Free Russian language schools to open in dozens of countries

Main task of the Council on the Russian Language is to establish a network of centres under the Pushkin Institute umbrella to teach the language and promote the Russian culture and traditions to all comers. Source: ITAR-TASS

Main task of the Council on the Russian Language is to establish a network of centres under the Pushkin Institute umbrella to teach the language and promote the Russian culture and traditions to all comers. Source: ITAR-TASS

50 countries have been put on a priority list for a new programme that aims to spread the Russian language around the world.

The Council on the Russian Language, to be established by the end of August, will promote the Russian language and culture across the CIS, most of the European Union, India, the United States, China, Japan and the Middle East. The priority list includes around 50 countries. 1.5 billion roubles (around $46 million) has already been allocated for the programme.

The council’s main task will be to establish a network of centres under the Pushkin Institute umbrella to teach the language and promote the Russian culture and traditions to all comers.

Russian language instruction will take place in existing cultural centres as well as in new ones, yet to be opened. The search for suitable premises for such a centre has already started in Paris, for example.

A number of organisations had been responsible for different initiatives aimed at supporting the Russian language abroad, such as the State Duma, the Foreign Ministry, Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russkiy Mir foundation, and several others, before the government decided to systemise those efforts.

The Council on the Russian Language will be established by early autumn. It will comprise representatives from the State Duma, Rossotrudnichestvo, the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Culture, and academic, educational, creative, and business organizations; Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets will become its head, Izvestia reported.

Aleksei Levchenko, a representative of Olga Golodets, said that preparations for the establishment of the Council were in their final stages, and that its 2013 budget would amount to 1.5 billion roubles.

The Pushkin State Russian Language Institute, which will prepare academic and teaching materials, will become the hub for the study of language. Deputy Dean of Foreign Students Training Department Baraudin Karadzhev told RIR that interest in the Russian language had been rising in recent years and students were coming from around the world to receive language training. “Eastern countries demonstrate a strong interest in the language, and we have many visitors from CIS countries. For example, there are already three Russian language centres in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. We cooperate with such centres in nearly all European countries. Foreigners are opening centres on their own where they teach Russian. In September, we will welcome a large group of students from Germany,” Karadzhev told RIR. “We also have visitors from France, Belgium, Bosnia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Egypt, Sudan, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.” Karadzhev pointed out that entrepreneurs and lawyers working with Russian companies constitute the bulk of learners, but there are also specialists in the humanities, including philologists, translators, historians, psychologists and sociologists.

He said that the Institute used to have many branches, but after funding dried up following the collapse of the USSR, the centres started operating on their own, and many had to close their doors.

According to Leonid Kalashnikov, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, the new Council fits into the Russian diplomacy’s ‘soft power’ concept. He believes, however, that overall coordination should have been assigned to Rossotrudnichestvo rather than the government.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, Director of the Centre for the Study of Elites at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, believes that language is an effective tool for strengthening Russian influence abroad. “The Russian-speaking area has always been a zone of our influence, both cultural and geopolitical. The loss of the Russian-speaking population in the post-Soviet space is a geopolitical problem,” she said. “Foreigners oriented towards doing business with Russia will want to study in those centres. There are also sufficient numbers of people that love Russian culture.”

Nikita Mkrtchyan, a senior researcher at the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Demography, said that the number of Russian speakers worldwide has been shrinking rapidly over the past 20 years. “Russian used to be taught all across the USSR, in the Warsaw Pact countries, in many Asian countries and in Africa. Citizens of former Soviet states that visit us today speak very poor Russian,” the expert explained. He added that the more people will get an opportunity to study Russian in their home countries, the better the quality of immigrants we will get. “We need immigrants from post-Soviet countries. Some 200,000 people move here annually for work; the official number of immigrants is 1.5 million plus up to an estimated five million illegal immigrants. If all those people didn’t speak Russian, we would have to teach them here, which is more difficult. It’s harder to teach adults than children, and working immigrants just don’t have the time to study.” He added that the language centres would be developing in direct proportion to the growth of Russia’s appeal.

Director of the Russian World Foundation and Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education Vyacheslav Nikonov supports the idea, but believes the allocated funds are too small for the task at hand. Karadzhev agrees: Each language school requires serious investments in addition to high project running costs.

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