Do Ukrainians speak English?

“As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being”

Goethe 

It has been estimated that around 1.5 billion people in the world speak English. Approximately one-third of them are native English speakers. Given the fact that in 2019, the world’s population has reached 7,7 billion people, English is spoken as a secondary language by 15% of people. But how do things look in Ukraine? Let’s take a closer look.

Similar to other European countries that survived socialist regime, Ukraine is known to have quite a small number of English speakers. According to a study conducted by the International Education Center, Ukraine takes 34th place and belongs to the countries with a medium level of proficiency in English.

The factors influencing the English language proficiency in Ukraine

It is a well-known fact that learning a new language and fighting the language barrier might be a challenging task. Interesting that people in Ukraine are often shy of speaking English in public which might explain a moderate level of English spoken here. Even if Ukrainians understand what you are trying to say, they still prefer to avoid communication. When talking about the level of English in Ukraine, it depends on such factors as:

  • age, 
  • job/specialty, 
  • place of living (village, town, big city). 

Note that most people under 30 living in Kyiv have a decent grasp of English, so it will probably be difficult to get lost. People aged 40-50 and older have either a basic level or no English speaking skills at all.

The system of education in Ukraine allows children to learn English for 15 years. However, it seems not to be enough to become highly proficient in speaking a foreign language, even such a simple one as English. 

In Ukrainian schools, too much attention is paid to studying grammar instead of achieving fluency. Children are often devoid of necessary textbooks, resources and technical equipment. Outdated traditional practices appear to be quite ineffective. 

When talking about specific jobs and specialties, some of them require possessing high English speaking skills from the very beginning. Those who were not able to craft English to perfection at school and university can attend English courses. 
The price for such courses starts from $100 while an average salary is around $200. As a result, one can expect to have a twice higher salary than his colleagues with no proficiency in English. 

How does the place of living influences the level of competence in English? The closer to the center of the capital, the more people speak English fluently. However, things are changing cardinally a few metro stations away. In other big cities like Odesa, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sevastopol, the level of English ranges from basic to intermediate. 

How to navigate in the Ukrainian language environment?

Compared to many European countries, the level of English in Ukraine is not as high as expected. Some of the possible reasons of why many Ukrainians don’t speak English might be insufficient financing, low motivation among children and so on. Here are some tips on how to easily navigate in the Ukrainian language environment:

  • find people speaking, at least, basic English. Intermediate and advanced English are most often spoken in the offices, restaurants, hotels and other public places. Most people can speak with foreigners if necessary. So, it is easy to handle minor difficulties like buying food, taking a taxi and so on. 

  • learn some Ukrainian or Russian words and phrases. Given the fact that the official language is Ukrainian and the second most spoken language is Russian, English appears to be less popular. Many people living close to the eastern border of Ukraine go to Russia to look for a job. Since the process of Ukrainian integration into European Union has been launched, there have been made many efforts to take learning English to the next level. 

  • hire an interpreter. Let’s imagine that you would like to order food at the restaurant but don’t know the meaning of the dishes written in English or a taxi driver asks for more money than he should. What you can do to avoid such unpleasant experiences is to hire an interpreter in advance.

P.S.

The level of English in Ukraine is not the highest in Europe which is caused by various internal and external factors. When you arrive here, make sure you took care of your comfortable navigation in the Ukrainian language environment. 

I’m a fellow traveller and explorer of Ukraine. Based in Kyiv. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I’m very friendly and always open to discussing new projects, interesting ideas or opportunities to be part of Ukraine.
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