Mother Tongue Tuesday: Ukrainian

Topics: Language LearningMother Tongue TuesdayUncategorized


When I first started teaching immigrants instead of international students like the Japanese young people in my last post , I had a classroom full of Ukrainian men mixed in with a few Russians along with one Armenian. Many had been welders or miners in their first countries. 

They studied in a welding program and my job was to teach them the English they would need to understand welding in the United States. I taught terms like butt joint, corner joint, direct current and bead

Everyday Anatoliy with the silver hair stood a foot above me and said: “Karrie! Ni Boom Boom!” “Karrie! No understand!” (Not exactly a teacher’s favorite words to hear.)

The shock of moving from Japanese university students and culture was matched by the joy of working with a happy crowd of learners who had recently immigrated and wanted nothing so much as to get enough practical English to make it in their everyday lives.

Ukrainian tidbits from the UCLA Language Project

  • Although it is in the Slavic language family, Ukrainian is distinctly different from Russian. For example, the word for goodbye in Ukrainian is “do pobachennya.” The Russian word is ” do svidaniya.” 
  • Ukrainian, like Russian, loves to change the adjectives and verbs according to case and gender. Perhaps because it changes the words to match their purpose (subject, verb, object) in a sentence, the word order is very flexible, especially in comparison to English.
  • Ukrainian is written in the Cyrillic script. 
  • Bob Dylan’s grandparents immigrated from Odessa, Ukraine. (I can’t determine if they spoke Ukrainian or Russian.)

With all that’s happening in Ukraine in the world news, I see my students in that welding basement before the remodel of the school. I hope and pray that we can all get back to building things by laying a bead or cutting apart metal with oxy-acetylene torches rather than tearing each other apart. 

For  a super quick six minute history of the area and the difficulties in the region, here is John Green with a video explanation, including maps and pictures. (I asked my Russian and Ukrainian colleagues to watch this and tell me what they think, but they shook their heads without watching, saying their history could not be squished into that short of a YouTube video. I can see their point but, short of studying the country for a semester or scanning scholarly articles, I thought watching Green gave me a glimmer of understanding.)



About the author: Karrie Zylstra Myton is a blogger, essayist, and aspiring author who writes for the wild joy it brings on the best days and the hard lessons she learns about life on the worst. After crafting stories in the ridiculously early morning hours, she chases her two sons, cuddles with cats, and laughs with her husband about how crazy life can get in middle age.

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