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Russian AND Ukrainian?

I'm at Russian Level 23 and am curious to find out about differences and/or similarities between Russian and Ukrainian. Have just had a go at my first lesson, but doubt is creeping in as to whether this is such a good idea. Might not this hamper rather than help with either of the two languages? Any views on that? Thanks.

July 15, 2017



You are obviously quite comfortable with Russian since you are at level 23, but would you say you are REALLY comfortable with the language? Both languages are very close to each other as both are East Slavic languages, so, unless you are sure you won't forget Russian, it is probably best to leave a reasonable time gap between learning these two languages. If I were you, I would make sure that I am comfortable with Russian before I start learning another language that is from the same language family.

If you have doubts, it's probably a sign telling you to stop.


I think that really depends on a person. I've been studying Spanish and Portuguese together for a long time. They are as close to each other as Ukrainian and Russian, if not closer. While I can't say I never mixed the two, I don't mix them now, and studying them together actually helped me a lot understanding a lot of grammar structures and word etymologies.


You are probably right. Best to stop now before utter confusion sets in. :-)


Yes, you don't want to start mixing words. :)


A lot of Ukrainian's basic vocabulary is actually very much closer to Polish than to Russian (but also in many cases Ukrainian will have two different words for the same meaning: one word being similar to the Russian and the other being similar to the Polish word for it).

However it's far from a myth that Russian and Ukrainian are very similar 'sister' languages. The alphabetical differences between the two aren't major, for instance. But Ukrainians have more intonation in their speech, & while many words in Russian and Ukrainian will be spelt the same, they will be pronounced slightly differently. So as they're both part of the eastern branch of the Slavic languages they have many many similarities, but they're different enough that a Russian and a Ukrainian will understand probably less than half of what the other one is saying, assuming neither have been exposed to the other language before.

Why not give it a try? But do make sure it's at a point when you're very secure in Russian - so much so that you won't get confused.


People worry about indiscriminate mixing with learning related languages simultaneously, but a post I read recently pointed out that really the relevant distinction is probably more subtle than that.

Almost surely Russian will creep into your Ukrainian. That's not such a big deal; it will reduce over time as you learn more Ukrainian. There's only really a problem if your Russian isn't well set enough that Ukrainian would creep into your Russian. The only way you'd know this, of course, is if you gave it a try.

Particularly given that it sounds like you're mostly just a bit curious about Ukrainian, I personally doubt you would wind up having problems. The Ukrainian tree here is very short; with significant knowledge of Russian, it's not hard at all to compete. It's more of a primer than anything comprehensive. It'll give you a nice look, probably largely mollify your curiosity, and you can get back to the lengthy task of attaining fluency in Slavic language number 1, which will undoubtedly have untold benefits in attaining fluency in Slavic language number 2 when the time for that eventually comes around.


As others have mentioned you will probably "contaminate" the languages due to some overlapping vocabulary. However, that's not a categorically bad thing, because in reality that's how people speak on the streets of most towns. It's very common to use half of each language to produce what is known as "Surzhyk" (Суржик)

Also, I'd like to add that even though the Slavic languages are grouped into geographical categories (West, South and East) in reality it doesn't actually translate into greater closeness based on this belonging. I found Bulgarian to be closer to Russian, while Ukrainian is closer to Slovakian, for instance. Sometimes I come across a word or a phrase in Polish that's almost identical as in Russian yet vastly different in Ukrainian. Thus, these groupings are irrelevant.


From a historical point of view, it can seem clear where and when the UA/RU difference emerged. Actually, Russian is a result of development of proto-Russian, which was de facto proto-Ukrainian+Belarussian in the area that was populated by Finnic peoples.

Hence, a very strong opposition of palathalised ("soft") and "hard" (to some extent velarised) consonants in Russian, while in Ukrainian this scheme doesn't fully cover all the consonants.

Hence, a reduced Slavic vocabulary. Really, there are many words universally intelligible in many Slavic languages from Ukrainian to Czech to Croatian, but totally absent from Russian.

So when we compare RU and UA, we can come to the conclusion that Spanish and Portuguese are much closer lexically and about the same close phonetically. Articulation bases in UA and RU are to the same extent different as in Spanish and Portuguese. It's right that very often a word with the same spelling sounds differently in UA and RU.

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