Depending on where a student enrolls for high school, he is typically given two or three options to satisfy his foreign language requirement. While Spanish and French remain the more prevalent choices in secondary institutions around the country, the third language usually varies from German to Latin (especially in Catholic schools) to even a few Oriental languages. In recent years, however, an interest in learning Russian has increased in young adults and those established in business careers who wish to not only expand their ability to communicate in another tongue, but to advance in the business world. Where once business majors added Japanese, German, and even Chinese dialects to their schedules, learning to speak and understand Russian is fast becoming a priority.
Russian by the Numbers
In 2000, a survey conducted by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages polled public secondary schools nationwide to determine the then current state of class offerings as they weighed against student participation. Where nearly seventy percent of the seven million students were enrolled in Spanish alone, Russian pupils accounted for a scant .2 percent. A more recent study conducted in 2008 reported:
- Ten percent of students polled expressed interest in learning Russian
- Thirty percent believed knowing a foreign language would prove beneficial in their future careers
Another report issued in 2010 revealed a rise in Russian students, with 1.8 percent studying the language and thirty-seven percent of all students claiming study in foreign language to broaden career opportunities. Of the educators surveyed in this report, over eighty percent expressed a desire for more Internet resources to help with curriculum plans.
While the increase in high schoolers enrolled in Russian appears to have risen only slightly as compared to more prevalent Spanish and French, it does present a significant message that Russian study is gaining interest and can expect to increase in years to come.
Support from Local Communities Strengthens Availability of Russian in Schools
It is not uncommon for programs in minor foreign languages to flourish in regions where there is a significant ethnic population. One is more likely to see crowded Italian and Polish classrooms in Chicago schools, and large numbers of high school graduates in Ohio and Kentucky with completed German credits. Interest in Russian is evident, therefore, in neighborhoods where the community is comprised by descendents of Russian immigrants. With the US government’s declaration in the last decade of Russian as a “critical language” to learn, more schools around the country have integrated study into their overall programs.
- Reintroduced to Pittsburgh schools in recent years as a foreign language option, students of Russian enjoy the encouragement and assistance of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
- Russian programs in surrounding Washington, DC neighborhoods have benefited from a renewed interest in the language from students who wish to pursue business majors in college.
- In February, 2010, students in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin rallied to support a high school Russian teacher who faced downsizing due to budget cuts.
Presently just over one hundred colleges and universities offer a Russian major and/or minor to those interested in furthering their learning from high school, or else starting fresh to take on improved communication skills for the international corporate world.
When Classrooms are Scarce: Alternative Learning Methods
For prospective students of Russian who are unable to access a physical classroom, the Internet and software programs are relied upon to provide instruction. Depending on the scope of the program and the software and Internet activity involved, one may expect to pay a flat free or subscription rate to download audio tutorials and information on the Cyrillic alphabet.
One program in particular, offered through Language101.com, provides software that allows Russian language pupils to learn at their own pace. Audio for correct pronunciation is presented at different speeds, and techniques to learn Russian vocabulary allow for better memory retention. Proper timing of reviews at increasing time intervals allows for faster learning.
One advantage to learning Russian with any software is the flexibility in scheduling-a pupil can study the language on his own time for as long as he feels the program is useful. Intensive learning of foreign languages via computers is not uncommon among businessmen in need of a crash course to better communicate with contacts overseas.
What will the next ten years bring for the Russian language and learning in the United States? If the current rise in attraction to the nation’s culture and literature continues to trend upward, one may see the debut or reintroduction of classes around the country, particularly near business metropolitan areas. While challenging to learn, perhaps more so than Spanish and French, Russian offers new speakers the ability to improve their opportunities on the global stage in finance and art.