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Master Russian on lockdown

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Master Russian on lockdown


Sergey Vinogradov

Photo credit: new.дзержинец-балахна.рф

Russian language does not have days off. It is not afraid of pandemics. And sometimes it benefits from self-isolation of those who seek to master it. Having worked online for months, Russian language courses around the world are setting to actively accepts students into offline groups.

The Russkiy Mir contacted teachers from different countries and found out that the lockdown and experience in e-teaching opened up new opportunities for specialists in Russian philology. Some of them conceived the idea to develop a system of electronic textbooks and globalize the programs; others initiated active engagement of lecturers and guests from all over the world for their online classes, and also mastered advanced training for teachers in virtual environment.

Kind of thirst

Self-isolation is a chance to deliver plans and make long-nurtured dreams come true. During the lockdown, seeking for positive energies was encouraged in Russia, as well as throughout the world. For some people, a few free weeks were seen as an opportunity to tidy up an apartment, fix a vacuum cleaner, or learn to play the piano. And others finally got their start in mastering a foreign language, which they had not managed to find time for.

Some countries have seen increasing number of those who wish to start speaking Russian. For example, Russian language courses were resumed in the Damascus representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo for the first time since 2013. Classes are intended for both Syrians and children of Russian compatriots. Nikolai Sukhov, the head of the representative office, said that it had been necessary to open the courses and emphasised that the demand for learning the Russian language is a “kind of thirst”.

The record number of those wishing to check their level of proficiency was seen in Greece. More than two hundred students from fourteen Greece cities registered for assessment arranged by Saint Petersburg State University (SPbU).

Furthermore, during the pandemic, there were many online conferences on e-teaching of Russian language held for specialists in Russian philology around the world. Teachers from dozens of countries took part in them.

Electronic textbook of Russian

Ekaterina Kudryavtseva, a renowned philologist from Germany, an author and participant of many projects for bilingual children, told the Russkiy Mir how she had spent the months of self-isolation.

Number of colleagues who need training in e-teaching has grown,” she said. “My classes with children and teenagers are still the same, as I have been working online for quite some time.”

According to the philologist, the new learning reality emerging after the pandemic can have a positive impact on promoting Russian language throughout the world. In particular, it will attract new students from various countries. Potential students should be offered high-quality teaching that involves application of modern technology, such as electronic textbooks.

An electronic textbook is not a paper manual in electronic form, but an integral system that allows a student and a teacher to work effectively on computers, says Ekaterina. - The quality of electronic materials is very important, starting with design. They should be attractive, enjoyable, with pleasant environment and easy navigation. During the self-isolation, many people were able to see for themselves that online learning is no worse than offline one if a teacher is competent. Basically, the world was gradually moving online, it’s just that the pandemic made it happen faster. There are more people interested in such lessons - adults, children, students. I know that my colleagues experienced an increase in the number of students.

Our Dear Rus’

The pandemic convinced Irina Chistyakova, the principal of the Russian school No.1 in Marbella, that this Spanish resort city needs to have comprehensive courses of Russian language for local residents. 

We have friendship relationship with the city hall, and they are also interested in such courses, - commented the member of the board of the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots, who coordinates activities in Support for the Russian language in Spain and Andorra project.

During self-isolation, Irina Chistyakova was among those who organized of two large conferences dealing with activities of Russian schools and digital platforms. Also, the Our Dear Rus’ project is being actively implemented. More than seventy meetings have been held with children's writers, historians, teachers, museum workers and other interesting guests as a part of it. A series of lectures on the history of Russia was launched. They started with early Slavs, and in a few days’ time, there will be a lecture about Nicholas II and the revolution.

We sent e-mails to our friends throughout the world, and children from countries of Europe, Asia and Africa joined us, she says. – There were many children who did not speak Russian very well, but wanted to listen to our lectures and participate in meetings with interesting people. We asked our guests to adapt the lectures for such children so that they had better understanding.

A series of lectures on the culture and traditions of the peoples of Russia was very popular; the best specialists from Russia were engaged in the project. 

A representative of Kabardino-Balkarian State University spoke about Kabardian people, a lecturer from Kazan spoke about the Tatars, says Irina. 

- Lectures on geography were given by Ivan Kolechkin, the finalist of the Teacher of the Year competition in Moscow.

According to the principal of the school in Marbella, the e-learning development has demonstrated expansive opportunities to engage leading experts in various fields in teaching. And Russian compatriots in Spain intend to evolve this experience.

The lockdown in Spain was launched on March 16, and the day before we had transferred our entire school online — from preschool classes to high school students,” says Irina Chistyakova. “The lessons were very successful. There were some challenges for teachers, as some of them did not have required computer literacy. But the teachers took the courses, and everything worked out.”

From Jordan to North Korea

Elena Shestova teaches Russian to children in the Rodnik Cultural Center in Irbid, Jordan. About sixty students aged from three and a half to 17 come for learn Russian language and culture. Elena Shestova, who became the head of the Coordinating Council of Organizations of Russian Compatriots in Jordan several months ago, told the Russkiy Mir that at the height of the pandemic, a curfew had been announced in the country, and bread had been delivered to homes by military vehicles. But people found time and energy to learn Russian, despite sharp slowdown of internet connectivity. For example, classes at the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Amman were not closed.

We introduced reading lessons so as not to be limited to textbooks alone, said the teacher. - Children read, for example, Pushkin and begin to ask questions - what is this word, what does it mean? So their vocabulary builds up.

– Many of the children who attend our classes come from mixed families, where the father is Arab, and the mother is from Russia, or a native of Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine and other neighboring countries, says Elena. - Some of the mothers have to bring their children to classes secretly, because their husbands are against it and do not allow speaking Russian.

According to her, older people know quite a lot about Russia, because they remember well the close ties their country had with the Soviet Union. Younger generations know much less about Russia. Nevertheless, Jordanians come to the Rodnik Center to study Russian for admission to universities in Russia and Ukraine (mainly medical ones), though the country has built a real cult round American and European education.

There might be a cult or not, but the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), the leading university of Vladivostok, has registered an increase in number of foreign students over the last few years. They come from all over the world, because here they find education of high quality and relatively cheap cost. During the self-isolation period, Alisa Shamray, a teacher of pre-university courses at the Center for Russian Language and Culture of FEFU, taught students from China, North Korea and Colombia.

Some of the students were able to go back home, the rest stayed in Vladivostok and lived in dormitories, the teacher told the Russkiy Mir. - The program did not change, but we, the teachers, had to adjust. It took me five to seven hours to prepare for three-hour long lessons. What are the differences? Some of my colleagues really missed personal communication with students, but I did not feel like that. You know, I became firmly convinced - if a student is motivated and wants to study, then s/he will gain knowledge online as well.

According to Alisa Shamray, at the outset of the pandemic, some students of Russian language courses gave up their studies, took away documents and fees, and left for their countries. But after a couple of months they asked to get reinstated and then joined the online classes. she even had to make additional groups.

It is still unclear when and how Russian language teachers around the world will start a new academic year. But those who spoke to the Russkiy Mir have no worries in that respect - they do believe that Russian language is in high demand, so they will certainly have a lot of students.

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