I think the market of Russian language learning is growing because Russia is becoming a more open part of the international market; many European companies are starting business with Russia so they need staff able to speak Russian,” says Alexander Mokhov of the Derzhavin Institute in St. Petersburg.
Mokhov makes a point that is backed up by some other Russian language providers that demand for Russian language education is slowly growing as Russian becomes slowly more important in the business world.
Currently, around 170 million people are estimated to speak Russian around the world, mostly within Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, which use Russian as their official language.
As one of the emerging BRIC economies, Russia is also wielding more political power internationally and there is evidence that Russian is becoming a more politically appropriate language to learn, as is Mandarin (BRIC represents the rising economic superpowers of Brazil, Russia, India and China).
Indeed, between China and Russia there is an understanding that efforts to promote Russian and Mandarin language learning in the opposite respective country will “enhance bilateral cooperation”, as reported on Xinhuanet.com.
During an APEC leaders’ meeting in Singapore in November last year, Chinese President, Hu Jintao and Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, discussed cultural exchanges and promoting close understanding between their countries. Last year was declared the Year of Russian Language in China and Russia has declared 2010 to be its Year of Chinese Language.
Nevertheless, according to providers across Russia, Europeans tend to dominate the classrooms in Russian langauge schools at the moment, while the Chinese seem to be focusing on learning English first. “We mostly have students from the UK, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries,” reports Stanislav Chernyshov from Extra Class Language Centre in St. Petersburg. “As for the new tendencies, we have noticed a considerable growth in demand from Eastern Europe: Poland, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia.”
He adds, “We can see that Russian is becoming a career language in Eastern Europe as many people from the new European Union member countries can find a good job with local or multinational countries doing business in or with Russia.”
Walter Denz, President of Liden & Denz Language Centre, which has schools in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, backs up this assertion. “The absolute majority of our students come from Western Europe, about 35 per cent of them are native German speakers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria,” he reports. “Over the past three years, we’ve been observing the trend of a growing number of Eastern Europeans at our school, but they still form not more than eight per cent.”
Denz points to a more recent boom from Japan representing 12 per cent of the student population in 2009, up from just four per cent in 2008. But he adds, “I dont think the Japanese market is
growing as such, we just happened to recruit the right partners. We have a couple of very good partners in Tokyo and successfully linked up with the Japanese ‘business society’ in Moscow.”
Given the observation that business interest is fuelling demand for Russian language learning, Denz asserts that this has had an impact on course provision. “We still have many clients for whom learning Russian is a hobby, but the more Russia is involved in the economical and political processes of the whole world, the more requests we receive for business courses,” he says.
The Liden & Denz schools organise tailor-made programmes for professionals and also for diplomats. “We guess a majority of our young students (under 25), are planning a professional career either in Russia or with Russia,” notes Denz. He notes that Moscow particularly attracts the business hound “some students combine language courses with business appointments, others do a work experience programme or even plan their future career in this fascinating city.”
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, more schools observe a cultural leaning in their clients, interested in the city’s famous sights as well as learning the language. “Activities still play an important role for our St. Petersburg students,” says Denz, and Mokhov agrees, pointing out that excursions, cooking classes, Russian craft lessons and Russian song lessons are all provided as part of the language programming at Derzhavin Institute.
At Extra Class, also in St. Petersburg, Chernyshov relates, “We provide a wide choice of activities, as St. Petersburg, the Cultural Capital of Russia, has got a lot to offer for every taste and age.” He continues, “Among the specialities which our students enjoy in addition to our rich ‘classical’ cultural programme (the Hermitage, Catherine Palace, Mariinsky theatre etc.), I would like to name fantastic two-day trips to Novgorod with its old churches, fortress, and unique history of the Novgorod Republic, and Russian Banya, or traditional steam bath, the Russian way of relaxation which is ages older than vodka and much healthier.”
Outside of lessons, staying with host families seems to remain the most popular accommodation option across Russia, although
two schools point to their shared-flat option as increasing in appeal. There are other learning options, such as an intensive weekend held in a recreation centre, which is offered by International Training Centre InTC in Yaroslavl.
Daina Raschepkina, International Projects Manager at the school, relates that this, “is an intensive training held during two days at a comfortable recreation centre” and it is targeted towards their primarily European and American client base. “Training is structured in the form of interactive trainings, developed so that students quickly acquire communication skills in the contemporary Russian language,” she says. “Students live in comfortable cottages of a European level. This lets them fully concentrate on training and maximises final results.”
A number of providers expect consistency in enrolment trends, or a slight increase over time. At Educacentre, Anastasia Shutko reports a slow upturn in business, while Chernyshov comments, “We feel like the market remains consistent in Western countries, even though we have a growing number of bookings thanks to the growing popularity of our ‘Poekhali! [Let’s go!]’ coursebooks.”
Denz observes, “We think [business] is growing, even though our 2009 figures are very similar to 2008.” He adds, “Agent interest is growing too; in recent times we managed to expand our agency network quite considerably. Agents feel that they need Russian in their portfolio. That is very good news.”
The extent to which agencies are responsible for international student recruitment does seem to vary from institution to institution, with Chernyshov suggesting that there is scope for more agencies to get involved in this emerging market. He relates that only 10 per cent of his clients are recruited via agencies, although Denz reports a figure of 75 per cent in St. Petersburg (lower in Moscow) and Mokhov says it is more like 70 per cent at his school.
“About 10 per cent [of our students come via agencies],” laments Chernyshov, who reports that their branded coursebooks, school’s website and word-of-mouth recommendation generate most other bookings. “Unfortunately most agents think if they just have one school in Russia they don’t need more,” he says. “The most successful ones though like offering clients an alternative, so that clients choose between different schools offered by one agent, and not by different agencies offering one school each.”
In a small straw poll of agencies conducted by Language Travel Magazine, the opinion delivered on if there was, or would be, a demand for learning Russia differs quite a lot. For example, in Japan, Michio Ochi from King’s World Studies says, “I feel that we Japanese have much more interest in such languages as German, Spanish and French [rather] than in Russian.” Alberto Orillac from Study Abroad Panama in Panama could not see demand taking off in the future, while Elizabeth Madrid from Alianzas Culturales in Mexico, was also of the same opinion.
However, there were a number of agencies that noted existing and growing demand. At Austra in Slovakia, Jana Oveckova states, “I think that Russian will become extremely useful in the future”, while Ouahid Ghassiri from Alharamain Tours in Algeria, comments, “We have students
who ask to study this language, but not the same number as those who want to study English, for example. In the future, the number will grow because we have more trade relations with countries using Russian.”
Dragica Banjac of Dialogos in Bosnia says, “We have had individual demands for Russian language learning every now and then. This is probably due to intensifying business relationships between Russian and local companies, which is likely to increase in the future, thus making the Russian language more and more popular.”
Finally, Mustafa Ozer of Global Training, Education & Consultancy based in the UK has some demand from university-bound clients, Berth Olofsson of Language Partner AB in Sweden has very modest demand from his clientele, and in Uzbekistan, Sanjar Oblokulov can see its growing importance.
He points out that most citizens in Uzbekistan speak perfect Russian and suggests countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States as good alternative destinations for Russian language learning in the future. He ventures, “I think that in the nearest future, [Russian] will be more popular, as the Federation of Russia plays an influential role in the world economy and politics.”