"We're in Business Now": A New Era for Ukrainian Language Learning

April 1, 2022
ukrainian vocabulary words on tablet screen

With Russia's unprovoked war raging in Ukraine—a war "justified" by the Kremlin on the basis that Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same—learning and using the Ukrainian language has become a tool to counter Russian influence and take a stand against claims that Ukraine should be part of Russia.

The Los Angeles Times recently examined the increasing interest in learning and speaking Ukrainian, in the United States as well as in Ukraine, highlighting digital resources such as DuoLingo and Ukrainian Lessons Podcast, as well as traditional classroom programs, such as courses taught by Volodymyr Dibrova at Harvard. Dibrova reflected on the role the Ukrainian language is playing in the strengthening of the Ukrainian language and as a tool in the ongoing hybrid war.

“We are witnessing right now, really, the birth of a modern nation,” said Volodymyr Dibrova, a Ukrainian writer and a preceptor who teaches Ukrainian at Harvard University, who said the language was entering an “Elizabethan period” of rejuvenation and improvisation: the more widely it’s embraced, the more lived-in and rich the language becomes.

“Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian language was more like a museum item. It’s on the wall: ‘Look, it’s a sword, what a beautiful sword,’” Dibrova said. “But now it’s a tool, it’s an active tool, it’s taken off from the wall, it’s used actively, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not, there’s dirt on it. But we’re in business now.”

Roman Koropeckyj, who teaches at UCLA, also noted a trend:

“There are moments in recent history where you see this massive uptick in learning language because language is in the news,” Koropeckyj said, predicting heightened interest in Ukrainian “for the foreseeable future.” Not only that, the unpopularity of the invasion “might change the way people go to study Slavic languages, and Russian may have lost the cachet that it’s had up until now for decades.”

Furthermore, the article outlines a huge surge in online Ukrainian language learning, illustrated by stats from several platforms:

  • Duolingo saw Ukrainian language learning increase by 577% overall and by 2,677% in Poland; Ukrainian moved from the 33rd most-popular language to 13th most-popular on the app (between February and March 2022)
  • Mondly has seen a 900% increase in users trying to learn Ukrainian

The full article can be read on the LA Times website.

Learning Ukrainian: More Resources

In addition to teaching Ukrainian language courses during the fall and spring semesters at Harvard University, Volodymyr Dibrova offers the unique "Ukrainian for Reading Knowledge" course each year during the Harvard Ukrainian Summer Institute. This course is an intensive 8-credit course designed to empower students with the skills necessary to read news and other sources in Ukrainian.

See our Teaching and Studying Ukraine: List of Resources for more online language-learning choices.