Thoughts out loud about the language dilemma.

I grew up in a family that spoke Russian. It was an obvious choice because (1) my grandma was Russian and (2) my city, Kyiv, was pretty much always bilingual.

I went to a Ukrainian school, so for 10 years, I studied Ukrainian and spoke Ukrainian during classes. However, because I always had tough relationships with my Ukrainian language teachers (except for one), I never wanted to speak Ukrainian.

After graduating, I went to a university where most of my classes were taught in English (and a couple in Russian.) It was easy for me because starting from the age of 6, I hung out with the teams and missionaries from the US.

The language of my country was forgotten. I thought I am not going to be able to ever speak it. Nor I wanted to, because I never identified as someone who is truly Ukrainian. (Frequent questions whether I’m American didn’t help the issue.)

Last March, I discovered that I do know the language, as it turns out. It happened in a lovely city of Lviv in western Ukraine, a true cultural capital of my country. Yet I still wasn’t feeling local

It all changed in winter of 2014. The events demanded that each citizen to choose a side. No one could remain on the fence.

So I have chosen. I am proud to be Ukrainian.


I still prefer speaking Russian language. I grew up speaking it and while I can speak Ukrainian, I cannot convey my thoughts as clearly.

“It will come with practice,” some say. I agree. However, there’s a block within me. Whichever language I used to communicate with a person, that language is locked to that person from then on.

I cannot bring myself to speak Russian or Ukrainian to my American (or other English-speaking) friends.

I cannot speak English to my Russian / Ukrainian-speaking friends.

I am a terrible language teacher because of that and it feels fake to my ears whenever I try to do that.

It has been a trend to switch to Ukrainian language in my country this year. Many have switched completely, even more people started to occasionally use it (me included).

However, I don’t think I will ever be able to completely switch. In every language, it’s a different me.

I am more introverted when speaking Russian.

I am softer when speaking Ukrainian.

I am more extroverted when speaking English.

The languages demand that.

So the real question behind the language dilemma is trying to understand who I am in reality. Am I a loud, laughing extrovert who speaks English? Am I a quiet Russian-speaking introvert? Am I a romantic who prefers to convey thoughts out loud in Ukrainian?

All these personalities are a part of me. Yet they all emerge in their time.

  • Olga Liuta

    Maybe you are a bit of those 3, or even more. Don’t limit yourself – we are free))

    • I am in those three 🙂 My main point was that I cannot just switch my main language from Russian to Ukrainian all of a sudden. Even if I moved to the States and spoke English everywhere, I would still probably speak Russian at home.

  • maybe you are a loud, quiet romantic EngUkRusk. Then again I just prefer the Zee I have come to know whomever she is.

    • Hahaha, Bill, I love this 😀 Loud, quiet romantic EngUkRusk 😀

  • Jessica W

    I know the feeling….especially the personality changes. In English, I’m me. In Spanish, I feel “at home” (listening to the Spanish radio station comforted me one morning on a foggy Chesapeake Bay Bridge). Russian – I also feel at home, when I hear it spoken around me. As for my personalities there, I’m not quite sure (maybe you can share the Russian-me perspective?) In Dutch, I’m definitely more introverted (except for around my language school classmates, where I need to yell to join the conversation!)
    You and I are “doomed” then to speak English to each other! I also noticed the same thing with the Taxtai’s…in 2008, we spoke English to him and not much of anything to her. In 2012, I spoke Russian to her but couldn’t understand him in (normal speed) Russian!!

    • To be honest, I haven’t spoken Russian to you that much (except for occasional phrases whenever we pretended to be language geeks), so I can’t really say what’s your Russian personality like. If anything, you resembled more of a traditional teacher (I think) when speaking Russian. I mean, traditional by local standards))))

      And I don’t mind to be “doomed” to speak English to you 🙂

%d bloggers like this: