Lawyer discusses impact and challenges of Ukraine's new English language bill

How the new English language bill will change the lives of Ukrainians
How the new English language bill will change the lives of Ukrainians

The Ukrainian Parliament passed Bill No. 9432, establishing English as an international communication language, NV reported, discussing its impact with Vitaliy Dudin of the NGO Social Movement.

The bill aims to promote the study of English by introducing English language education from preschool through all levels of education and promoting its use in cultural events and informational materials alongside the Ukrainian language.

In transportation hubs frequented by foreigners, announcements and notices must also be presented in English. Emergency assistance must be provided in English or another acceptable foreign language for non-Ukrainian speakers.

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The bill requires certain officials, as listed by the Cabinet of Ministers, to be proficient in English, including:

  • Category A, B, and C officials

  • Governors, their first deputies, and deputy governors

  • Military officers, sergeants, and non-commissioned officers performing military service under contract

  • Middle and senior police officers, senior officers of other law enforcement agencies, and senior officers of the Civil Protection Service

  • Public prosecutors

  • Employees of customs and tax authorities

  • Managers, members of the executive body, members of the supervisory board, and other officials of state-owned enterprises, business entities in which more than 50% of the shares are state-owned

  • Heads of state research institutes

  • Heads of higher education institutions and employees of the education and science sector

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These candidates must pass an English proficiency test conducted by the Ministry of Education. The test can be taken multiple times, but not more than once every four months.

The bill has no immediate effect. The English proficiency requirement for some positions will take effect two to four years after the end of martial law.

Initially, the bill proposed reducing the number of English-language films shown with Ukrainian dubbing to 50% by next year, with the goal of showing all English-language films in their original language by 2027. However, this provision faced public criticism and was removed from the bill.

Instead, a government program will be developed to encourage cinemas to show English-language films and to reimburse those that show English-language films and do not sell enough tickets to cover their costs. The mechanism should be in place within six months of the law's passage.

The aim of the bill is to improve the English language skills of citizens in response to globalization and Ukraine's international relations. Lawyer Vitaliy Dudin believes it will create opportunities for citizens in the labor market, culture, transportation, healthcare, and other areas, making them more competitive both in Ukraine and internationally.

However, he acknowledges that the requirement for certain professions to learn English may be met with resistance.

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"Of course, one can ask whether such an attempt to catch up with European countries in foreign language skills is justified. It seems to me that it will be opposed by representatives of certain professions that perform socially important functions. First of all, we should mention representatives of the education sector, civil servants, and law enforcement officers," he said.

"While I fully endorse the idea of requiring police officers or other mid- and senior-level law enforcement officials to learn English, I'm not sure they really need to know English at the provincial, regional, or district level. The context may be different in different areas. Not all of these law enforcement officers will have relations with foreigners and be involved in international work in any way. So the question may arise as to how appropriate it is."

In the academic sphere, knowledge of English can open up new literature and the opportunity to communicate with foreign colleagues. In this way, Ukrainian educators can increase their contribution to the development of world science.

"I really hope that this law will not have a negative impact on education and science, which play a very important role in Ukraine, especially in terms of creating a national identity. I don't want it to discourage anyone from continuing to work in this field, and I don't want there to be conflicts between educators about the fact that someone's professional skills are valued more and someone's less, so that it doesn't lead to a split between people," he said.

"I hope that this process will be more evolutionary and that positive incentives for learning English will prevail."

Dudin also pointed out that prioritizing English could discourage the learning of neighboring languages, leading to potential discussions.

"For me, as a labor relations specialist, the key issue is the rights of employees: whether jobs will be saved, whether people will lose the opportunity to continue their careers if their language skills are insufficient to meet the requirements that are being put in place," he said, explaining that employees may be fired for being unsuitable for their positions due to insufficient qualifications or incomplete job performance. "The question is whether people who do not speak English well enough will be fired or threatened with dismissal because they do not fully meet the qualification requirements."

Some categories of employees will be encouraged with additional payments of 10% of their salaries if they have mastered English to a level of at least B2.

"We shouldn't expect some kind of miracle from this law — that it will instantly change the context in which we exist and radically increase awareness of the English language. Because its provisions will not come into force immediately, but gradually," Dudin said.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine