The other bilingual program

Learning Ukrainian is more than just learning another language

Edmonton—What is it like to be Ukrainian? More and more Edmonton children are finding out the answer to that question and more.

Many of them don’t even have an ounce of Ukrainian blood, but all are welcome at schools that offer a Ukrainian bilingual program — schools such as St. Matthew.

“If everyone was the same language then it would be really boring and nobody would be different,” says Matthew Galas, an 11-year-old Grade 5 student at St. Matthew Catholic School.

Roxanna Prystasz, 11, says knowing how to speak another language helps her be an individual among her friends and peers. “It’s real neat because some people that I know don’t know other languages besides English.” But Roxanna says she and her friends teach each other how to say things. “For me, Ukrainian is a very special language. All the kids in my dance class know other languages and we can trade languages.”

Both Matthew and Roxanna go to a bilingual school where some of the students learn all their subjects in English and other students learn half of their subjects in English and half in Ukrainian.

Brittany Klimchuk, 8, is in Grade 3 at the same school. She says learning Ukrainian is fun because it’s not just about learning the language. It’s also about learning the culture.

Students celebrate Ukrainian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, by returning to traditions from Ukraine. They learn how to put together a traditional Easter basket, do embroidery, sing songs, make pysanka (Ukrainian Easter eggs). Some of the older students even write to pen pals in Ukraine who know how to speak and write Ukrainian much better. Roxanna says she learns a lot from her pen pal. “They’re just so much better at speaking and writing Ukrainian than we are.”

Since her family speaks a lot of Ukrainian to each other, Brittany is glad she knows how to speak it. “If I couldn’t, they would probably talk in Ukrainian all the time and keep secrets.”

Roxanna agrees it would be hard on her if she didn’t know how to talk to family members in their own language. “My family all speak Ukrainian at home so if I didn’t know how, I’d really get lost.”

James Sousa, 9, says things at home can get pretty confusing. Half his family speak Ukrainian and the other half speak Portuguese. He says learning Ukrainian will be a big benefit to his future. “In your really old age you can talk to your wife.”

He says knowing a couple of languages also helps him learn other languages, such as French, faster.

But there are rules when you know a language others around you don’t know how to speak.

“Our teacher always tells us not to speak it in front of kids who don’t know how to speak it. They’ll feel insulted,” says Roxanna.

Even though these four kids have family who speak Ukrainian, it was still very difficult for each to learn how to speak it themselves.

All four agree on the most difficult thing about being in a bilingual school: “Learning the language.”

But now that they know it, they can use it to their advantage and it becomes a part of who they are.

“It’s part of the family. It goes down generations,” says Matthew.

“It’s like a family tree,” says Roxanna.



– Bilingual means a person is able to speak, read and or write in two different languages.

– The Ukrainian Bilingual Program in Alberta just celebrated its 25-year anniversary.

– The program is offered in 12 schools in Edmonton, Sherwood Park and Vegreville from kindergarten to Grade 12.

– Art, music, social studies, physical education, health, home economics, drama, religion and Ukrainian language arts can all be taught in Ukrainian.

– You don’t have to be Ukrainian to be in the bilingual program.

– There are 1,072 students currently enrolled in the program.

– In the last 25 years, a total of 4,054 students have passed through the program.

Here are some of the symbols used to decorate pysanka eggs and what they mean. Try decorating your own Easter egg using colourful markers or crayons with some of these designs.

– Dots, spots or stars represent the tears of the Virgin Mary.

– Sun stands for good luck, life, warmth and growth.

– Flowers mean love, charity and good will.

– Evergreen trees are for eternal youth and health.

– Animals mean good health, wealth and prosperity.

– Ribbons signify never ending, everlasting life.

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