As a foreigner, you can’t explore the real Ukraine without knowing the basics of the language. In Kyiv, there is a higher chance that the staff will speak English, and all over Ukraine, the young people are likely to know some English (because students have to take a foreign language in school, and students often choose English over French or German). However, most of the people you meet will not speak English, and you should grab the opportunity to learn some Ukrainian language while in Ukraine.
The western part of the country prefers Ukrainian language, even though from my experience, many Ukrainian speakers also understand Russian (but might not like to speak Russian). One of my Ukrainian friends told me that in Kyiv, the ratio of Russian to Ukrainian speakers is 60:40. In Kyiv, I’ve seen some shops entirely with only Russian or only Ukrainian signage. As far as I know, the eastern part of the country speaks more Russian that Ukrainian, and in Crimea, Crimean Tatar is also spoken. If I’m not wrong, many singers from Ukraine sing in Russian language, which I think is somewhat a wise choice, because the Russian music market is bigger, with many former Soviet Union nations still speaking Russian (eg. Belarus’ official languages are Russian and Byelorussian, with more than 80% of students learning in Russian). However, it is also good for Ukrainian singers to sing in Ukrainian language, to promote their own language and pride :).
Tak, that’s enough of the background info. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
In my opinion, the most important phrase you should know, is one that calls for others’ attention, similar to English ‘excuse me‘.
excuse me – вибачте | vybachte
It’s always important to be polite, and it doesn’t hurt to be excessively polite, so do say ‘thank you‘, whatever happens!
thank you – дякую | dyakuyu
If you’re visiting Ukraine in the future, like me, I hope you’ll have the chance to meet and speak to locals, and not just visit the touristy areas! To greet them, ‘good day’ is a good phrase for formal social occasions.
good day – добрий день | dobry den
A more friendly way of saying hello would be…
hello – привіт | pryvit
The most important number you should know is one. It’s really necessary to know it in order to make purchases. Here is the list of numbers, extracted from http://www.ielanguages.com/ukrainian.html . This page by Ivan Karmin is excellent background info on Ukrainian, and contains some basic words, but also contains some grammatical terms which interest me but maybe not you :).
1 – Один | odyn
2 – Два | dva
3 – Три | try
4 – Чотири | chotyry
5 – П’ять | p| jat’
6 – Шість | shist’
7 – Сім | sim
8 – Вісім | visim
9 – Дев’ять | dev|jat’
10 – Десять | desjat’
11 – Одинадцять | odynadtsjat’
12 – Дванадцять | dvanadtsjat’
13 – Тринадцять | trynadtsjat’
14 – Чотирнадцять | chotyrnadtsjat’
20 – Двадцять | dvadtsjat’
30 – Тридцять | trydtsjat’
40 – Сорок | sorok
50 – П’ятдесят | pjatdesjat
60 – Шістдесят | shistdesjat
70 – Сімдесят | simdesjat
100 – Сто | sto
And here’s the Ukrainian alphabet and pronunciation, from http://www.ukraine.com/forums/language/11949-ukrainian-alphabet.html :
A few letters are written like letters in the English alphabet but are not the same.
For example, the Ukrainian “B b” is English /v/
Ukrainian “H” is English /n/
Ukrainian “C c” is English /s/
Ukrainian “P p” is a rhotic sound, somewhat different from the English /r/
Ukrainian “У у” is English /u/
Ukrainian “X x” is /x/ (International Phonetic Alphabet; this sound is not found in English; it’s often written as “kh” as in Khan)
Also, these few letters might be confusing, so do pay extra attention:
That’s all for the language class. If y0u’re a Portuguese speaker, you can read my fellow intern (and roommate)’s blog posts on the basics of Ukrainian language, which he has written in both Portuguese and English:
Idioma Ucraniano + Aula básica I/ Ukranian Language + Basic class I
Aula Básica II (Comércio) / Basic Class II (Commerce)
Now, buvay / do pobachennya / papa! (Goodbye!)