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I am currently a college student and taking Ukrainian (elementary/intermediate). This is my first time learning any Slavic language, and I'm often asked why I chose to learn Ukrainian rather than Russian. It's a variety of things, but really I intend on gaining proficiency in both. However, I do want to start beginning my path on learning Russian as well. However, I wanted to ask those of you here that may understand both or are bilingual in other Slavic languages whether or not it would be wise to learn Russian concurrently with Ukrainian, or if I should wait till after this course in Ukrainian and then take Russian.

I was considering doing my "introduction" to Russian via self-study, rather than enrolling in a formal course. And then probably taking Intermediate Russian as an actual course.

With that said, I hear many different opinions on how different the two languages are. Granted, I know grammatical rules differ a decent amount. But for me the hardest thing going into Ukrainian was learning to write and the logical structure of sentences. So I feel like those would be similar in Russian, and that I wouldn't be nearly as lost going into that language. Anyways, for someone that is familiar with Ukrainian (in your opinion) what would a prospective timeline be to also gain a beginner proficiency in Russian, as compared to someone taking Russian for their first Slavic language?

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I'd say it depends on how you would react to a large number of minor differences. The way dative case endings change the preceding consonants in Ukrainian but not in Russian, the -тся/-ться distinction that Russian has and Ukrainian doesn't, and lots more like that. You might find it intellectually pleasurable to stay alert and always remember which is which, or you might be overwhelmed and annoyed by them. I personally prefer to stick to the one I'm learning, and take any incidental progress in neighbouring languages as a bonus, without trying to rush it. I won't insist it's the best approach but I feel that every language requires a significant period of undivided attention.

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  • But do you speak both?
    – Pacerier
    May 17 '17 at 20:53
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I am Ukrainian and yes I am bilingual. From what language start learning — it's dependent from your goal. If you need it for business or trip — you don't need to learn it both, just learn Russian language and anybody could understand you in any Slavic country. If you want be professional in both — it's don't matter from which to start. They have similar logic. Of course every day vocabulary is different. But the Ukrainian language grammar is more simple. In any case you need learn one language and then move to other. Because they have very close word set and partially different grammar — when learn it both in one time it would be very hard remember what rule or word from what language.

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  • Is the inverse true too? After mastering Ukrainian can people from the other countries understand what you're saying?
    – Pacerier
    May 17 '17 at 20:55
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    No, historically it works only in one way.
    – AeroSun
    Jun 27 '17 at 11:05
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It depends on your goal. If you need the two languages for doing business, you can take them at once. You would learn them faster; the languages will probably be mixed up a bit, but that is pretty common so no one would care.

If the point is to speak and write correctly in at least one of the languages, then wait a little before starting the second one.

Since the languages are similar, have similar scripts, and many speakers are bilingual, it makes a really hard task for your brain to separate them into two separate structures if you are learning them at the same time.

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Ukrainian pronunciation is easier for an English speaker to grasp, so in that way I have always thought it would be an easier language to pick up in respect to Russian.

My sense is you would be wise to get on your feet with Slavic grammar and sentence structure through the Ukrainian course, and focus on Russian separately. Self-study should be sufficient given the significant amount of transferrable knowledge (sentence structure included), but the softer sounds—not to mention new vocabulary—will add a new level of complexity.

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  • Interesting, I've always been told that Russian has fewer grammatical complexities compared to Ukrainian, with respect to the softening of sounds and importance of stresses. But your answer certainly helps, and I agree with you. I hope that the transferable knowledge will help ease things once I begin self study.
    – Harlan
    Feb 22 '15 at 20:53
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I live in Ukraine and speak both languages. Russian and Ukrainian languages are very close. It sometimes is advantage when you want to learn one of these languages while knowing the other, but in some cases it is actually disadvantage. Similarity actually is confusing.

In general learning multiple languages at the same time is a bad idea. (I can't put a link, I can't find it, but I read scientific paper suggestion that you should learn one language at a time, but you can practice languages you already know).

My suggestion is to learn Ukrainian and when you are in a phase that you can have a small talk, you can start Russian.

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Both languages are pretty similar. In my opinion, they have almost equal grammar. The main difference is everyday life vocabulary.

Russians and Ukrainians very often can understand each other without any training. There also a lot of people in Russia and Ukraine, who speak surzhyk, which is mix from both languages. In real, there is no very hard border between the languages.

So, if you interested in Ukrainian an Russian languages, learning one of them would very help you to learn another.

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Learn one language at a time.

The risk of mistaking which language something you learned belongs to is less.

But, the real advantage is you will learn the first language, or the second language much, MUCH, better than if you mix the two. If you mix the two, you are likely to not have a preferred language. You might feel that as a polyglot that is okay, but the listener you are speaking with will probably be a diglot, not a polyglot.

Monolinguals, diglots, and polyglots all think differently from each other.

So, while you might feel you are the same as a diglot in Ukraine, the truth would be your third (fourth) etc language structure could interfere with your being understood.

But, you would probably not notice it ....

My 2 cents.

PS - move to Ukraine, it is a WONDERFUL place to live.

Wayne Luvsiesous

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if you learn Ukrainian language then you can understand about 60% Russian language(just need to know basics of Russian language for that)

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