The alien sound of a foreign language may intrigue, confuse, or even evoke cultural shock. Ukrainians like to repeat that the Ukrainian language is in second place in terms of melody after Italian. But what do foreigners really think about our language – a mother tongue for the majority, and official for everyone? I organise excursions for foreigners around Kyiv, so it was not too difficult for me to find out: the guests of Ukraine gladly shared their impressions.
Portugal. Carlos, accountant:
The Ukrainian language sounds surprisingly soft, even though there are many sibilant sounds. Ukrainian is very reminiscent of a mix of Spanish and Portuguese – the same softness as in Spanish and sibilance as in Portuguese. This is probably why it is so easy for Ukrainians to learn Portuguese.
USA. Ryan, financier:
To me the Ukrainian language sounds childishly soft and naïve. When I hear Ukrainian, I return to my childhood, when I came to visit my grandmother and grandfather: they are from Ukraine. In summer our big family would gather for vacation in a beach house in New Jersey. So I understand many words intuitively, as this language is in my blood. I remember my Ukrainian language skills very well especially after a couple of shots.
India. Shankar, IT specialist:
Ukrainian sounds very passionate and emotional. Your songs are very similar to ours, but we dance better. The language is very pleasant to the ear.
Congo. Kena, student:
I would compare the Ukrainian language with Ukrainian salo. It is just as soft and viscous, and at the same time strange and not understood by many – until you acquire the taste. When you swallow a piece of salo, it slips down your throat smoothly, softens your vocal chords – and in the end you have a nice melodious sound. This is where the secret of the Ukrainian language lies.
USA. Jason, farmer:
To be frank, I had a lot of difficulty at first in discerning which language I was being addressed in: Russian or Ukrainian. Ukrainian sounds very strange to me, though interesting. Many Americans consider the French language to be the epitome of grace and perfection. Personally, I like how Ukrainian, German and Russian sounds much more. I think it is because of the directness and the emphases that make certain words stand out, while the French say everything with the same intonation. French is a more feminine language, and Ukrainian sounds strong and masculine. However, Ukrainian women manage to speak very softly, and it is difficult to refuse them anything. Their speech sounds like cats purring. The Ukrainian language may seem difficult to learn and understand, but in reality it is very rich and agreeable.
South Korea. Kim, web designer:
With all your “li” and “nya” the Ukrainian language sounds very much like Chinese – only sibilant, like an old vinyl record.
Poland. Pjotr, sociologist:
Ukrainian sounds very familiar to me. If they took away some sounds from Polish, such as “tso” and “psh” and replaced them with guttural sounds. It sounds very funny, like a mixture of Polish, Belorussian and Russian.
Belgium. Johann, programmer:
Ukrainian speech is very lively and rapid, as if Ukrainians are scared of not being able to finish what they’re saying. It bubbles, hisses and foams like beer. If French can be compared to reserved red wine, Russian – with strong vodka, Ukrainian – with light foamy beer. By the way, it is just as understated as your beer.
Türkiye. Volkan, shopkeeper:
To me, Ukrainian sounds very soft. When you listen to the same people speaking Ukrainian and Russian, it seems they are kinder when they speak Ukrainian. As opposed to other Slavic languages, Ukrainian is not as screechy. It turns out that many words in Ukrainian come from Turkish. I was very surprised when I found out that your main squares in the city are called “maidan,” just like ours.
France. Mishka, tourism manager:
I love the Ukrainian language. It is very melodious and nice to hear. Though I only started to understand that Ukrainians were saying after my fifth visit here. And I was only able to converse with my Ukrainian girlfriend after about half a year. Your language, just like French, is very soft and was created for love.
Pakistan. Irfan, athlete:
Though the meaning of the words remained a total mystery to me, it constantly seemed to me that Ukrainians were talking about something good. It seems that Ukrainian is very kind and soft. I especially like it when women speak it, it is somehow more feminine in its sound.
Russia. Mitya, designer:
I cannot call Ukrainian a foreign language. I live in Kuban, where there are Cossacks and all. Among my family, many speak it: some words have been lent from Ukrainian, others are simply similar. I also like “Vopli Vidoliasova,” so it was another stimulus for me to be interested in Ukrainian. That is my rock-n-roll youth. I think the language is very funny, through some of the convinced khokhols are offended by it, and also it is very melodious and nice to hear. The songs in Ukrainian sounds somehow especially soft. I like it a lot. I can only compare it to Russian and Belorussian. I heard someone saying that Ukrainian is somehow similar to French. Disputable. For me, Ukrainian is Gogol and Kuindzhi, girls and Cossacks.
Wales (the UK). Andrew, social worker:
The Ukrainian language sounds very unusual. One can feel the trace of ancient times, I would even say aristocracy. And also Ukrainian sounds very poetic – I think that is thank to the big number of vowels in your alphabet. Of course, because of the huge difference from the Romantic languages, we, the foreign tourists, find it practically impossible to understand what Ukrainians are saying, so for me, the Ukrainian language has kept the element of mysticism and romance. I think Ukrainian speech is much nicer than German and doesn’t sound as silly as, say, Swedish.
Germany. Valeria, journalist:
When I hear Ukrainians speaking, it seems to me it is impossible to speak so rapidly in any other language. Ukrainian speech is very fast and rhythmic. It sounds very nice and melodious, and also passionate. The German language is very monotonous and dispassionate, all the sounds are similar, and this difference is felt immediately. Ukrainian language is similar to a song. But many of your sounds just drive English- and German-speaking people mad, they will never be able to pronounce your “m’yakiy znak” or rolling “r” correctly.
Kuwait. Ali, businessman:
The Ukrainian language sounds very warrior-like and masculine. It has live rhythm. I would compare Ukrainian to a summer hailstorm: first you hear thunder and then you are surrounded by warm drops of water.
Spain. Cecilia, Spanish language teacher:
My husband and I like Ukrainian very much. Especially now, when after working in Kyiv we moved to Poland. I have to say that Polish has nothing on the melody and softness of Ukrainian, even regardless of the fact that the latin alphabet is closer and more understandable to us. I also noticed a big similarity between the sound of Ukrainian and Spanish languages. So Spanish people learn Ukrainian easily, and vice versa. My English-speaking husband also likes Ukrainian much more than Polish and Russian: he says it sounds softer and better.
France. Irina, economist:
To me, Ukrainian sounds very “Slavic” and is harsh on the ears. It seems to me it is not melodious at all. I am very sensitive in terms of hearing, and Ukrainian sounds coarse to me. However it is much softer than “barking” Arabic speech.
Italy. Gabriel, tour guide:
I like Ukrainian and it seems very melodious to me. I know Russian, and it’s much coarser and I like how many Ukrainian words sound compared to Russian. Ukrainian reminds me of Brazilian Portuguese, it is just as soft and viscous like a bossa nova song.
Ireland. Brian, sales manager:
Ukrainian speech is very similar to Irish, especially after a few bottles of vodka. My favourite word is “Bud’mo!!!” I think the Irish and Ukrainians have a lot in common: we know how to drink, sing and dance a lot. Ukrainian is probably simpler in terms of pronunciation than Irish, just like Ukrainian vodka is not as strong as Irish whiskey.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina