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  • Writer's pictureOlga Jarrell

Why Russian?

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

For the first time in many semesters, I have my beginning Russian class almost full - 29 out of 30 students possible. We always had issues with enrollment in the past and barely had enough students to keep the classes going. Why is it different this semester? There is a popular belief that in the United States the interest in the Russian language peaks at times of crisis between Kremlin and the White House. If this is true, I hope it will bring lots of students to the program. However, I tend to believe that the reasons are not so simplistic. Well, within the next couple of days, I am going to find out why my students want to learn Russian.

On the first day of class, my classroom was overcrowded. Every single seat was taken, and I could barely keep an eye contact with all my students, which I usually manage to do. However, I didn’t even take attendance knowing that there would be a few drop-offs after the first class. From my experience, I know two types of students that originally come to Russian class. There are those who don’t have a clear reason for taking Russian; they are just “shopping around” for classes. Expensive textbooks, everyday homework, and a teacher speaking with a slight accent worry them, and they are the first to drop a class. Fortunately, they are a minority. The majority of students, though, come with a strong intention to learn a language and a serious attitude, and they already have their own reasons and motivations. They stay and dig in learning the language right away.

On the second day twenty six students showed up. As I predicted, my class didn’t match the requirements of a few students, so they decided to drop it. I believe it is great to have a choice like that. If you are not serious about the matter, you shouldn’t waste your time and money (both are precious commodities). Anyway, I remain curious how many students are ready to pursue Russian language learning, and what their reasons for learning Russian are. This is what I am going to find out by conducting a survey.

On the third week of classes I had twenty two students who stayed and seemed to be willing to learn Russian seriously. I asked them anonymously about their reasons for taking Russian. Here is what I got in order of importance.

50 % - influenced by relatives, friends, or coworkers

“My brother, who is fluent in Russian, has been bugging me to start learning Russian, so I decided to try…”

“My husband served a mission in Siberia. We have always talked about me learning Russian…”

“My music teacher is Russian, so I want to learn Russian to be able to talk to her…”

“My great grandparents are from Russia, so I think I would be great to know the language of my ancestors…”

30% - interested in culture and history

“A couple of years ago I just fell in love with the language, history, and culture of Russia…”

“I think that by learning Russian, I will understand more about the culture…”

“I have always been very fascinated by the Russian culture…”

“Even though I have read a few Russian authors in English, I think the original books might have even more to offer….”

“I got interested in the Russian culture after watching a lot of the Mariinsky’s ballet productions…”

25% - looking for business and career opportunities

“I am looking for different career opportunities, and Russian will give me a huge advantage…”

“My dream is to teach in Russia one day…”

“Russian could lead to an exciting career opportunities…”

25% - want to travel to Russia

“One of my dreams is to travel to Russian, meet Russian people, and see all the beautiful architecture…”

20% - it’s required for a degree / major

"It’s required for my Political Science major, so I chose Russian over Chinese…”

20% - it’s a challenging / interesting / different language

“I have always wanted to learn a language that is different from Spanish or English. Russian seems to be challenging, and I am so excited to learn it…”

“Russian will help me stand out from the crowd…”

“When I grew up, I always knew that I was going to learn a challenging language – Russian… “

10% - love languages

“I love languages, and Russian will be a good addition to the list of languages I know…”

“I am fluent in a couple of languages, and Russian is another language I want to learn…”

My students’ backgrounds, their experiences and their goals are diverse, but what unites them is their determination to learn Russian. I hope they will remain passionate about learning Russian throughout the semester. As for me, I strongly believe that certain aspects of the Russian culture and language in particular will remain in constant demand among open-minded and intelligent people.

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