Breaking the Language Barrier in Modern Russia

People born in USSR still remember the specifics of learning foreign languages (English included) in the Soviet schools and universities. At that time, foreign languages were regarded as theoretical subjects, and special stress was placed on learning vocabulary and grammar and translation skills or expressing the sense of a foreign language text in the mother tongue. As the director of the school of foreign languages, I encounter the problems of such an approach on a regular basis. Many of our adult students, learned English using the grammar-translation method for many years, but they still haven’t achieved the desired results, namely they can not use the foreign language as an instrument of real communication. What to do in such a case?

Generally, it’s extremely difficult to start working with such students. “Victims” of an old method, they don’t fit any of the known methods of language skills rating. E.g. according to the rating system from «Beginner» to «Advanced» the level of such a student will be much higher in reading, vocabulary and grammar knowledge than in listening comprehension skills. Their writing skills will be quite grammatically accurate, but texts written by them won’t be communicative and they will not fit the requirements of a modern writing culture.

Though I must say that the language barrier typical for most inhabitants of the former Soviet Union became much weaker as a result of the English language becoming a part of daily Russian life. Each resident of modern Russia possesses at least the basic English vocabulary, even if he or she never learned English. We all know the English words from the areas “Kitchen” (barbecue, business lunch, hamburger, sandwich, ice-tea); „Arts“(quilt, producer, trailer, soundtrack, soul); “Communication” (blog, web-site, interface, on-line, traffic); “Finance” (underrating, outsourcing, banking, distribution, trend); “Professions” (art-manager, image-maker, marketer, speechwriter, HR manager) and many others. This is of course only a small section of words which were loaned from English and are used in the modern Russian language. In my dissertation I sorted out more than 500 anglicisms, which we use in speech. Considering that for daily communication we need 2000-2500 words, this number is large.

Traveling abroad, business trips in other countries and co-work with international companies are all important motivational factors for learning foreign languages as an instrument for real communication and for breaking the much talked-about “language barrier”.

Today in Russia we are witnessing a very interesting phenomenon – the collision of two education systems: the grammar-translation method and the communicative method of teaching languages. The goal for learning foreign languages is changing: learning languages not merely for translations but rather for information exchange. I personally think that the situation which is now established in Russia (many loanwords, the opportunity to travel through the world, the tendency to conduct business in English) will enable the educational system of teaching foreign languages to become a hundred times more effective. This in turn will help everybody feel more comfortable – foreigners in Russia, and Russians abroad.

Dmitrij Nikitin

Translated by: Natalya


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