In Praise of Ukrainian (and the school where I learned it)

September 9, 2011

Let me begin this post by explaining my experience learning Russian in Moscow. I tried to communicate with the school I was planning to attend, ЦМО, (Центр международного образования, part of Moscow State University) to get the necessary information about the program and figure out how I was going to get a visa and such.  I didn’t hear back from them for several months.  By that time I had already decided that I would just buy a three month business visa and figure out the stuff with the school when  I got there. Luckily I was one determined young girl.  So I got there in June, 2004.  Went to the school somewhere in July to try and get the documents I would need to get a student visa.  Anyway, to make a long story short lets just say on that first day of getting/giving documents, paying for all sorts of things and getting all sorts of stamps and all the other necessary bureaucratic this and that, I went home that day, collapsed on my bed and sobbed for several hours.

View of the street from our classroom in Lviv. Beautiful scenes like this are the rule, rather than the exception in Lviv

So I was shocked when I contacted this school in Lviv (it was one of only two that came up in Google when I searched for “Study Ukrainian in Lviv”) and they responded the following day.  They included and attachment with all the information I would need about the course.  In subsequent weeks they continued to contact me to ask if I needed help finding a host family, if I need transportation from the airport and so on. I was in shock! They were so organized and accommodating! Unlike in Moscow, they really understood customer service.

http://learn-ukrainian.org.ua/

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ukrainian-Language-and-Culture-School/159812794082262

In the couple of days before my arrival I received emails about where my classes would take place, my teachers name and phone number and instructions.  I got lost on the first day of class and called my teacher and she came out to the street to meet me and walk me to our classroom.

The classes took place at Lviv Polytechniky University.  When I arrived in class the teacher had a little folder with my invoice, my schedule and a guide to the city.

Self photography of our little class. I know I said there were only two students in the class. Sophia was in our class for a couple of days.

My teacher, Halyna, was an absolute angel.  Seriously, SO NICE!  She was so informed and attentive to our needs. The first day of class we spent reading. The other girl in my class was Slovenian, but had Ukrainian parents and, according to Halyna, spoke with a very strong Galician accent(Lviv is part of an area called Galicia, which has a lot of Polish influence on the local dialect).  So we read aloud and she corrected our pronunciation.  It was fascinating to hear her correct the Slovenian girl.  Part of the Galician accent is to say ‘v’ more like a ‘w’ (like in Polish) and to say ‘и’ and ‘і’ both like English ‘ih’. I was glad she made the corrections, because up until that point I thought that that’s just how Ukrainian was pronounced because I only had friends from Lviv.

My teacher got a kick out of my pronunciation.  She said it was very fascinating because I’m American but I spoke Ukrainian like a Moskal( a derogatory word for Russians).  I was actually quite flattered by this, because American accents aren’t always the most pleasant sounding.  This is because in Russian you say ‘ah’ instead of ‘o’ when it isn’t stressed.  For example, молоко, written the same in both languages, but in Russian you say malakO, and in Ukrainian you say mOlOkO.  To the Russian ear when you say O so strong like that you kind of sound like a hillbilly.

The Slovenian girl, my teacher, Halyna and myself. This is the outfit that Halyna helped me pick out in the souvenir market

So I loved that within the first 15 minutes of class she had honed in on our particular interests and needs and continued to cater to them throughout the two week course.

The teacher made all sorts of recommendations about what to see in the city and really knew her stuff about Lviv. She even offered to walk with us and show us around.  I, unfortunately, couldn’t take her up on the offer because I was pretty much booked with people wanting to hang out with me every day (I had made a lot of friends before I went).  Although I did finally take her up on her offer on my second to last day there and asked her to come with me to find a few different souvenirs (books to help me study Ukrainian at home and embroidered shirts).  She did so obligingly.  And as we would point out people to me that were speaking with a really strong Galician accent (Because she knows that dialects and accents are a big interest for me).

Every day half-way through our lesson we took a tea and cookies break. She had all sorts of goodies for us.  We just sat and chatted about all sorts of things.  I think that in these little tea/conversation breaks my Ukrainian improved significantly.  The conversation was more informal but not necessarily slang (which is how many of my friends spoke).  She told us all sorts of stories from her life.  It was so fun and cosy.

Eating goodies mid-way through class

Also, another thing that I really loved about the classes was that they were very multi-media oriented.  I love to use cartoons and music in my Russian classroom, so I, of course, responded well to this.  We watched music videos and the teacher printed out the lyrics for us to follow along as well as watched children’s cartoons. Also, every day in class they teacher had handouts and print-ups for us to use.  I really appreciated this.  I’ve brought home every last piece of paper she gave me and organized it into a binder.  Because Ukrainian language materials can be hard to find on the internet, these handouts have been great to help me continue my studies of Ukrainian.

Being in Lviv, you’re going to hear three different Ukrainian languages: Literary Ukrainian, Surjik (the mix with Russian) and Galician dialect(mix with Polish).  I was pretty confused when I first got there by the Galician accent.  Halyna was so great in class to point out that on the streets in Lviv you may hear one thing but it’s not necessarily correct.

For example here are some of the variations of words:  The words in the left-hand column I heard all the time in Lviv.  But my friends would catch themselves saying it and correct themselves and tell me the literary version.

Galician                   Surjik(Russian)     Lit.  Ukrainian      English

Стидаюсь                            стесняюсь               Соромлюсь           to be shy

Вуйко (polish. wuyek)         дядя                      дядько                     uncle

Бабця (pol. babcia)            бабушка                бабуся                     grandma

Канапка (pol. kanapka)    бутерброд            бутерброд            sandwich

Ніць (pol. nic)                      ничего                        нічого                    nothing

I was on cloud nine learning all of this.  I love dialects and historical linguistics.  Ukrainian is the ultimate language if you’re interested in how history and geography shapes a language.

To read more about my time in Lviv, and my experiences learning Ukraine go here and look under the section entitled “Ukraine”.

In these videos you can see my dear teacher speaking about the various dialects in Ukraine.  In the second video she reads the same text in standard literary Ukrainian and then her impression of a Galician accent.  This accent that she reads with, she says, is more typical of the older generation.


I loved this program.  My only complaint is that I could only study there for two weeks. But what with a baby and a husband waiting for me in the US, I had to come home sometime.  I wish I could have snuck sweet little Halyna into my suitcase! But probably that would have made for problems in customs.

2 Responses to “In Praise of Ukrainian (and the school where I learned it)”

  1. It’s a pleasure to see such a great interest to ukrainian and too hear so sincerely words about my countrymen)) Good luck in your following studying)

  2. Lesya said

    Dear friends, you are wery welcome to Ukraine. There are so many plases to visit and wether is perfect for summe holidays.

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