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I'm considering learning either Russian or Ukrainian to a very basic level. Basically, to be able to read out loud written text (at least that written in print), and learn a few phrases.

I've already learnt the printed Cyrillic alphabet while learning Mongolian, though I know it'll be different when learning Russian or Ukrainian. I haven't learnt any Slavic languages.

What differences, if any, are there in the difficulty of learning Ukrainian versus learning Russian to a very basic level for a native speaker of English? For example, pronunciation, spelling, and the frequency of loanwords from English. I know that one disadvantage Ukrainian has is that there's fewer resources for that language compared to Russian.

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This is a non-scientific answer from a native Ukrainian. I have deliberately removed everything that is not related to language learning, e.g. explanations, historical references, and my extraordinarily important thoughts. :)

  • UA is arguably more phonemic, hence easier to read. Most prominently, this includes vowels in unstressed syllables; they retain their value more often (than in RU);
  • There are phonemes existing in RU and absent in UA
    • ё [jo];
    • щ [ɕː] (in UA, they are two distinct [ʃ t͡ʃ];
  • There are phonemes existing in UA and absent in RU
    • ї [ji] or [jɪ];
    • ґ / г [g]/[ɦ] distinction;
    • [u̯] as in "ходив" ("walked"/MASC/SNG) — note, it's not phonemic as "в" usually denotes [ʋ] as in "він" ("he") [ʋin];
    • дж [d͡ʒ] and дз [d͡z];
  • UA has more loanwords from ← Polish (which, in turn, has them ← German) and also from ← Baltic languages (← North Germanic);
  • Scientific/professional terminology is quite equal;
  • Colloquial vocabularies are different to a large extent; you can't re-use your knowledge if you've learned one of these languages and then learning another;
  • Indeed, the availability of learning resources differs quite dramatically. Very few resources for UA are there, and, admittedly, this can be a decisive factor for a self-learner.
    • Perhaps, the only famous resource for learning the entry-level Ukrainian is Pimsleur Ukrainian, but mind you, Pimsleur's approach is mostly about speaking/comprehending, which is quite different to ability of reading out loud.
    • This post at Meta.Ukrainian.SE has some useful learning resources;
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From my personal perspective, I can't tell anything about Ukrainian, unless my friends from this country are very articulative in both languages. As Mr. @bytebuster mentioned, there are similarities between these two languages, sometimes "huge". Let's take a look at the most basic example:

Я хочу купить новые штаны. (Russian language.)

Я хочу купити нові штани. (Ukraninian language.)

If you are fluent within the English alphabet, it's not going to take a long time to get comfortable in Russian, Ukrainian ones. Why? Even if there are some differences, they are pretty similar ones. Let me prove that.

The same examples I'll write with the help of English:

Ia khochu kupit' novie shtani. (Russian language.)

Ia khochu kupiti novi shtani. (Ukraninian language.)

As you can see, the Ukrainian is much more closer to your language if we are considering to write it with English letters.

I know, that's very basic sentence, but you get the idea that it would be relatively easier for you to learn Ukrainian than the Russian language. Good luck!

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    Hi, thanks for your answer. I edited out the link because you didn't elaborate on how it contributed to the answer. Feel free to add it back in with some more details as to how it can be used an how it can help. Thanks! – Hatchet Apr 29 '17 at 17:36
  • Hey @Hatchet! Thanks for your editing. The link I provided was video lessons about Russian language alphabet and its most basic pronounce techniques for newbies. The weird part was they videos are available on Chinese website ”比例比例“! :) – user83725 Apr 29 '17 at 23:35
  • Here is kinda manipulation, because real is: [ru] Ia khochu kupitʼ novyie shtany, [ua] Ia khochu kupyty novi shtany. And here is only letters – already it shows difference on i – y line, and, of course, it sounds more differently, not only mentioned things by bytebuster but also, for example [ru] khochu > khachu. – stegetsj May 14 at 6:32

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