The unique feature of Russian people is the keen interest and love to everything foreign, we are very hospitable, we take foreign people with interest. When I have a shock I don’t show it. Now something changed but I know it’s not my fault. It comes from common people and it's normal.
Svetlana Ter-Minasova — PhD, professor, President of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Area Studies and Professor Emeritus at Moscow State University. She published over 200 books and papers on Foreign Language Teaching, Linguistics and Cultural Studies. She has lectured widely throughout the world. Professor Ter-Minasova is Chair of Foreign Language Research and Methodology Council at the Russian Ministry of Education and President and founder of both the National Association of Teachers of English in Russia (NATE) and the National Association of Applied Linguistics.
She holds the Lomonosov Award, Fulbright’s 50th Anniversary Award, and was named Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Birmingham in the UK, the State University of New York in the USA, and the Russian-Armenian University in Armenia. She was also named Visiting Professor by the National Research Tomsk State University, is Honorary president of the International Academic Forum (IAFOR) Language Research Institute, and a member of the IAFOR International Advisory Board.
Topic: Teaching language issues in today's Russia: to think about…
A profound and undying love for foreign languages has always been a distinctive characteristic of Russians and Russian social life. Consequently, FLT in this country has been based on the deep-rooted and cherished traditions. These traditions are both ever-working and outdated, efficient and inefficient, brilliant and absurd. The present-day situation with teaching language issues — grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation — stems from historically and culturally determined traditions of this country.
It goes without saying that there are other reasons for various difficulties in teaching the most basic language issues under consideration which are internationally shared. They are also to be mentioned but a close attention is to be paid to Russian national (or native?) problems.
Video recording of the plenary session
You can watch the full recording of Svetlana G. Ter-Minasova’s talk on British Council Russia’s YouTube channel by clicking the link below:
In this interview, Svetlana talks about the connection between language and culture, expanding on one of the themes of her talk. She discusses vocabulary, explaining that the meaning of words is a difficult concept to grasp without an understanding of the context and looks at the idea of perfection, suggesting that it is something that can never be attained and that communication is key.
Watch the recording here: http://www.viddler.com/v/bf4a5b65
As part of the interview, Svetlana answered some of the questions that our online audience asked. Read the questions and her answers below:
What do you think are the three best Russian traditions of teaching foreign languages in our country that we should keep, cherish and even share with other teachers in the world?
I think it is the tradition of the keen interest and love to everything foreign. The next tradition probably is mass production of learners and teachers of foreign languages that is democratic and gives every child and every adult the opportunity to follow the first tradition of the keen interest and great love for foreign languages.
What do you think about teaching foreign languages in Russia before the Revolution? Were there any valuable ingredients that we "forgot" but we should reintroduce?
Actually the study of foreign languages in Russia, which I call new foreign languages, began in the middle of the 19th century. Before that the attention for foreign language teaching was concentrated on learning and teaching of ancient Greek and Latin, on dead languages. In 1849 professor Deplanet began fighting for new foreign languages and eventually, the dead languages were changed by new foreign languages. It was French, German and English. One of the requirements was that teachers of those languages must have spent some time in the country, with the nation to use those languages as means of communication.
Professor Deplanet gave a metaphor as a proof of this point – the teacher that spent time in the foreign country with the nation using its language as the means of communication was like a blind painter who knows colours and paints only by description but has never seen them.
I think this tradition must be reintroduced because indeed the teacher of foreign languages that has never been to the country feels even less confident and self-confident than other non-native teachers who live under the pressure of fear, of making mistakes, using the wrong word, of violating grammar or pronunciation.
Interesting is also when new languages were introduced the same professor who actually started the campaign of teaching new languages instead of ancient ones – his point one was that native speakers must be replaced by Russian teaches. I find it interesting, there is a lot of truth about it. My idea is that there must be a combination of both. There are obviously some disadvantages that non-native teachers can’t get rid of. On the other hand there are some things that native speakers don’t see, just because they don't know the culture and the structure of the language of their students. The cultural barrier is the most difficult because it’s invisible.
Can there be true bilinguism?
My experience is that true bilinguism I've witnessed with children who have parents of different nationalities. If these parents make an effort to speak the two languages – and I know such children and such parents - they save their language and become bilingual.
As for teachers, I agree with Dr. Corner who says that there is nothing more suspicious than the foreigner that speaks more fluently than you do.
Should we develop learners' cultural awareness and expect them to follow English cultural rules or should we teach them to be tolerant to other nations?
That’s a very simple question to be answered but not the easy one to put into practice.
I like the word tolerance because it means that you must be patient and respect other cultures but it’s difficult to put into practice.
You travel a lot. What culture shocks have you faced?
Indeed I travel a lot and you can experience culture shock in Russia as well in foreign countries. My greatest culture shock during my first visit to Europe strangely came from the habit of smiling from people you don’t know.
I was puzzled, I couldn’t imagine that people can answer to you with a smile. When I came back to Russia my answer to the question “What was your culture shock” was the smile.