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My mom is 100 percent Ukrainian; so is the vast majority of the rest of her family. In fact, as far as I know, my sisters and I as well as my immediate cousins on her side are the only ones who aren’t fully Ukrainian. That never bothered me, because that meant I never felt the pressure to do the things my mom and her sisters did growing up, like Ukrainian camps and dance. Which, don’t get me wrong, looks awesome, but it just wasn’t for me.

What did bother me a little, though, was that my sisters and I are the only ones who didn’t know Ukrainian. My cousins who are more around my age have been speaking it since birth, and their dad can get along in a conversation or two; my younger cousins are still learning English with Ukrainian as their native language, and their dad is just about fluent. When we were little, our grandfather would try paying us to learn Ukrainian, but we never got further than learning the numbers and a couple random words, like milk and telephone. Spoiler alert: telephone is pronounced almost exactly the same.

It grated on me a little, especially during Christmas Eve. My aunt would bring little booklets of Ukrainian Christmas carols, and even though they had a phonetic pronunciation page … well, there was no music with them. So even if we did know Ukrainian, my sisters and I still wouldn’t be able to sing along with my aunt, grandparents and cousins.

Then, once quarantine started, I decided enough was enough: I would learn Ukrainian. I had attempted Duolingo before with Ukrainian during the school year, but only lasted about a month. I knew I wouldn’t have much to do during quarantine, so I decided to try again. And, thankfully, this time went a lot better than my first try.

It was definitely difficult at first, especially since I’d never tried reading Ukrainian before, even though my grandfather has published books in Ukrainian. He’s where I get my affinity for writing from, haha. I’d only ever heard Ukrainian, never read or written it. Learning the alphabet, which is the first three lessons on Duolingo, was a little rocky, but my mom ended up helping once I told her as a surprise.

What made it easier was the fact that Duolingo offers reading, writing, speaking and listening exercises, like a language class in school, so whenever I read a sentence I was also listening to it spoken and so forth. Because of that, I always knew what the words sounded like. I still get a few things wrong from time to time, but it comes a lot more easily now.

Well, a lot more easier pronunciation-wise. It’s only been a little over a year since I started learning, so I can’t really speak or write anything without second-guessing myself, but the last time I spoke with my younger cousins and they used a couple Ukrainian words, I was able to recognize them, which made me feel proud of myself. I spoke to my grandparents about learning this past weekend, since they wanted to know how it was going, and there’s actually a fun story with that. My grandmother asked me a question in Ukrainian, but I both couldn’t hear her and didn’t understand her, so I responded, “I don’t know that much.” She laughed and said I was very good; turns out, she had asked how much I could understand!

I’m hoping to improve a lot over the summer, so maybe if I see my little cousins this year I can get them to quiz me, or maybe they’ll (finally) see me as the Cool One of me and my sisters. Either way, I’m already proud of how far I’ve come, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can go!

Nina Fichera

Geneseo '24

Nina Fichera is an avid writer and reader, and can often be found writing somewhere (usually in her room) with her trusty journal. She is working towards an English degree, with the hopes of becoming an English teacher.
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