What language do they speak in the ISS?
By definition —or maybe better said, by requirement— the language of the International Space Station (ISS) is English.This means every astronaut or cosmonaut must be able to converse and read —technically and socially— in that language.
In practice however, astronauts (no matter what country they hail from) must also be quite capable with the Russian language. This is because of the current situation regarding launch and landing. The ONLY way to get into outer space and arrive at the space station is by flying the Russian Soyuz rocket/spaceship… at least until this week’s Soyuz abort disaster. We are now at a loss to get there at all.
With your only transportation option being a Russian vehicle, the Russian Space Agency is in a position of power. Unlike “daily living” on the ISS, where procedures are written (facing pages) in English and Russian, everything inside the Soyuz capsule is in Russian only (labels, procedures, etc.). This dictates that astronauts from the US, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency must be able to read, speak, and understand the cyrillic-based language of our slavic partners.
Back when I was an active flier (2007–2010), we were required to reach a level 3 —on a scale of 1 to 5— with our speaking and comprehension, in order to be considered eligible for flight assignment. Obviously, progressing to a higher level is quite desirable. In practice, my crewmates and I (Fyodor Yurchikin and Oleg Kotov) used a combination of both languages; affectionately known as “Runglish!” Fortunately for me, they were both very capable English speakers. In the event of a true emergency, I prayed that my language skills —something most of us take for granted— were “… just good enough to survive.”
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