Russian and/or Ukrainian (without forgetting Belorussian)?

Hello everybody!
I’m facing a tough decision about what language(s) I should start learning next year, and I’d like to hear your feedback.
I should probably start learning Russian, because it’s becoming a more and more important and requested language in the translation domain. Hardly anybody is looking for translators from English, French or German anymore (which could explain why I’m still practically jobless). The only European language for which the demand for translators is rising is Russian. Moreover, I would love to be able to read Russian literature one day, and also to visit Russia (probably before I can read Tolstoy).
However, some current events happening in Russia are not really motivating me to learn Russian.
From a mere language learning perspective, I would prefer to learn Ukrainian, because I’ve felt very close to Ukraine since our medias started talking about this country some years ago. Without getting deep into politics, I just like Ukraine better than Russia and I will most likely visit Ukraine before Russia. On the other hand, Ukrainian wouldn’t increase my chances to find a job as Russian would.
Even more than Ukrainian would I like to learn Belorussian because I’ve been feeling a lot of sympathy for the people of Belarus since long ago, but I doubt I will learn it in 2014, also due to lack of material (for Ukrainian I could use an ASSIMIL course, but I don’t know any courses for Belorussian).
So, would you suggest I start with Russian or Ukrainian, and why? Do you think it would be crazy to start learning both at the same time?
Thanks for your opinions,

@Mike: “…However, some current events happening in Russia are not really motivating me to learn Russian…”

I would say one needs to differentiate between politics and languages, Mike. There may have been some folks during the last 10 years who didn’t like Berlusconi’s antics - but would that have been a valid reason not to learn Italian? :wink:

Russian is a big country, and no doubt there are many different people with many different opinions!

Of course, Jay, I know what you mean. As a matter of facts, I do want to learn Russian, too, otherwise I would have no doubts about the choice between it and Ukrainian. :slight_smile:

98% of the Ukrainian know Russian, but maybe only 1% of Russians know Ukrainian.
THat’s why knowing Russian, you can comfortably visit not only Russia, but also Ukraine and Belarus; but knowing only Ukrainian, you won’t be able to feel comfortable in Russia.
And what so dreadful is happening now in Russia, what we don’t have in all other european countries???
You press demonize Putin, but why?
I am also not agree with some of his actions.
But I DON’T KNOW at the moment the man who could change Putin in his position as President!

Evgueny, yes, I am aware of the figures about speakers that would make it obvious to choose Russian.
What made you think I demonize Putin? I didn’t even mention him. What I dislike right now is Russia’s pressure on its neighbours to prevent them from getting closer to the EU. That’s it. However, I would not like this conversation to get off-topic.


Ah I see (I had also assumed that you were anti-Putin!)

Putin is not without faults (which political leader is?) But I have a certain respect for him, TBH.

Seeing that you are a translator it seems logical to learn Russian rather than the other languages you mention. (But that’s just my opinion, of course.)

Kimo, thank you for your interesting answer. To make it clear, I do want to learn all these languages as part of my long-term goal.

THey (these languages) are really very close, closer than Italian and French I think, that’s why if you would have a wish, you could know all of them.
Ukraine is an independent country, but of course Russia that was united with Ukraine for 335 years (like Scotland and England) would like to see Ukraine closer to Russian than to EU.
But the decision will make the Ukrainians themselves.

I was born in Belarus and I live in Belarus. And I’d like just to tell some facts to help you Michele with a decision which language to start with.
Children in Poland studied Belarusian during some first years in school and only than begun to study Russian. It seems it was for them easier to start moving towards Russian through Belarusian. Of course, Russian was the final and the most preferable goal because about 250 million people spoke Russian in the USSR.
As I know you are studying Polish now. That’s why this way could also became your own way.
I started to learn Polish in December. Now my level in understanding Polish is something like C1 because of many similarities between Polish and Belarusian. I had not enough practice but I had some successfull conversations via Skype in Polish.
Belarusian is also very close to Russian but Russians do not always understand Belarusian easily.
I personally never studied Ukrainian but I can understand Ukrainian TV on the fly.
But the huge minus in learning Belarusian is the current prestige of this language which is very low, Belarusian is displaced by Russian almost everywhere. Even in Belarus not all 10 millions of people speak Belarusian, the majority speaks Russian.
But I hope Belarusian may be used by you, Michele, as a transition from Polish to Russian during any short term as it was practiced many years ago in socialist Poland.

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Ress, thank you for your interesting and useful insight. One of the reasons why I would like to learn Belorussian is precisely because it’s quite in danger.

I used to learn Ukrainian a few years ago but gave up on it because I couldn’t find any decent audio and native speakers to practice with. But it’s definitely a language I will come back to eventually, like my Catalan.

Thanks for your advice, Kokos. It looks almost impossible to learn Belarusian without knowing Russian… so I may start learning Russian in January and stick to it until I can understand it well enough to use it to learn Belarusian and Ukrainian. Maybe I will eventually fall in love with Russian and keep studying it, but I am determinate to also learn Ukrainian and Belarusian at some point.

As I understand it, in many parts of Ukraine, people just use Russian, particularly younger people. The languages are so similar, I’m not sure it really matters. It seems like an equivalent to learning Argentinian Spanish versus Mexican Spanish or something like that. Plus, I assume that spoken Russian has variations from place to place.

Why not just use content for both Russian and Ukrainian? If you’re not planning to speak for a while, then it doesn’t really matter. You could work through beginner books for both, and then pick the one to focus on later. Although some things will be different, a lot will be the same.

Bortrun, thanks for your suggestion. I only doubt this would lead me to mixing the two languages? As I understand it, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are three very similar but still different languages, and I wouldn’t want to learn a mix of them that is neither Russian nor Ukrainian or Belarusian…

I doubt you’d be seriously affected by duplicated beginner material as long as you picked one to focus on reasonably soon. The three languages are different, but according to my Ukrainian friend, the differences between Russian and the Ukrainian spoken in Kiev are pretty minor. People only speak proper Ukrainian in the west of the country, and over there I think it gets somewhat similar to Polish.

Anyway, if I were you, I’d focus on standard Russian. But I doubt it’d hurt to have a look at beginner material for both or all 3. You could see what the differences are.

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I’d say, concentrate on Russian first: the highest number of native speakers + a lot of people knowing Russian as a foreign language, potential to make money out of it, vast learning resources, etc. And do not forget, Russian culture is very different from Russian politics :wink:

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My two cents:

Learn Russian first, it will give you access to all the learning materials you might want for Ukrainian/ Belorussian.

No harm in looking through some beginner’s material in all three, just to get a feel for them, but I think they would be easily confused at the very start. A few months for a solid foundation in one would of course help you spot the tell-tale differences in the others.

Thanks for your advice, everybody. I think I will start with Russian to get access to learning material for Ukrainian, Belorussian and other languages. I hope I can learn enough Russian to start Ukrainian not later than in 2015.

Michele, ottima scelta :wink:

@Bortrun, let me correct your vision of the situation from inside.
Spoken Russian has NO variations from place to place. That’s why it is called great and mighty. People speak the same language in Brest (Belarus) on the West and in Vladivostok on the East (10 000 km), in Murmansk on the North and Almaty (Kazakhstan) on the South (5 500 km). There can be just some small nuances in pronunciation and a dozen specific regional words. Everybody can understand each other on the 1/6 part of the Earth’s surface.
The West of Ukrain speaks ukrainian. Even in Belarus there does not exist any mix of Belarusian and Polish (they are much closer to each other). It is possible to hear Belarusian+Russian or Ukrainian+Russian because Russian was dominating many years in the Russian Empire and the USSR and because russians made other nations to use Russian. Is it good or bad… But now Russian language is such powerful.


Michele, thanks for starting this discussion. It is fascinating.

Your decision is logical. The amount of material available in Russian for learning other languages is huge. You will not be disappointed–no, you will be delighted and thrilled–by what you find. And there are of course all the other good reasons you mentioned for learning Russian first of these three languages: its dominance, relative importance, comparative usefulness for finding employment, marvelous literature, availability on the Internet, great science fiction (oh, you didn’t mention that one), and so on. If I were in your place, Russian would be my choice, too. Nevertheless, you do sound most attracted to Ukrainian. If you start w/ Russian, I hope that you’ll soon master Ukrainian as well, and then go on to Belarusian.

If you can, keep us posted about your progress. I’ve been “learning Russian” for several years, and I’d really like to know how you will go about it. Others who follow your posts here feel the same way, I’m sure. And when you come to learning a second and third East Slavic language, let us know how helpful or harmful knowing another closely related language turns out to be.