A Common Language

Modern metropolitan cities like Moscow have been witnessing a steady rise in English language acquisition, especially among children and young adults. In the corporate world, English is not only a welcomed addition to one’s skill set, but is also quickly becoming a necessary prerequisite for officials in mid and high-level positions. Increasingly, state policies and directives are requiring federal officials like politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats to be able to converse in a foreign language, of which English is preferred and English will also become a requirement for newly hired civil servants starting 2012.

Examples of the steady expansion of English language into Russian life can be found all over Russia. In Sochi, for example, pensioners who volunteered to partake in servicing the upcoming Olympic Games are taking up English lessons. By 2014, thousands of such volunteers will be ready to show their city to visiting foreigners in their native, or at least a shared, language.

For many students of English in Russia, the process of language learning begins in elementary school. “I feel more comfortable understanding English. It helps me browse the Internet and understand games and foreign movies if there is no Russian translation,” said Daniil, a seventh grade student at an athletics-focused school in Moscow that nonetheless keeps English on the curriculum and prepares pupils to speak the language at a high level.

While casual interest in conversational English draws in many new students, Russians are also increasingly turning to English lessons to hone professional skills like maintaining business correspondences and giving presentations. After the financial crisis of 2008, most HR departments and individuals faced sharp cuts in budgets for language courses. Today, however, the English language market is more welcoming to clients and prospective students can negotiate lower fees from both private English tutors and companies alike. Learning English has certainly become more affordable, and the number of choices has grown for people with a stable average income. Demand from society and a wealth of available teaching programs are buoying the market.

Victor Romain, an England native who has been teaching English in Moscow for over 15 years, specializes in teaching language to business professionals in a variety of fields, including the energy sector. “I feel that there is now a range of prices and payment schemes that have been progressively developed to suit all manner of family and corporate budgets that have evolved over the years, especially since the mid 1990s,” he said. 

Corporate employees are learning English because it has become the lingua franca of an increasingly globalized world. With Russia playing an important role in the world economy and entry to the WTO pending, corporate staff will have to speak the world’s leading business language to handle finances, legal and medical correspondence, and negotiations. In fact, the range of English courses available now have become hyper-specific to a number of industries, and there are English courses for professionals in the nuclear and energy sectors, as well as advertising, marketing, hospitality and even aviation, said Romain.

Senior Property Consultant in Global Corporate Services with CB Richard Ellis Nadya Pushkina added: “Since we are working for an international company dealing with global clientele, we have to carry out lots of negotiations and correspondences in English on a daily basis. Knowing the language well helps immensely.”

Yet for many prospective students, one question remains: British or American English? “In my experience I feel that British English is more in vogue than American English. Standard British pronunciation is rather more clipped and musical, timed and rhymed, and therefore easier to understand,” said Romain.

Many elite Russian parents want their children to learn British English right from childhood and send them to England for further studies. An experienced teacher of English, Mariana Blinova, added that when it comes to learning English, far more should go into a student’s development than just lessons on vocabulary and grammar. “I don’t just teach the language, but also share my experience by giving some practical tips and an understanding of cultural aspects,” she said. “A person can speak a language perfectly but a lack of understanding of the peculiarities of cultural behavior can give rise to misunderstandings or even problems.”

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