The Ukrainian language is a Slavic language spoken by close to 40 million people around the world (but mostly in Ukraine).
It’s a language that most foreigners don’t bother to learn. Since the Russian language is spoken everywhere in Ukraine and also opens up the doors to a lot of other countries in the world, most people prefer learning Russian instead of Ukrainian.
There are many reasons, however, why you’d want to aim specifically for Ukrainian. One reason is that it’ll permit you to get a little closer to Ukrainian culture and to speak to the Ukrainian people’s hearts rather than their minds. You probably found your way to this article because you’re interested in learning Ukrainian, and for this I applaud you!
This brings us to the main topic of this article. How long does it take to learn Ukrainian?
For an English speaker who’s motivated, has no previous experience with learning languages and who puts in about an hour a day, consistently, it’ll probably take something like 3½ – 4 years to reach the upper intermediary level of the Ukrainian language.
How can I say this so precisely? Well I can’t.
The only acceptable answer to this question that doesn’t rely mostly on guesswork and subjective estimates would be the following: It depends.
But nobody likes that answer, so I’ve tried to find out what kind of variables language study-time depends on, and I’ve made a language learning calculator that I hope you might find helpful. It is, however, partially based on my personal guesstimates, so judge for yourself!
For a better idea of the things that my calculator takes into account (and the things I think are important when figuring out how long it takes to learn Ukrainian) – keep reading!
Does Ukrainian, Itself, Take Long To Learn?
First things first: Is Ukrainian a difficult language compared to others and will it take significantly longer than other languages because of that?
Ukrainian is an East-Slavic language closely related to Russian. While Slavic languages are Indo-European (and therefore related to English) they’re quite complicated especially in terms of grammar. Ukrainian is no exception.
For instance, Ukrainian has a system of 7 cases, which are 7 different “roles” that a noun can take on in a sentence. For each case, there’s a different noun declension.
As an example, in English, we have the genetive case, which deals with property. It works by adding “‘s” to the noun (or name) which is the proprietor of the object described in the sentence. (Tom’s apple).
Now imagine if English had 7 types of grammatical roles where a noun took a different declension (and that they were a lot more complicated than just an apostrophe and an “s”).
Ukrainian pronunciation is also quite challenging for an English speaker. Most consonants have a palatized and un-palatized version, that you need to be able to distinguish, and the language has quite a few sounds that don’t exist in English, as well as some letter combinations (and especially combinations of consonants) that can be really difficult to pronounce.
In terms of vocabulary, Ukrainian is also very different from English. Where languages like French or German have plenty of vocabulary that’ll remind you of English, most of the words in the Ukrainian language are very, very different, and it’ll take some extra time to remember them.
Finally, there’s the Ukrainian, Cyrillic alphabet.
This might surprise you, but the fact that Ukrainian uses a different alphabet from English isn’t a big deal. You can learn to read Ukrainian text in a matter of hours and the Cyrillic alphabet is really nothing to be intimidated by. The biggest challenge in relation to texts is probably learning to write Ukrainian by hand, but for many, it would represent a minor thing of relatively low priority.
So what can we conclude from the difficulty level of the Ukrainian language?
To be frank, there are languages out there that are much easier and which you’d be able to learn much faster than Ukrainian.
The US Foreign Service Institute classes it as a category 3 language which takes students 1100 hours to learn on average (in optimal situations). This is almost twice as long as a language such as Dutch, but only half as much as Chinese.
Realistically, however, you may or may not compare to an FSI student in terms of background, motivation, time put in, and their quite specific classroom-setting, which might mean that 1100 hours would be pretty far from the truth in your case.
So what else should you consider?
What Level Of Ukrainian Are You Going For?
Obviously, learning Ukrainian to an upper advanced level would take a lot longer than just becoming conversational, so to get an idea of how long it’ll take to learn Ukrainian, you’ll need to decide what kind of level you’re aiming for.
When speaking of language proficiency, the CEFR-levels are often used as a way of speaking of the different levels. The CEFR-levels (or the “Common European Framework Of Reference For Languages”) consists of 6 levels.
A1 and A2 are the two beginner stages, B1 and B2 are the intermediary levels and C1 and C2 are the advanced stages.
Many people, when starting out learning a language such as Ukrainian will not have a specific end-goal in mind, or they’ll simply just aim for C2 – a near-native-like level of fluency.
While it’s good to aim high, you ought to consider what kind of level you really need.
Both intermediary levels (B1 and B2) will allow you to converse and communicate with Ukrainians and get by in Ukraine without relying on another language. You won’t be able to speak perfectly and you will not be able to write an academic paper in Ukrainian, but you’ll be off to a great start.
On the other hand, if you learn Ukrainian to be able to work professionally in Ukrainian or to attend university courses, you’ll really need an advanced level of language mastery.
For most purposes, however, I recommend that you go for B1 or B2, and once this goal is reached, you can always progress further.
What difference does it make in terms of time needed?
It makes a huge difference. You could reach a solid B1 in something like 30-40% of the time that C2 would take you, and with a complicated language like Ukrainian, the difference could mean several years!
Are You Experienced With Language Learning?
There are several ways that your previous experiences could benefit you and help you learn Ukrainian faster.
In the best-case scenario, you’re a seasoned polyglot who eats foreign languages for breakfast and who already speaks several languages closely related to Ukrainian. Maybe you speak Russian or Belarusian.
If you’re in this (unlikely) situation, you’ll be able to rely on your knowledge of the related languages, your experience with teaching yourself languages, and your un-questionable level of will-power, drive, diligence, and persistence. You’ll learn Ukrainian much, much, faster than the average person! (Maybe in half the time.)
But even if you’ve just got a little experience with foreign languages, it’ll be helpful. Even an unrelated language, like say, Spanish, will be an advantage because you’ll know what kind of “beast” a foreign language is, how to approach it and how to wrap your head around it.
The last point is actually an essential one because it appears that there is an invisible obstacle that all people learning their first foreign language needs to overcome. They need to accept that English is not the only way to communicate. And I don’t mean this in the direct sense, but rather, subconsciously.
In order to get used to Ukrainian cases, you’ll need to be able to step aside from English for a while and forget what you already know. People who’ve learned at least one foreign language will know how to do this.
If Ukrainian is your first foreign language, though, it’ll take longer. It won’t be impossible, though, and if you’ve got some general, academic experience with doing homework, setting goals and meeting them, reading and digesting books, and so on, it’ll be easier for you.
So how much does your experience influence the total amount of time needed to learn Ukrainian?
That’s a really hard question. But I think it might play a significant role.
How Motivated Are You To Learn Ukrainian?
Okay, this just might be a little too obvious. The more motivated you are to learn Ukrainian, the quicker you’ll get there. You probably figured out as much.
But the reasons for why this is true are a little more varied that what you might assume.
Sure, when you are highly motivated, you’re much more likely to stay consistent and to put in a lot of time, as well as fit bits and pieces of the Ukrainian language into your everyday.
But in addition to that, if you truly love Ukrainian, your brain will be a lot more receptive to learning it too. Whenever you come across an unknown word, it’ll seem appealing to you rather than a difficult obstacle and you’ll instinctively consider it more important than another piece of information without any specific emotional “value”.
So motivation is extremely important for language learning speed. If you want to learn Ukrainian fast, you’ve better love it!
How Much Time Can You Consistently Put In?
Yes, this is another one of those points where you might roll your eyes. It’s obvious that the more you study, the quicker you learn, and the more consistently you do so, the better.
But the thing that I’d like to remind you about is this:
You can study too much, and your time will be wasted, or too little and your incremental progress will evaporate before you get to add it all together.
I’ve found that I get most out of studying something like 45 minutes to 1½ hours a day. If I do more, I get less effective. Studying 8 hours in a single day is – good – but not as great as you might think because you’ll gradually become less and less focused.
An 8-hour study-session might add up to the same value of 4 days of 1½ hours’ study. In other words, 8 hours is the equivalent of 6 hours. (Ok, it isn’t exactly, but you get the point right?)
If you study for, say, 15 minutes a day, you’ll also be less effective. You’d assume that you’d simply need 4 times as many days as someone who’d be studying an hour a day, but in reality, you’d need more than that because 15 minutes is just too little to review yesterday’s lesson, cover new material, exercise and digest it all. You need more.
In addition to finding the right amount of study time to cram into your routine daily, consistency and study-frequency is also important.
If you study only once per week, you’ll forget a lot of things during the following week, and you’d need to either spend a lot of time reviewing once you pick your Ukrainian book back up, or you’ll just carry on and sort of progress aimlessly while forgetting everything simultaneously.
Studying daily is much better – and it’s something that most people are able to achieve. If you study every day, you’ll stay in a continuous flow of learning Ukrainian and each study session will carry on from where the last one ended in a much better way. If you study for one hour daily, you’ll learn a lot faster than if you studied for 7 hours once a week.
And you know what’s even better than that?
Studying several times every day.
You don’t have to do 5 one-hour sessions per day! But if you’re able to study Ukrainian for 20 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during your commute, 15 minutes during your coffee break – and so on, you’ll be getting a huge advantage.
Spreading small study sessions throughout your day will keep your mind constantly tuned-in to Ukrainian. It’ll be a little like living and working in a Ukrainian-speaking environment, but without the risk of burn-out or fatigue, because the study sessions are so short and easily doable.
Spreading your 45 minutes to 1½ hours of Ukrainian studies throughout your day might actually be easier than finding a time-slot during the day for doing it all at once!
Here’s an article I wrote about studying languages on a busy schedule.
Conclution: This Is How Long It’ll Take You To Learn Ukrainian
So how long does it actually take to learn the Ukrainian language to fluency?
As you can gather from the above, the question is almost impossible to answer. It depends not only on the language itself but on various factors that mostly have to do with you, the learner.
My study-time calculator, which I introduced earlier, takes all of the factors discussed in this article into account, but it’s far from perfect. Many of the variables are based on my personal best guesses and assumptions. There are also important factors that it doesn’t take into account, such as your learning style, the quality of your resources, and many other things.
It does, however, spit out a number, which I’d argue, is better than the oft-regurgitated “it depends”.
According to my calculations (read this in the voice of a mad scientist, please):
In the best-case scenario, you could learn Ukrainian to a B2 level in a little less than 2 years. But you need to be highly motivated, very experienced, and study several times a day for a total of one hour daily. This most likely doesn’t fit you.
For someone who’s inexperienced with learning foreign languages, who studies once a day, and who’s reasonable motivated, you’d be closer to 4 years and 9 months.
So which number fits your situation?