I have been following this forum with great interest and would like to contribute some observations on the current language situation in the Ukraine. Maybe, someone would like to share their opinion? What do you think about the importance of languages?
My last visit to Kiev was full of impressions. One day when I was watching television I witnessed the following peculiar episode: A well-known professor of the Kiev medical elite was trying to speak Ukrainian. It was rather unpleasant experience: His Ukrainian was weak and often outright wrong. Ukraine’s captial has changed dramatically over the past three years. When you stroll through the city and want to communicate with someone you’d better talk to young people and you should do so in English. You will be surprised by those young people’s English language skills. Don’t try talking in English to elderly people, they won’t understand you. But the younger generation has a fast growing interest in foreign languages and of course English tops the list.
However, that was not always the case. Since the Ukraine became independent from Russia many Ukrainians have learned how important it is to speak several language fluently. Severe poverty and apathy in parts of the society have triggered a new kind of thinking with some Ukrianians. Especially young people are trying to get a better education (it goes without saying that by far not all are lucky enough to succeed). When it comes to languages English is number one followed by German, then French and Spanish. About half of Ukraines population are bi-lingual, they speak both Russian and Ukrainian as their mother tongues. In western regions some people speak Polish or Hungarian. Each language plays a different role: Ukrainian is the official state language (used on TV and radio, in the press etc.) It’s almost impossible to get a job without a decent command of the Ukrainian language.
On the streets, however, you mainly will hear Russian spoken for various reasons. It is a tradition that people in small towns and villages around Kiev speak Ukrainian whereas in the capital itself Russian is spoken. It has been this way since the Tsar was ruling the country. Because of Ukraine’s close connection to Russia Ukrainians often spoke Russian. Now, that Ukraine is emphasizing its independence some circles want Russian Ukrainians to speak Russian and Ukrainian Ukrainians to speak Ukrainian. But how can you devide nationalities that have been so close? Why is it not possible to have a similar language situation like in Switzerland or Canada where people can freely choose which language they want to speak?