|Name: Megan C.
Minor: Russian, Accounting
|Name: Adam B.
Minor: Russian, International Business
The study of Russian enables students to explore a language and culture steeped in diverse artistic and intellectual legacies. Stretching from central Europe to Asia's Pacific coast, and from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea, it is no surprise that the former Soviet Union holds the world's largest deposits of coal, natural gas, iron, and other materials. Its bountiful untapped wealth, both in terms of natural resources and human talent, makes it the unpolished gem of today's global marketplace.
Some twenty-five years ago in the United States the answer to this question was obvious. With the United States and the Soviet Union enshrined as the two antagonistic super-powers, news stories about Russian-related topics were on the front page every day. The government was willing to support research and learning related to our most feared enemy, and students were fascinated by the Soviet enigma.
Today the situation is almost reversed. The Soviet Union is now long gone and the Russians have become our friends. Stories about Russia are no longer as prominent in the American media and the United States government is increasingly unwilling to fund Russian-related activities or to hire Russian-speaking employees. As a result of federal cutbacks university and college positions have also been limited. But at the same time, within Russia itself there are numerous opportunities for Americans who know Russian. American law firms, businesses and consulting firms expand almost daily and they all need employees with knowledge of the Russian language. The Russians' own appetite for learning English appears to be insatiable, leading to many teaching jobs inside the country. Given ever-increasing globalization as well as the potential for a western-style Russian economy in the future, there is a real need for Americans with a thorough knowledge of Russian language and culture.
The tie of language to culture leads us to one reason for learning Russian that has not changed at all in the past twenty-five years: the fascination that Russia's enigmatic culture exerts on Americans. For a huge number of American high-school students an exposure to Russian literature (Dostoevsky in particular) spurs a desire to learn the language in which the works were written.
While learning Russian brings personal and intellectual satisfactions, students are also understandably concerned about career opportunities. Is Russian a marketable skill? The answer is definitely yes but, in an increasingly complex world where demands are constantly changing, it is sometimes difficult to keep abreast of opportunities. Teaching used to provide employment for the largest number of Russian language majors, and government was the next most productive source of jobs. Today, however, Russian majors have the opportunity to use their language and culture skills in a broad variety of settings in both Russia and the United States. Students go on to work in business as financial and policy analysts for American and Russian companies. They work for non-governmental organizations, for publishing houses, for the print and broadcast media. They teach in Russian schools, and consult in fields such as marketing, advertising, aerospace, and computer engineering. And, of course, some continue to go on to do more traditional work as teachers in universities and schools, and as employees of the United States government.
Russian is a member of the Indo-European family of languages, which includes English and the other Germanic languages, the Romance languages and other languages of Europe, the Middle East, and the Asian subcontinent. Russian belongs to the Slavic group of languages, which is divided into West Slavic (Czech, Polish, Slovak, and Sorbian), South Slavic (Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, and Slovenian), and East Slavic (Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian).
Russian has had the reputation of being a difficult language to learn, and it is indeed somewhat more difficult for a native English speaker than French, Spanish, or German. Nevertheless, as an Indo-European language, it does not differ all that radically from English; and because of the Greek and Latin base of many technical terms, the two languages share far more vocabulary than is generally realized. In addition, one of the results of Russia's new openness to the West has been a gigantic influx into Russian of words borrowed directly from English.
Of course, the Russian alphabet, called Cyrillic in honor of St. Cyril who l,000 years ago invented an alphabet used by many Slavic peoples, is different. In fact, apprehension about the alphabet is one of the most frequently given reasons for not studying Russian. This is unfortunate because the Russian alphabet is not at all difficult to learn. Half of the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet resemble English letters, while still others are familiar to us from common Greek letters. Students master Cyrillic early in their studies and, when they have done so, they find that Russian spelling represents the spoken language more accurately than does English spelling.
Russian is the native language of some 150 million citizens of the Russian Federal Republic. It is one of the five official languages of the UN, and ranks with English, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and Spanish as a major world language. What is more, Russian remains the unofficial lingua franca of the former Soviet republics, an indispensable communication tool across all of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russian is a major language for scientific publications, and it is an increasingly important language for business and trade as Russian institutions, both public and private, integrate with their European and American counterparts. Although for the moment the country is not an economic or military superpower, Russia still exerts considerable political influence around the world, and there will always be a need for American specialists in Russian affairs. In a complex ethnic, linguistic, political, and economic environment, each nation places priorities on the foreign languages most important for its economic and political life, and each individual chooses the foreign language most important for his or her interests and needs. For many citizens of the United States, Russian remains of great importance in the twenty-first century.
(This is a modified text from the site created by AATSEEL Publications Committee and ACTR.)