Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Getting to Know People through Language Exchange

In Ukraine and don't know how to meet people? An excellent way is by participating in language exchanges through the "Language Exchange Club," organized by U.S. expat John Carragee.

Here is the page for the Language Exchange Club Kyiv, and here is the page showing other cities where something similar is going on.

Basically, these are groups of people who get together somewhere (usually an inexpensive, cafeteria-style restaurant) and speak to each other in a certain language -- English, Russian, Ukrainian, German, French, etc. depending on the group. There is no set topic -- you just have a seat and talk about whatever you feel like.

There is almost always at least one native (often several) of the language being spoken who is present at each meeting. The others are people who have learned the language and need practice. Many have professional or personal ties to the language and the country where it is spoken.

There is a mixture of ages and genders, but perhaps a slight majority of attendees are women, and the most common age group is 20-28. Admittedly, it is somewhat rare to see people over 35 at the meetings.

You can get a bite to eat or a cup of tea or something to snack on while you're talking. In Kiev, most meetings are at the Puzata Khata restaurant near the Kontraktova Ploscha metro stop.

Meetings typically last about two hours, and sometimes people continue afterwards by going to a pub or going on a walk.

If you're learning Russian or Ukrainian, this is a great place to practice. If you're looking for a private language tutor, you might find one here (though not necessarily a professional).

Attendees are generally quite friendly and open to making new friends. You will also meet interesting people from other countries who have also come to Ukraine for some reason.

in my experience it seems this format is best for those who are already at an intermediate speaking level with a working vocabulary of 1000-1500 words and more. If you're a lower intermediate Russian speaker and go to the Russian club meeting, you might well end up talking in English with locals who are eager to practice their English. Or, you might get lucky and find someone who is patient enough to listen to your slow speech and have a conversation with you in Russian.

UPDATE 2016:

The Language Exchange Club is alive and well, though founder John Carragee died of cancer some years back. I actively attended a number of clubs in Kiev through 2011, then created the Tbilisi Language Exchange Club when I moved to Georgia in late 2011. We have the same thing going there now, with 10+ languages meeting weekly or monthly.

The Russian and Ukrainian clubs in Kiev were basically dead when I last visited in January 2016. Nobody goes and they are looking for new organizers. 

I have finally decided to teach others my method for learning and mastering foreign languages at www.FrictionlessMastery.com. Take a look and download or order my book and/or instruction manual.


  1. Thanks for joining us at the Club, Rick. I don't think there are enough days in the week for you to practice all the languages you work on, but we're glad to have you when you do.

    John Carragee
    Co-founder, Language Exchange Club Kyiv

  2. Thanks for the discussion on the language time tables. I'm having a hard time 'keeping at it' and this will help some.
    What sort of visa's do you use to stay there for longer than the current 90/180 timetable?

  3. If you only leave the country at the western border, you can actually come and go without a visa indefinitely at the Schehyni-Medyka crossing as long as each stay is under 90 days, believe it or not. However, if you ever chose to leave at the Boryspil airport, you could get nabbed and fined.

    You can get a private or business visa for a year or longer and technically can now stay up to 180 out of 365 days, but in practice (at least for now) people are being allowed to stay in year-round, as long as they do periodic border runs. This situation might change some day.

    You can get a work permit with an employer. It is a hassle and involves many, many man hours of paperwork both before and after, but it entitles you to remain in Ukraine year-round.

    You can get a student visa if you enrol in some accredited institute of higher education. This also entitles you to remain in Ukraine year-round.

  4. I think I'll try for a perm. res. visa because I'm married to a Ukrainian lady. To put a further glitch in it... She's also a US citizen now and since Ukraine doesn't recognise dual citizenship.. It may be a problem once again.
    We do have property in Kyiv and Cherkassy so we might need to be self employed?

  5. I don't think Ukraine has to know about her second citizenship when you apply for permanent residency through your relationship to her. You can keep getting private visas and hoping you'll be let back in the country each time you leave, but ultimately your goal should probably be permanent residency.