Should Ukrainians be learning English?

October 24, 2014 by Alison Tunley

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ukraineWhether you’re an avid follower of the news or not, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last few months not to know that Ukraine and Russia aren’t getting on at the moment.

One of the latest twists in the conflict has seen Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko suggest that English should replace Russian as the country’s second language, hinting that his government could make the teaching of it mandatory in the near future.

A language worth fighting for?

If it happens, the move would see another of the complex weaves that bind Russia and Ukraine unwind. The two countries share many links – not only in their geography, but also history, religion and culture.

Over the years, Russia has had a significant influence on the people of Ukraine and their identity, but according to a recent report in the New York Times, that’s now starting to change.

Suddenly, the younger generation consider speaking Ukrainian to be ‘cool’, while the Russian language is becoming associated with – well – Russia.

It could be argued that language was the issue that sparked the current situation between the two countries, when a failed annulment of a law that endorsed Russian as the second language was used by the Kremlin to take action to ‘protect Russian speakers’.

With this in mind, Mr Poroshenko’s latest comments should come as no surprise. But then, would this be the smartest move for the future of the country’s population anyway?

Would English as a second language make a difference?

During his speech, the politician pointed to government research that suggested there was a link between a Ukrainian person’s English language skills and their quality of living.

He also commented how the ability to speak English was a key characteristic expected of anyone working in Ukraine’s cabinet of ministers and it is something candidates are checked for alongside the process of corruption screening.

As a result, Mr Poroshenko said this has improved the cabinet’s relationship with partners outside of the country.

In addition to teaching English in schools, it has also been put forward that all university professors should know the language as a prerequisite to being offered a job in education.

It could be argued that adopting English as the second language of Ukraine would greatly improve the population’s global employability. According to UNESCO, English is the second most common language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, while Russian sits behind Hindi, Arabic, Spanish and Bengali, and is limited to a very specific part of the globe.

Such a shift would certainly see Ukraine align itself closely with the West, although it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not the move would be widely accepted in areas like Crimea, where 77 per cent of the population named Russian as their primary language in the 2001 census – and where tensions between the countries are at their most strained.

Of course, the Ukrainian semi-conversion to English doesn’t have to be a one-way street. At Rosetta Translation Ltd, we offer Ukrainian translation services that will suit all of your business and legal needs. Get in touch today for a quote for how we can help you.

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