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 Product Review of Beginning Ukrainian

Originally published in Slavic and East European Journal Vol. 51, Number 3, Fall 2007, pp. 655-656.
Reproduced with permission.

Oksana Sachyk’s DVD-ROM for self-instruction in Ukrainian is part of a group of similar materials in the University of Arizona’s Critical Languages Series. Other languages in this series include Cantonese, Turkish, and Kazakh. All volumes use a graphic user interface (GUI) called MaxBrowser, which was developed at the University of Arizona. The interface itself is user- friendly, even for those who may only be marginally computer literate. When the DVD-ROM is inserted, the user is prompted to install MaxBrowser, which only takes a few seconds, and occupies less than 1 MB of disk space. Following installation, the DVD opens to a table of contents in Ukrainian. For those who cannot yet read in Ukrainian, options appear in English in the top right corner. These links include an introduction to Ukrainian language and culture, a brief set of instructions, and a short unit on the alphabet and the numbers one to twenty. Additionally on this first page, one can go to the appendix, in which links to vocabulary lists and explanations of grammatical topics appear in a list organized by parts of speech.

            Beginning Ukrainian has twenty lessons that are thematic in content, much like any contemporary language textbook. For each chapter, the user begins by selecting either “Text and Exercises” or “Video.” The texts in the lessons are dialogues, and the videos in the lessons are the performance of these same dialogues by native speakers of Ukrainian. The text of the dialogues is interactive in that the student can click on any word or sentence in order to hear it in Ukrainian or translated into English. The toolbar and menus at the top of the screen above the dialogue contain many options that permit the user to select how he/she wants to work with the texts. There are several different types of activities designed for practice with the texts, including multiple choice fill-in-the-blank questions, dictation, and flashcards. Following each dialogue, there is a short list of supplementary materials, including links to the grammar topics in each lesson, vocabulary lists, and suggestions for further practice that usually consists of independent exercises such as writing a dialogue or having a conversation or monologue that utilizes the vocabulary and grammar from the lesson.

            The navigation of the lessons is fairly straightforward. The interface will look familiar to users who can use Windows or Mac operating systems and any Internet browser. There is a “back” button located in the top left corner that allows the user to return to the previous screen at any time. The one major problem with the DVD-ROM’s navigation is that it is not always clear when text represents only text and when it is linked to another section. In most Internet browsers, one knows when text is clickable because it is in a certain color, or because upon mouseover, the cursor changes. In Beginning Ukrainian, a mouseover only rarely, if ever, changes the cursor, so until the user gets used to this, it is sometimes difficult to know what is clickable and what is not.

            The makers of Beginning Ukrainian are to be commended, not only for their vision in the creation of a user-friendly electronic resource that may be used either independently or in the language classroom, but also for the modern curriculum, which is in line with the goal of communicative competence, and the efficiency with which the program runs. Beginning Ukrainian is not cluttered with unnecessary graphics that take up large amounts of space, and the videos are compressed to a file size that is small enough to load quickly, but large enough not to compromise the quality of the audio or video. The Ukrainian used in the dialogues and the videos is standard, though the speed at which the speakers perform the videos is slower than that of a normal conversation. This is not unusual in media designed for introductory language instruction, but it might have been worthwhile for the creators to increase the tempo of speech as the lessons progressed.

            For the independent learner of Ukrainian, this program has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that the program contains both video and audio files, as opposed to many textbooks or self-teaching programs that may not have either, or may only incorporate audio files. Additionally, unlike other programs, if the student has a computer microphone, the DVD-ROM allows the student to record his/her pronunciation in order to compare it with that of the native speakers’ utterances in the program. While many of the exercises and activities on the DVD-ROM enable the user to independently assess his/her progress, there are also activities from which the user cannot benefit without the verification of someone who knows Ukrainian, such as the writing and speaking activities in each chapter that are suggested for further practice. With a price tag of almost eighty dollars, it is uncertain, at least to this reviewer, whether or not this program is worth its cost to the independent learner with no previous exposure to the alphabet or to a Slavic language. However, it probably is worth the price for motivated independent learners who already know some Russian or another Slavic language that uses Cyrillic, and who want to speak and understand Ukrainian.

            For the classroom, however, Beginning Ukrainian might be used as the main textbook or provide supplementary material in a traditional undergraduate course in introductory Ukrainian. The price of eighty dollars is competitive with the price of more traditional student materials. Similarly, for those instructors who would like to but are unsure how to integrate technology into their teaching of Ukrainian. this program enables them to do so in a quick and painless way, either through use of the video or the interactive exercises.

            It should be noted that at the time of this review, Beginning Ukrainian was available only for Windows 2000/XP. Potential buyers should take into consideration that it is uncertain whether this will be compatible with the newer Windows Vista.

Rachel Stauffer  University of Virginia

*Please note that Beginning Ukrainian does work with Windows Vista, 7, and 8.