Speaking global: Ukraine’s push for English language proficiency

Ukraine is implementing comprehensive measures to promote English proficiency, providing free language courses and integrating the language into the entire education system starting from kindergarten.

Not long back, we stood up for our dream of a European future. These days, we are all about being innovative and tech-savvy. Despite all the odds, even after February 24, 2022, when Russia started a large-scale war against Ukraine, that dream feels closer than ever. War has brought numerous challenges, but our values have remained untouched. Ukraine has increased its prominence on the global stage and is currently fighting on all possible fronts—from military to educational.

Due to steadfast digital reforms, the Ministry of Digital Transformation led by Mykhailo Fedorov strives to position Ukraine as a forward-thinking country willing to assert its position inside the EU. Alongside visionary digital projects like Diia Ecosystem, which emerged as a model of social change worldwide with 19.7 million users, the ministry has concentrated on developing human capital by launching numerous educational projects in an innovative edutainment format from digital literacy to professional orientation.

Heading the European integration team at the ministry, I want to highlight that Ukraine received EU candidate status in an unprecedented timeframe in the preceding year. The digital sector has a high rating of “well advanced” regarding the implementation of European reforms. This spring, Ukraine also began the self-screening procedure. We have articulated a preliminary vision of the road map of Ukraine’s access to the EU. On November 8, the European Commission recommended opening accession negotiations with Ukraine. All in all, our goal is to seamlessly join the EU Digital Single Market, which highlights our dedication to digital innovation and conformity with European standards.

The need for English

Ukrainians must be able to communicate in a global language to keep up with the pace. Therefore, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has initiated the development of a draft law for further submission to the parliament to vote on granting English the official status of the language of international communication.

The crucial procedure of gradually establishing English as the official language of foreign communication in Ukraine will begin with the law’s approval. To prepare, the government of Ukraine and the Ministry of Digital Transformation—along with partners—have developed a new large-scale language programme with the eloquent name Future Perfect. The initiative of establishing a new language policy is truly unprecedented for Ukraine. Moreover, it is an essential step towards the EU that will enhance the nation’s competitiveness.

The programme has been developed with evidence-based research. According to recent studies, Ukrainian society is conscious of how important English proficiency is. Overall, 68 per cent of respondents have some knowledge of at least one foreign language, and more than half want to improve their understanding. Some 93 per cent of parents want their children to learn and improve their English language skills. There is a strong demand to move forward.

Furthermore, English language skills can lead to higher incomes or economic prospects. In this case, Ukrainians must overcome language barriers to thrive in the labour market. A new baseline study conducted by the Ministry of Digital Transformation along with Jooble in May 2023 illustrates that the median income in Ukraine exhibits significant variations contingent on one’s level of proficiency in English. Enhancing English yields an average 60 per cent increase in salary.

English in action

As such, Ukraine is implementing comprehensive measures to promote English proficiency, providing free language courses and integrating the language into the entire education system starting from kindergarten.

We will introduce tools to stimulate English learning and improve the skills of teachers so that they can teach English more vigorously. Government websites will be available in Ukrainian and English, and officials will also speak English to facilitate better contact with our international partners. Furthermore, TV will feature content in English, and public transportation services will offer foreigners information in English.

The cooperation of three ministries will make it possible to create and implement the programme at the highest educational level with the high-end IT capacities currently available. As an outcome, we will engage the audience in the most efficient and relevant way possible—online, for free, accessible to everybody, interactive, and immersive.

Thanks to the initiative of British colleagues from the University of Cambridge, the online educational platform Empower is already available to all Ukrainian universities. The Promova application meanwhile aims to provide a high-level command of English for free, involving English-speaking teachers in the educational process. Many other similar projects will follow. We also encourage international institutions, educators, businesses, and volunteers to collaborate with the Ukrainian government and counterparts.

A national asset

What are the implications for Ukrainians? To begin with, improved proficiency in a global language is one of the national assets developing the potential of every citizen and the entire human workforce.

Ukrainians will integrate business, science, and culture into the global context, gain access to global information resources, get jobs in the world labour market with higher wages, and the state will attract foreign investment.

The IT industry, a leader in Ukrainian exports, is drawing funds from abroad using English as an essential tool. The worldwide expansion of Ukrainian start-ups and companies like Grammarly, Depositphotos, Betterme, Delfast, Preply, or Reface would be impossible without IT expertise, talented people, and, of course, English.

Historically, it has taken societies from three to five years to transition towards the mass learning and usage of a foreign language. At the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, we are determined to expedite this timeline. This urgency stems from understanding that the future we often perceive as distant is already unfolding before us. The world is still becoming more globalised despite the instability, demographic issues, and threats to global security. Only in unity with the world will we overcome these difficulties and build a robust democratic digital future with effective communication and understanding.

We anticipate that Future Perfect will show how eager Ukrainians are to get involved in this demanding but rewarding process, sharing their expertise and examples of resilience, development, and solidarity with the democratic world.

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