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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Learning our native language

Where to learn Ukrainian in Ukraine
17 October, 2006 - 00:00

This should have been the start of a report on Ukrainian-language courses for adults. But it turns out that there are none in Kyiv.

Admit it: you’ve never seen any announcements of Ukrainian courses, like “Improve your knowledge of Ukrainian” or “Business Ukrainian.” In contrast, you can see announcements about «Business» or “Advanced English” everywhere. In fact, Ukrainian is also taught in many of these language centers, but only if a group enrolls. However, no groups are enrolled, at least not this year. This means there is no demand.

But there are more than enough foreigners in Kyiv who don’t know Ukrainian, and it would not be out of place for many Ukrainians to learn that «na protiazi» means “drafty” in Russian, and the Russian phrase “na protiazhenii” means “protiahom”, i.e. during. But it hasn’t occurred to our citizens that even though they are Ukrainian, they can take courses in their native language.

Let’s take a look at courses offered by private philologists. They may found practically in every region — you can study Ukrainian in Odesa and in such a Russian-speaking city, by and large a Russian one, as Sevastopil, at the International Cultural Centre. The courses are combined with a vacation in the Crimea. The Day was told over the phone that many average Sevastopol inhabitants want to learn the state language — students before entering higher educational establishments (Ukrainian is not taught in most Sevastopil schools), and adults — for a job placement, or to improve their work qualifications.

This year, however, no groups have enrolled. Besides the surprising absence of demand this year (we don’t want to regard this as the result of the high-ranking talks concerning the introduction of a second state language, which won’t happen, I truly hope), private courses present several obstacles.

First, such courses are expensive. For example, the Language Development Center in Kyiv offers a special course — Ukrainian for two levels. Twenty-four lessons for beginners and 12 for intermediate students. One month of lessons costs 280 hryvnias, or 60 hryvnias per lesson; at the client’s home — 80 hryvnias. This fee does not include VAT. These are market prices and were the same in all the centers that I visited.

In 24 lessons lasting 80 minutes each they promise to teach phonetics, morphology, and syntax. Stylistics isn’t part of the course outline. The teachers obviously think that students will learn on their own. Business Ukrainian is another topic (if only all Ukrainian bureaucrats were obliged to master it). “Intensive course methods.” What is significant about this advertisement is that it is in Russian. The girl who picked up the phone when I called the number in the ad categorically refused to speak Ukrainian and answered all my “bud laska” (Ukr: please) and “daruite” (Ukr: excuse me) with “nie mogu skazat” (Rus: I can’t say) and «navernoe da» (Rus: yes, probably). She told me that there are no courses at the moment, that’s why there’s no group class, only individual lessons. If a group enrolls, then, maybe, yes. Will they get a group together soon? Definitely not.

Where can an adult Ukrainian or foreigner living in Ukraine study Ukrainian except at such “multilanguage” centres?

“You won’t be taught Ukrainian anywhere. There’s no normal place in Ukraine, where you can come and study the language. Maybe only in a university,” says the head of the T. Shevchenko Ukrainian Language Society at Kyiv National University, Vitalii Radchuk, who talked to The Day. Then he added, “Those who want to will learn because there are people in our country who know the language and can teach others.” This philologist does not have a very high opinion of private courses, but there are no other kinds.

After conducting a mini-survey, I found several people who had studied the language outside a school or university, on their own. “I simply decided to speak Ukrainian ‘in spite of’ all the ‘defenders’ of Russian. I was fed up with all that talk of discrimination,” says Iryna, who spoke Russian until the age of 32. “The main thing is to start speaking at once, I was making mistakes; I was corrected. I was listening attentively to TV announcers, I started reading Ukrainian books and somehow step by step...Of course, if someone had offered me courses, it would have been much easier, but I have never heard of such courses.»

An Englishman named Robert, who is visiting his future wife in Kyiv, told me that he has already learned several phrases by himself, and if could, he would gladly learn more for his general development and in order to understand his wife better. A young official from one of the city administration departments apologized for mixing his words. He said that he has not been speaking Ukrainian for long. It’s coming out badly, but it is too expensive to hire a tutor.

What about the state? Where’s the support for the state language on the national level? Where’s the language policy? In the Ministry of Education and Science they looked for a long time for a “scapegoat” that could tell The Day that the ministry doesn’t organize and hold any courses for adults. As a result, the ministry turned out to be the “scapegoat.” In pleasant Ukrainian the female ministry official told me that if the state is conducting such courses, they are offered on the regional and municipal levels. She even gave me their phone number in Kyiv, where The Day heard a definite answer to the question: NO.

In a word, where the state is concerned, everything is clear. I managed to clarify that Ukrainian-language courses are taught free of charge at the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (where an average Kievite will hardly dare to apply, not knowing Ukrainian) and in the Dnipro Raion Veterans’ Society. But the information about the latter is not accurate. This is how we are fighting on a mighty front for the purity of the national language.

The last hope is the all-Ukraine Prosvita Society whose slogan is the protection and development of the Ukrainian language. However, here again The Day was disappointed. They used to have some courses, but now, because of the lack of room and people who want to study, their courses have been cancelled. The head of the publishing materials propaganda department, Svitlana Feschenko, told me that Prosvita used to hold courses for officials directly in the ministries. Any ministry could write a request, and at an appointed time lecturers would visit officials eager to grasp the stylistic niceties of the Ukrainian language. A special program for teaching the state language to bureaucrats was developed. Again — no ministry has sent in a request this year. What kind of year is this?

In short, the main answer to the question, “Where are the courses?” was answered by: “There is no demand.” On the other hand, is it so difficult to create a demand? If in literally a couple of years advertisers have succeeded in teaching all young people starting from the age of 15 to drink beer every evening, is it so difficult to prompt the idea that citizens should gain proficiency in their native language, and remind foreigners that they are in Ukraine and they must learn Ukrainian? Simple announcements stuck to lampposts, like “Learn Ukrainian! (phone number) Free of charge.” would be enough to raise the demand 10 times. What are we, the state and the many defenders of the Ukrainian language, waiting for?

We are looking forward to hearing the opinions of Deputy Minister for Humanitarian Questions Dmytro Tabachnyk and Minister of Education and Science Sviatoslav Nikolaienko in connection with this matter.

Victoria HERASYMCHUK, The Day