How to use a translator on a budget?
February 15, 2011 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Lost in Ukranian Translation: How can I best utilize a Ukranian to English Translator for only portions of a trip?

I will be traveling to the the Black Sea Coast (Odessa and then down to Crimea) for a 1.5 weeks this summer. During this time, I would like to hire a translator to help ease the substantial communication barrier (I only speak English and there appears to be minimal English spoken on the Black Sea Coast). I really don't feel the need for a translator with me the entire time I'm there - especially on days I'm just lounging on the beach. But, I feel trying to order food at a restaurant with only the Cryllic alphabet would be a major crapshoot without a translator.

So hivemind, what activities can you think of that would be best to have a translator involved? FWIW - I plan on spending time at the beach, checking out some musuems and general sightseeing around the towns.

Does anyone have experiences with my situation (hiring a translator for bits and pieces of the trip) that they'd like to share?
posted by VT@MU to Travel & Transportation (4 answers total)
Could you learn basic phrases and names for common food items, so that you could get by on some days on your own? And then hire a translator for things that might be especially complicated, maybe someone who could also act as a guide for some local sights or a fixer for some local experience you want to have?

It seems to me (though I am a word geek) that the Cyrillic alphabet isn't so hard to learn that you couldn't figure it out enough to decipher menu items, road signs, etc. I have no familiarity with it or any Slavic language, yet I can usually pick out words like "Kiev" or "Starbucks". It seems that you have plenty of time to get at least a degree of familiarity with the writing system.
posted by Sara C. at 7:27 PM on February 15, 2011

The Black Sea coast and especially the south of Crimea are tourist areas, but the majority of those tourists are Russian and bargain-hunting Westerners are uncommon. Aside from the capital, I wouldn't expect the locals to be especially accommodating of non-Slavic foreigners. The sound inventory of Ukrainian is mostly incompatible with English: even if you learn a few set phrases and items from a guidebook, your pronunciation will not in all likelihood be understandable.

That said, in most places you'll probably be able to find some young adults with a high school command of English (in previous generations the most common foreign language taught was German).

Where might knowledge of Ukrainian or Russian be helpful? Almost anywhere that involves a transaction. Buying rail tickets. The trolley. Getting directions. The aforementioned restaurants. Probably your hotel or homestay.

I know you haven't asked about destinations, but do check out the Chekhov house museum in Yalta and some of the palaces, like the Vorontsov or the Swallow's Nest. No guide needed, unless you want to take in a tour.
posted by Nomyte at 8:06 PM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: I think you're overstating the difficulty in finding English speakers - most people under 30 in Odessa and around the Crimea (especially during summer season) will have at least a reasonable knowledge of English. Learn the Cyrillic alphabet, which shouldn't take more than a good day of study and repetition - the best way to learn is simply think of random words in English and write them in Cyrillic, and transcribing some Ukrainian / Cyrillic words into English script.

The Lonely Planet Ukrainian Phrasebook would be worth the less-than$10 it costs; worst case scenario, you can just point at a phrase instead of trying to pronounce it correctly. But something like Ukrainian Pimsleur CD (for under $35) would be well worth it. Like most eastern Europeans, Ukrainians are about 300 times nicer if they can see that you've made an effort.

It's sort of crazy to hire a translator for any aspect of a beach vacation, in my view, unless you wanted to do a good tour for a few hours.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments everyone!

Dee Xtrovert - I was unaware that most people under 30 would have a decent grasp of English (most books I read said English is "very limited"), so I guess a translator really wouldn't be that necessary once I study the Cyrllic alphabet a bit.

Nomyte - thanks for the cool suggestions!
posted by VT@MU at 5:38 PM on February 16, 2011

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