I have completed the Ukrainian tree and feel like I can complete the exercises with relative ease. However, when I try to engage in conversation or listen to Ukrainians speak I feel at a total loss (I recently spent a month in Ukraine). I understand that reading and speech are in separate areas of the brain, and require different learning patterns, but I am really struggling with this. Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas to help me practice speech?
I use this method for other languages, but you can adapt it for Ukrainian. Although, it might be more difficult with inflective verbs.
When you're listening, first train yourself to hear the sentence's structure rather than its meaning. It's basically an attempt to grasp for some sensible islands in a sea of gibberish.
I'd recommend to 'hunt' for pronouns, verbs and conjunctions. You already know most pronouns and conjunctions from the Ukrainian tree. The next step is to learn as many basic everyday verbs as you can.
Infinitive verbs usually end with -ть, -ти. If someone says Я, expect this pronoun to be followed by a verb. If you're talking to a man, the verb would probably end with -у/-ю (present), -ав/-ив (past), буду -ити/-атиму (future). So if you train yourself to catch the verb, you have the basis of the message.
- Дитинство я проводив за містом.
Ok, which one is the verb? Probably the one that ends with -ив - проводив (you can usually hear it clearly). It is a verb in the past. So the message is Я проводив=I used to spend (time). He used to spend his time somewhere in the past.
The meaning of the sentence above is: I used to spend my childhood outside of the city (in the countryside). But when you're listening, you can grasp for this short message: 'я проводив', and probably ask to repeat (or replay the sentence in audio).
If we apply this method to English, it'll look something like:
I usually buy my clothes and groceries in the supermarket nearby. - I gibberish buy gibberish and gibberish gibberish gibberish.
But hey, at lest i know that this sentence is about buying something.
Don't worry, with all due respect to the creators of the course, and I'm sure they will admit it themselves, this is a very incomplete course grammatically. This is because Ukrainian grammar is a lot more complicated than English grammar and has lots of exceptions and many aspects such as the "Vocative Case" aren't really used that much.
What this course does give you is a good foundation that will help you progress fast is you were to take a proper Ukrainian course.
Remember Ukrainian is a complex language, so to have even just basic conversation will require a lot of insight into the grammar and how it works.
So to finally answer your question, knowledge of the grammar will help you with your speech, but to gain that knowledge you will have to look elsewhere, may I suggest: http://ukrainiangrammar.com/ or http://www.ukrainianlanguage.org.uk/read/
In my above comments I did by no means want to say that it is a bad course; I think it is a very good course to help you nail the very basic foundations of the language, but you must go back and keep practising.