of home. It’s fair to assume they should speak some English at McDonald’s.

But they may not want to.

So, when you go to order, simply ask if they speak English. Don’t do it too loudly, try to keep the tonal volume at a rate that only the cashier can hear you. This way, other people don’t hear and they don’t have to deal with potential fears of speaking in English.

Almost always you’ll get this response: “So-so.”

Contrast this to other Eastern European countries, where they will answer with “Of course.”

Which means: “Yes, I do, but don’t want to. I can understand you perfectly but may not want to speak myself.”

Then you just make your order in English. They probably won’t say much in response. And that’s it!

By doing it this way, people working will greatly appreciate your thought of not putting them on the spot and are more likely to be more helpful to you.

Of course, one of the best things you can do is try to learn a little Russian–Russian Pod is one of the best resources for this.

How do you get by in non-English speaking countries?

  • September 5, 2016
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