“In business, all decisions are taken with limited intel. Some decisions must also be taken fast. This was the situation we faced in spring 2022.”
Speak Your Mind! – “Teaching Russian as foreign language – is there a future?” by Walter Denz
Liden & Denz has been providing Russian immersion courses in Russia since the early 90ties. There were always ups and downs but the general trend was always positive – until the 24th February 2022. How could we possibly teach Russian in Russia while Ukrainian cities were being bombed?
After the initial shock it was time for analysis and in-depth discussions leading to a strategic decision. Either we would follow the narrative of the hostile language and close our operations or we completely ignore the political sphere and continue to focus on the language of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky by extending our choice of immersion destinations while at the same time keeping our centers in Russia open. If Russian is the “language of the aggressor”, it is also the language of the victims. Russian continues to be the lingua franca in most former Soviet republics and a majority of Ukrainian refugees arriving in Western Europe speak Russian at home, rather than Ukrainian.
We don’t know what role the Russian language will have in Ukraine after the fighting stops, but it is the most natural thing to pass on your mother language to the next generation.
We gave some thought about the contents of our very popular textbook series “I love Russian”. The content focused on living, studying and working in Russia. Did we have to edit all four textbooks? After a thorough review we decided against it. The earlier decision to write the books without any political language or connotations paid off. Our Russian teachers confirmed that detaching the language from politics using our own material was easy.
Our commitment to keep the language centres in Russia open might come as a surprise but we still teach foreign diplomats, Western expatriates who did not leave Russia, and a growing number of students from the world regions not supporting the sanctions (Latam, Middle East, Africa and most of Asia). These students arrive via Istanbul, Dubai, and Doha on direct flights and keep our teachers busy. They are not compensating for the loss of Western students though. A new destination outside of Russia became a necessity.
We decided to set up a brand new language center in Riga, Latvia. Riga is the only European capital with a majority of native Russian speakers. After a difficult year, bookings for our new Riga center look healthy for 2023 and we currently spend most of our time with teacher training and the recruitment of new host families. Together with our global partners we look forward to a very busy year.
I am writing this article to encourage teachers of Russian to continue their work, to promote the Russian language, literature and culture and pass on their passion to all students wanting to learn this beautiful language. Russian as a foreign language is here to stay.
About the Author
Walter grew up in Zurich and graduated from the University of St. Gallen (HSG) in 1989 with a degree in International Relations. This was followed by a Postgraduate degree in Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In early 1992, he settled in post-Soviet Russia.
Together with his friend and partner Sven Lidén, he founded the Liden & Denz Language Centre in St. Petersburg as one of the first private language schools in the country. Moscow followed in 2004, Riga and Irkutsk in 2014 and 2017 respectively.
Walter Denz was President of the International Association of Language Centres IALC, Trustee of the accreditation authority EAQUALS and until recently also Chairman of the Board of the German School in St. Petersburg. He still lives in St. Petersburg with his family.
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