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The Ukrainian language is very similar to the Russian, but is it understandable for the average Russian native speaker, let's say, in Moscow?

Ukrainians understand Russian, but this is mostly because of the high exposure to the Russian language in media and everyday life.

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    I'd say that approximately to the same extent as Italians understand Spanish and vice versa. – Armen Tsirunyan Jun 17 '12 at 21:03
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    The answer to this is: it depends. It depends on your personal knowledge, for example. – Alenanno Jun 17 '12 at 21:20
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    I second Alenanno. My ex-GF was Ukrainian, I couldn't understand her at all. To try it with the written language, I've corresponded with another Ukrainian girl on a social network, and quickly ended up using an online Ukrainian-Russian dictionary just to understand her. My GF now is Polish, and though many Russians claim that Polish is easy to understand, I don't. She, on the other hand, understands Ukrainian and Belorussian (but she also in an almost native speaker of Russian). – texnic Jun 18 '12 at 9:34
  • I suggest changing the tag to usage. It's obvious that we're talking about "Russian usage". – Alenanno Jul 3 '12 at 7:42
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    I know both Russian and Ukrainian. I can understand Belorussian (because some words are similar to Ukrainian, some to Russian, and some words are like mixture of both, but understandable) but I can't understand Polish. I can guess meaning of some polish words after 10 minutes of thinking, which is, of course, not an option if you want to understand Polish speech. So, I'm quite surprised that according to @texnic some Russian people claim that Polish is easy-to-understand language. – Artemix May 27 '13 at 11:47

13 Answers 13

16

I would say it is understandable in general, especially when spoken not too fast. Majority of words are very similar and get inflected similarly although there are some notable exceptions (like коханка in Ukrainian is quite different from Russian любовница or бачить does not look like видеть at all).

Written text is understandable in context.

Many Slavic languages look alike and can be understood by average Russian speaker to a point. Some are easier, some harder. Say Serbo-Croatian is easier to comprehend than Polish (my personal perception).

Years back I have visited once a village of Semirechie Cossaks in Central Asia where older generation was still speaking the version of Russian they brought with themselves back in early 19th century when Tsar sent them to colonize outskirts of then growing Russian Empire. And I would say that language was more difficult to comprehend than modern Ukrainian.

  • I had difficulties undestanding an Ukrainian word летак (which means самолёт). – naXa Apr 3 '14 at 6:17
  • @naXa It's літак – Ostap Maliuvanchuk Jul 6 '17 at 19:45
  • @OstapMaliuvanchuk Тем более =) самое загадочное слово укр. языка. – naXa Jul 6 '17 at 20:25
15

In most cases no. But, I would say that if an average Russian went to Ukraine (eastern Ukraine to be exact, western language has more differences) and lived a couple of months he would understand it well. My grandma was from Ukraine and I understood her well when she spoke Ukrainian though I don't know this language.

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I'd say the difference Russian vs. Ukrainian is very similar to Czech vs. Slovak. I, as a born Slovak, can understand virtually everything from Czech. Many books in Slovakia are not translated to Slovak, they are imported from the Czech Republic. Also Czech TV stations are widely spread here, TV dubbing is left in 99% Czech etc.

On the other hand, as the Czech Republic is much bigger market, they usually translate everything, dub everything into Czech and they, after the split of Czechoslovakia, lost contact to the Slovak language. So an average Prague citizen has big troubles to understand Slovak (specially youth, born after 1989).

But as mentioned, it all depends. If someone lives in his village whole life, does not read books, watch foreign movies, meet new people... even a dialect from his own country can be strange to him.

  • I believe you are wrong and the difference between Russian and Ukrainian is much greater. – se0808 Mar 10 at 13:54
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My personal understanding of written languages:

Belarusian: 75%

Ukrainian: 60%

Bulgarian: 40%

Macedonian: 40%

Serbian: 35%

Chech: 30%

Polish: 20%

  • ... and you are? Russian? Just state that. – Mayou36 Aug 14 '18 at 13:27
  • the only language he doesn't understand... should be his mother tongue then haha – Marin Dec 2 '18 at 23:38
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Between an imaginary average Russian speaker and an imaginary average Ukrainian speaker there could be an understanding at a level of basic everyday ideas.

In fact, communication at some more advanced level in most cases is possible thanks to cultural closeness of Ukrainians and Russians.

4

Well, I'd say that we should speak here separately of oral speech and written norm.

As for texts in newspapers, the percent of words that can be understood by russian-only speaker is big enough to understand almost everything. The meaning of words that are uncommon can be understood by context in which they have been encountered. For example, відсотків means percents in Ukrainian, and this word by itself is not familiar to russian monolingual speaker. But if such speaker would read this in phrase "Стягнення відсотків за товарний кредит, якщо відсотки не передбачені договором" he most probably will guess what this is about.

As for oral speech, it is always harder to get both context and correct spelling to make any kind of conclusions. So it is harder in average. Nevertheless, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Ukrainian is pretty much understandable in any case)

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    I would say the opposite, in oral speech intanation says a lot. Definitely English is easier in written form, but Ukrainian in oral. – Anixx Dec 19 '14 at 14:10
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I used to visit Ukraine often for business, and have never had to speak Ukrainian for the simple reason that most natives (at least in the major cities) speak Russian fluently. I've had exposure to Ukrainian in only two ways: legal documents (which I always end up asking my friends to translate for me) and talking to some non-Russophone locals en route from Kiev to Kharkov. In both cases, I noticed that a lot of the more "educated" or technical vocabulary was borrowed directly from Russian, but that much of the basic everyday vocabulary seemed very alien. Moreover, spoken Ukrainian sounded very strange to my ears, although I could understand clusters of words here and there. I felt much like an English speaker trying to understand German.

  • As for technical vocabulary - this is common to most post-soviet countries. Even in Kazan when you hear several Tatarian people speaking using their language, suddenly you can hear автобус, вертолет or электричка words among completely unanderstandible native ones. – Artemix May 30 '13 at 9:05
  • The technical vocabulary actually consists of international words of Greek and Latin origin in most languages, so no wonder. – thorn Sep 25 '14 at 19:42
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    Not always. Taking the words mentioned earlier, while автобус is the same as international autobus, yet вертолёт (helicopter) is the genuine Russian (Slavic-rooted) word. – Matt Feb 12 '15 at 10:53
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I traveled to Kyiv and Berdichev many years ago, and couldn't understand anything when listening to Ukrainians talking to each other. I couldn't even pick the subjects of their conversations. Though when they spoke to me, I could understand quite a bit.

I had somewhat similar experience when listening to Scottish people, but could understand much more, and at least would get what they're talking about.

So I think that Ukrainian is more different than Russian, compared to Scottish vs English.

  • Strange. I have never been to Ukrainian-speaking areas, but when I listen to Ukrainian TV, I understand definitely more than 50%. – Anixx Dec 19 '14 at 14:20
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    @Anixx, could it be that TV language is more standard and well enunciated? – Aksakal Dec 19 '14 at 14:48
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I am a Native Russian speaker, and to me Ukrainian is like country to me. And Serbian is as American English is to Jamaican English. The words are there, but not the same. So it really depends on where you live in Russia, and that is what ultimately defines whether or not you can comprehend other Slavic Languages. But, put it this way: there's a lot more people who can understand Ukrainian west of Novgorod.

  • Yeap! I see so. – behemothus Aug 5 '15 at 11:31
  • If you refer to Jamaican Standard English - there's only slight difference from British and American English laguages, if you refer to Patwa - I have a strong doubt it is understandable to an equal extent as Ukrainian<>Russian, AFAIK it's not understandable at all to a native English speaker from the rest of the world. – Eugene Petrov Aug 7 '15 at 2:32
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Ukrainian and Russian are NOT very similar. And an average Russian person doesn't understand Ukrainian. I write this this as a Ukrainian, who visited Russia.

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There exists a language continuum in Ukraine and Russia, so a person from the Russian South-West (Kuban, Voronezh, etc.) will have general understanding in Eastern Ukraine, but they will definitely understand nothing in Lviv or Uzhgorod.

For "average Russian" and "average Ukrainian" the communication will be definitely impaired, but still possible.

0

Most Russian-spesker understand Ukranian. I do. But just a small part can write. It's about classic Ukrainian, western one. So-calles "суржик" (surzhik, eastern ukrainian coine) is much closer to Russian.

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    So-called "Western Ukrainian" is a kind of "Ukrainian-Polish" dialect somewhat analogous to Eastern Ukrainian-Russian (or Surzhik). Classic Ukrainian is just "Classic" or at least "Central Ukrainian". – Matt Aug 5 '15 at 10:51
  • Not at all. U can call it as yopu want, but that is real Ukranian. "Central Ukrainian" is "unknwon animal". There are only two Ukrainian global dialect group: Eastern and Western. – behemothus Aug 5 '15 at 11:01
  • What dialect then the word "Файно" belongs to? – Matt Aug 5 '15 at 11:03
  • To persanolly yours, probably. I don't know that word ))) Maybe "лайно"? That is common word, "wide-Ukrainian" one.))) – behemothus Aug 5 '15 at 11:28
  • Certainly not mine. uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A4%D0%B0%D0%B9%D0%BD%D0%BE (including links to etimological dictionaries) – Matt Aug 5 '15 at 11:42
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Will answer as ukrainian who perfect speak and write both languages. Ukrainian language absolutely different from russian. Almost every ukrainian can speak and write in Russian, because we all study russian language in school for 8 years. But russian especially from regions far away from ukrainian border-dont understand ukrainian at all.Few examples: dad-papa in russian and tato in ukrainian.Flowers in English, zvetu in russian , kvitu in ukrai ian.I think russian and ukrainian language s have no more then 5% common words.

  • Nadia, your estimate of common words seems to be wrong. There is a great book by Platon Lukashkevich "Charomutije" about languages development. copy is here – taro May 21 '14 at 15:23
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    "Как утверждал Лукашевич, языком первобытного мира был славянский язык." - все, это диагноз. Лучше прочесть популярную статью академика Зализняка "О профессиональной и любительской лингвистике". – Artemix May 22 '14 at 8:51
  • What is "zvetu"? I do not know such Russian word. – Anixx Dec 19 '14 at 14:17
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    -1 for this one, Ukrainian is definitely a separate language but claiming that there's only 5% of common-root words is well, to be mistaken. – shabunc Feb 12 '15 at 15:10
  • Russian like other languages has synonyms. 'папа' ( I guess, it is a calque from French 'papa') is the most common word for the father. 'Тятя' and 'батя' sound closer to Ukrainian ‘тато' According to Wikipedia, Ukrainian and Russian have 62% of common vocabulary, not 5%. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_language – Vitaly Aug 10 '15 at 20:55

protected by shabunc Aug 9 '15 at 20:15

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