Crisis pushing more Russians to learn English and Chinese

The crisis has changed language learning motivation in Russia.

The crisis has changed language learning motivation in Russia.

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Russia has become the 10th biggest country in the world in terms of online language learning, with English and Chinese growing the most. Market insiders attribute the trend to a change in motivation resulting from the economic downturn.

The economic crisis is prompting more and more Russians to learn foreign languages. In 2015, the Russian market for commercial foreign language learning reached $450 million, according to international analytical company Ambient Insight.

The biggest growth can be seen in the online segment. In terms of online language learning, Russia is the 10th biggest market in the world, according to data that RBTH has received from Russia’s biggest online language school Skyeng. The top five countries on that list are China, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and Brazil.

Effect of online learning

“One interesting pattern is that even in countries with severe economic downturns like Brazil, Venezuela, Finland, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and Greece, the revenues for digital English language learning products have remained steady so far,” reads a report by Ambient Insight released in June 2016 and covering 120 markets (overall, according to Ambient Insight, over the last five years the global market of online language learning rose nearly four-fold, to $2.8 billion.)

“The Russian online education market is going through a period of explosive growth. According to experts’ forecasts, it will grow by up to 25 percent a year,” said Anna Berkovich, the owner and manager of a network of foreign language schools, Alibra School, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Kazan.

Moscow businessman Alexander Laryanovsky also entered the online language learning market five years ago, on growth expectations. Previously, he had run a project to expand the Russian search engine Yandex to the Turkish internet market.

Laryanovsky launched an online school, Skyeng, which offers customized language courses via Skype. It is now the biggest online school in Eastern Europe, currently having 4,700 students and employing 490 teachers.

“Over the past 12 months, the number of our students tripled,” said Anna Gaivan, head of Business Development & Communications at Skyeng.

Yet, despite easy access to language courses on the internet, online learning has one serious downside, according to Anna Berkovich – low motivation among students. Statistics show that up to 90 percent of people do not complete an online course. That is why one popular recent trend is to offer so-called blended learning, a combination of online and offline formats, she explained.

Business English

Another interesting trend is the fast-growing demand in Russia for business English and other specialized branches of the language, Ambient Insight analysts observe. For example, Russian state agencies are currently the world’s biggest buyer of a niche product: aviation English. According to the report, there are 15 state-owned airlines in the Russian Federation, and they buy this specialized digital learning product for their personnel.

The crisis has changed language learning motivation in Russia, said Anna Berkovich: “Business-themed courses are enjoying increasing popularity because during a crisis, knowledge of a foreign language is one of the ways to boost one’s competitive advantage on a sluggish labor market,” she explained.

Anna Gaivan points to a poll conducted among Skyeng students, showing that 2016 saw a sharp rise in demand for English for work purposes: 59 percent of students said they are learning the language for professional reasons. By way of comparison, in 2015, only 48 percent of the school’s students said they were learning foreign languages for career and professional development, according to the school website.

Another important recent trend is the rise in interest in Oriental languages, especially Chinese, explained Berkovich. According to her, in 2014, Chinese became the fourth most popular foreign language in Moscow schools.

Interest in the Chinese language is being further spurred by Chinese employers, who have started coming to the Russian market for cheaper labor. According to leading Russian recruitment agency HeadHunter the number of vacancies for Chinese speakers rose from 993 in 2011 to 3,910 in 2015.

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