We are already back to school, which makes it the perfect time to hunker down and finally pick up one of those pesky languages that you’ve been meaning to learn. In a city the size of Kyiv, you have plenty of options and will be able to find that which suits any schedule and level. Whether you want the challenge of a university course, the personal attention of one-on-one lessons, the camaraderie of group classes, or the flexibility of online programs – classes of all sorts are available. You just need to decide what language to learn
Ukrainian or Russian?
The defining cultural and political question of Ukraine’s first quarter-century of independence was language. Obviously, with the events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, this question has taken on an entirely new dynamic. The vast majority of Ukrainians are functionally, if not fluently, bilingual. That said, language choice represents deep cultural values and Ukrainians regularly judge each other on their choice of tongue. Foreigners don’t face quite the same judgement, although Ukrainians will note your language choice.
The Cyrillic alphabet is not difficult to learn, there is no defined word order, and three tenses dominate, so the languages aren’t as daunting as they first seem. Most foreigners choose to learn Russian – not so much because it is easier, but because the language can be used in other countries outside of Ukraine. Foreigners that choose to learn Ukrainian may find it will set them apart from other expats who choose to learn Russian, but at the end of the day – Ukrainians will be happy if you make the effort to communicate with them in either language.
Russian is generally taught in classes according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). These are six classes with two exams at each level – beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Ukrainian does not have a CEFR exam and most institutions offer a single class at each level. Many foreigners choose to learn at private schools as they are, generally speaking, more familiar with that crowd. There are plenty of options and they are not created equally. Be sure to ask your friends and check around on expat forums to find which works best for you.
Among the more popular schools are International House Kyiv (ihkyiv.com/en), Alma Language School (almaschool.com.ua), and Nova Mova (novamova.net). Students looking to get academic credit for their work should check out courses at Shevchenko University (langcenter.knu.ua/en) or Mohyla Academy (dfc.ukma.edu.ua/coming-to-naukma/Ukrainian-language-courses). Most courses can be tailored to your schedule and budget, so be sure to ask. Many also include language-speaking clubs, giving you an opportunity to test out your new language skills with others at the same level.
One of the most popular ways to learn languages is from a personal tutor. There are plenty of entrepreneurial Ukrainians out there looking to make a little extra cash on the side by helping foreigners learn their language. Like the private schools, not all options are comparable. Be sure to check their credentials and experience. Maybe even do a test lesson before committing. Generally, the rates are very affordable and there are absolute gems of teachers waiting to be discovered. There are plenty of options available online as well, with many of them including one-on-one time with a local speaker via Skype. Some of the most popular programs include Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, or even clips on YouTube. Of course, you can always buy a textbook and learn on your own from home. Some of the best include Yabluko, Ukrainian for Speakers of English, Colloquial Ukrainian/Russian, Tochka Ru, and Holosa.
No matter which method you prefer, set your goals and get out there and start speaking!