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 Product Review of Intermediate Ukrainian

Originally published in Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue canadienne des slavistes Vol. 53, Number 1, March 2011, pp. 120-121.

Reproduced with permission.

Publication website: Canadian Slavonic Papers

Oksana Sachyk. Intermediate Ukrainian. The University of Arizona Critical Languages Series. CD-ROM and DVD-ROM courseware. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009.

This DVD-ROM is an extremely useful addition to the corpus of texts and electronic materials currently available for the teaching and learning of Ukrainian. As its title indicates, it is not for beginners, but for learners who already have a solid grounding in the language. That being said, the way in which the DVD has been designed ensures that users who are a bit rusty, and who might not feel comfortable in a second-year taught class, will be able to use it with confidence.

The first point to make is that the Ukrainian course contained on this DVD is exceptionally easy to use. The main menu page lists the central core of the course package—twenty language lessons or chapters, each developed around a particular theme: getting acquainted, walking around Kyiv, playing sports, and the like. Also on that page are clickable headings for a brief introduction, instructions, a tutorial video, and a grammar index. The last item is handy for all users, but especially so for those who might need more grammatical information, as it lists all major grammatical topics (clickable for full explanations) and also indicates to which lessons they are most relevant. To enter the lessons themselves, users simply click on the button for the desired lesson, whereupon they are given two choices—first “Text and Exercises,” then “Video.”

Immediately after clicking on “Text and Exercises,” users are presented with a text in dialogue form that deals with the topic at hand. Words and phrases are underlined: moving the cursor over an underlined word instantly provides information at the bottom of the screen (specifically, grammatical information and alternate means of expressing similar notions); clicking on an underlined word allows the user to hear it pronounced slowly and clearly. When the audio icon at the top of the text is clicked, a video of the whole dialogue spoken at normal speed appears in the top right. At the bottom of the text there are numerous clickable subjects: grammar points (as they occur in the text; clicking produces, for example, an explanation of vocative forms); “expanding your vocabulary” (phrases, lexical nests); "further practice” (suggestions for grammatical exercises, writing exercises). In the vocabulary section, new words are pronounced when the user clicks on them. When listening to individual words or phrases, users can record their own voice and play it back, comparing it with the recording of a native speaker (the present reviewer had trouble with this part, but the trouble may have been due to the particular machine that was used). The “further practice” section is very useful for those who might consider utilizing this package in connection with a taught course. The suggested activities, for example, lend themselves well to homework assignments: identifying case forms, practising conjugations, and writing sentences or dialogues along the lines of those found in the particular lesson being covered. There are also many prepared exercises on the DVD, including exercises of the fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice variety, dictation, and the like. Such exercises can be profitably used both in taught courses and for self-instruction.

Returning to the main or title page of the lesson, one can click on “Video” in order to view only the video clip of the dialogue mentioned above (Incidentally, the video and audio quality is excellent.), i.e., without the text appearing on the screen at the same time. The lessons are designed in such a way that users can read the text first (preferably without the audio and the video) and thus focus on, understand, and acquire the lexical and grammatical information contained in a given text. One can then read the text while listening to the recorded version. Finally, one can watch the video separately. Pedagogically this is sound and allows for a step-by-step acquisition of new linguistic material. The only (minor) drawback to having the video and the text on the same page is that the video screen (about a quarter of the computer screen) covers part of the printed text. This means that that part has to be learned well before one proceeds to the video.

I cannot conclude the present review without mentioning the Ukrainian used in this language package. The language variety one hears on the DVD is the standard, Kyiv-based language, which differs somewhat (especially in the sound system) from that of more western regions like L'viv. The long history of contact between Ukrainian and Russian—especially, but not exclusively, during the Soviet period—has left its mark on this form of the language. Learners of Ukrainian who are taught that v is pronounced as [w] before a following consonant or word-finally will not hear this feature in the language package under review. One hears rather a distinct [v] or [f] as in друзів and будівля, i.e., [druz'if] and [bud'ivl'a], respectively. This is a phonetic characteristic of the current standard, and one should not interpret it as a “bad” or somehow “Russian” feature (It merely reflects Ukrainian reality!). There are a few (admittedly, rare) instances of one speaker’s words sounding as if pronounced with some slight Russian influence. For example, the о in православна церква can be heard as [a] in the course of a dialogue (but, when one clicks on the term individually, it is slowly and clearly pronounced [o]); in у соборі, the final vowel can be heard as a reduced vowel akin to schwa ([ə]), like that heard in Russian (again, however, clicking on у соборі yields a clearly audible [u sobor‘i]).

Apart a very few minor drawbacks, I find this package extremely well designed and produced. It should be a terrific addition to what has thus far been available to students and teachers of Ukrainian. I recommend it highly and congratulate its author and producers.

Stefan M. Pugh, Wright State University