British Council in Russia
In Moscow, the first English as a Second Language Fair runs from October 4-6 this year. Christian Duncumb, Deputy Director of the British Council in Russia, writes that English is becoming increasingly popular in Russia.
When I first got off a plane in Russia it was a cold April day about three months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and finding people who could speak English, or any information in English to help get around and live, was difficult to say the least. An ideal context for someone learning Russian, but less good for supporting the massive surge in contacts and connections between the former Soviet Union and other countries that recent events had unleashed.
Things have changed a lot since then. There are now an estimated 15 million learners of English across Russia. You aren’t hard-pressed now to find articulate English-speakers, and even street signs appearing in Latin script. And it’s difficult to miss the ubiquitous product names and advertisements for concerts in English. In fact, things have changed so much that one of my daily humiliations is to begin a conversation in Russian, only for my interlocutor to quickly switch to English when they realize that my level of Russian is not quite there yet. This wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.
And things will continue to change. In 2020 it will become compulsory to take a foreign language exam as part of the Unified State Exam, which all school-leavers take. And the vast majority will choose English. This means that most Russians will have an increasing focus on English. As in other countries, Russians see the opportunities and benefits that this can bring: for their careers, education, travel and their country’s future in general.
You can see the level of interest at the English as a Second Language Fair in Sokolniki park in Moscow. Ten thousand visitors will come to talk to English language schools, publishers and other providers, visit the workshops and demo lessons to learn about opportunities for improving English in the UK and in Russia, face-to-face and online. We are also at the fair to highlight our online offers for learners of English, and show how those can be used effectively for self-access learning and in the classroom, for example using Twitter or Facebook to learn English.
This interest in technology and online learning is understandable. With 60% of Russians online, and the most active social media users in Europe, it’s growing rapidly – another way that Russia is changing. As with English, it’s another great tool to build more connections with others. All great stuff – but with one big drawback for me. Finding a situation where I’m forced to practise my Russian is getting harder and harder.