Is It Worth Your Time to Learn Ukrainian?
If you’re traveling to Ukraine, it’s probably a natural question to ask if you should learn Ukrainian. When you head to a foreign country the first obvious concern is: will I be able to communicate with people at all?
So, here’s the deal about Ukraine:
- The official language is Ukrainian.
- The majority of people, especially in the cities, speak Russian.
- If you venture out to the villages, the Russian levels might drop.
- As far as business goes, Russian is (typically) the language of choice.
- Both are pretty difficult to learn for native English speakers.
And yes, there are some Ukrainian people who will be offended if you don’t speak Ukrainian and not Russian. While this is a topic I’d prefer not to get in to, it’s almost necessary to.
There will be the occasional Ukrainian people who will be mad if you speak Russia and not Ukrainian. Never mind how difficult it is to learn Ukrainian or Russian. Never mind the fact that Russian is more often used in the rest of the world).
How Common Are These People?
You won’t find them too often, thankfully. Let’s also be realistic about something else—the majority of tourists going to Ukraine are men. You don’t see many Western females heading to the Former Soviet Union. It’s just how it is. Girls go to Paris, guys go to Ukraine.
From experience (zero facts on this), it seems that the people who are offended of people speaking Russian tend to be Ukrainian men.
It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to be out on a date with a Ukrainian girl and she’ll be upset that you’re speaking Russian to her and not Ukrainian. Most of the women in Ukraine won’t expect you to learn Ukrainian. They’ll be incredibly happy if you can communicate on a basic level of Russian with them.
Learn Ukrainian vs. Learn Russian—The Statistics
250 million people in the world speak Russian.
40 million speak Ukrainian.
That’s quite the difference. At that point, you have to ask yourself how much you’ll truly invest if you take the time to study Ukrainian.
You’ll be able to communicate with people who speak Ukrainian but not Russian—those people are mostly going to be village folks. And yes, you’ll be able to talk to the fellas who hate Russia.
But how often are you going to run into that situation?
Unless you plan on heading to the villages on vacation, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll ever need to speak Ukrainian. You’ll be able to navigate cities such as Kiev and Odessa with ease using broken Russian and English.
The Crossover Between the 2 Languages
I’m nowhere near fluent in Russian. Let’s get that out of the way first. However, I’ve studied enough that I can recognize it on the streets, even when I’m in another country such as the Czech Republic. So take these bullet points as someone who is definitely still at a near beginner level of Russian.
- A few of the letters in Ukrainian are different.
- Many of the sounds are the same, but some inflections are a little different.
- If you want a comparison, I’d say that Ukrainian and Russian are more similar to each other than Spanish and Portuguese.
A lot of Slavic languages are “relatively” similar in nature. Polish people can understand some Russian, though they have a lot of trouble communicating back to Russian speakers. Quality of education very well might play a part of this.
The point is, if you study Russian, you’ll be able to pick up a little bit of Ukrainian. At first though, anticipate that it’s just going to confuse you—that’s the point that I’m at right now.
Don’t Bother to Learn Ukrainian
I know I’m going to upset some of the Ukrainian readers of this site (sorry!), but it’s just not worth investing time learning Ukrainian. As a Westerner, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever be in a situation where you need to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak Russian.
On top of it, there is just no practical application to the rest of the world. If you learn Russian, you now have better skills to take on other parts of the world—Russia (obviously), Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan—just to name a few. Some of these places have English levels far worse than in Ukraine, and learning Russian will effectively “unlock” them for you. People in those countries are going to look at you quite funny if you try to communicate in Ukrainian with them.
If you study Ukrainian, you’ve really only got one place you can use it. Ukraine.
On top of it, if you truly take the effort to learn Russian and become conversational, you’ll probably be able to piece together enough Ukrainian that you could utilize if absolutely needed.
Despite this website being titled Ukraine Living, it’s the humble opinion here that you should not learn Ukrainian. Your time is far better spent invested in learning Russian.
‘Til next time,
PS: It’d be rude to leave you without a resource to learn Russian online, so start here.