Professor Svetlana Ter-Minasova: ELT in a Changing Russia – Traditions and Innovations

Posted: February 18, 2014
Category: Keynotes, Research

“ELT in a Changing Russia: Traditions and Innovations”
Professor Svetlana Ter-Minasova
The Asian Conference on Education 2013 – Keynote Address



ELT in a Changing Russia: Traditions and Innovations

The following is an excerpt from Professor Svetlana Ter-Minasova’s Keynote Address at the Asian Conference on Education 2013 (ACE), in Osaka, Japan. Professor Ter-Minasova is the President of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Area Studies at Lomonosov Moscow State University, in Russia. During her address to the ACE 2013 delegates, Professor Ter-Minasova reflected on the past attitudes and practices that she experienced first hand as a young student then ambitious professor of foreign languages under then Soviet Russia.

During the Soviet period the situation with FLLT as part of the educational system went through a series of dramatic ups and downs. In the early years of Soviet power the attitude to foreign languages was negative: they were treated as luxuries of “people’s enemies” – aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The most unfortunate one was French as it was most closely associated with the Russian elite society. However, in the late 1920-ies, after heated debates, foreign languages were returned to secondary school curricula. As usual, a pendulum swung forth, one fashion substituted for another one; the new campaign with the slogan: “Foreign languages – to the masses” introduced foreign languages into educational institutions with the same enthusiasm as the previous campaign had banished them. Since that time foreign languages have always been part of the curriculum in the Soviet system of education, but the official attitude to them was far from being positive. Languages of “capitalistic countries” were seen as a suspicious subject that led straight into the arms of “potential enemies”, which actually meant the rest of the world. People who studied foreign languages as their major subject as well as their teachers were also suspicious for they were potential spies, potential emigrants and/or potential cosmopolitans. They lacked loyalty and patriotism because they did not seem to be satisfied with their own language, culture, country, world. This attitude, though slowly growing milder over the years, remained dominant to the end of the Soviet period. Consequently teaching languages of potential enemies was a dangerous profession. My father never stopped worrying about my having chosen to study and teach English as my way in life. For decades, under such circumstances, generations of teachers, who never set, their eyes – or ears! – on a native speaker of a foreign language, taught generations of students without any proper equipment, without authentic ELT materials, developing chalkboard theories and poor-but-honest, necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention techniques, and they did it brilliantly.

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