SUSU Scientists Will Help Foreign Students Start Speaking Russian


Russian education is gaining increasing popularity among foreign students. Today over 2100 students from 48 countries all over the world study at SUSU in different specialties and concentrations. And according to forecasts, there will be more of them in the coming years. It is not surprising because there are comfortable accommodation facilities and all learning conditions for foreigners in SUSU. They have a great opportunity to get acquainted with Russian culture and start speaking "the great and mighty" Russian language.

In 2016, South Ural State University won a scholarship within the framework of the Federal Target Program "Russian Language" for the period of 2016-2020 - "Development of Interactive Robotic System for Russian Language Learning by Various Target Audience with Later Use in the Current Electronic Support System for Russian Language Learning and Distance Learning in Russian." The Head of "Pushkin Institute" Research, Education and Coordination Center Iadviga Berezovskaia went into detail about the work on this scholarship.

– Tell us, please, how is you work within the framework of the grant?

– We are creating an interactive robotic system within the framework of the grant for those who don't speak Russian as a foreign language but want to start learning it. The staff of the Department of Russian As a Foreign Language of the Institute of Linguistics and International Communication of SUSU guided by the Doctor of Sciences (Philology), Professor Elena Kharchenko is busy with the project. We are developing a virtual office for teaching Russian phonetics. Anybody who wants to learn Russian, no matter where they are, can go to the web portal where they can find our program and receive distance training. In the future, our development will also be placed on the site of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute (Moscow) in the section "Education in Russian".

– What is this virtual office like?

– This is an e-learning course in phonetics that will allow foreigners to learn how to correctly pronounce Russian sounds, syllables, words and phrases. At this stage, we are working together with our programming specialists who create a virtual interface of the office. Now they are developing algorithms and programs identifying speech: sound, syllable, speech pattern. The learning process will be constructed on a "simple-to-complex" basis: they will start from the sound, then syllable, word, syntagma, phrase, and in this way they will improve their pronunciation.

– What does your work on the grant consist of?

– The second section within the framework of the grant is devoted to the development of Massive open online courses. Now they are very popular both in our University and around the world. We used to create Massive open online courses while working on the previous project conducted together with Pushkin Institute in 2014-2015. Now we want to develop Massive open online courses in phonetics. This courses will be aligned with our virtual office. If a foreigner works in our virtual office, he or she can follow the link to these courses, where different sections will be commented on. A great virtue of these courses is that they are free and everyone can go to the course and receive training. MOOCs make education in Russian affordable and accessible.

– How did you conduct your research?

– First our programmers monitored existing speech identification programs. The philologists were to conduct an experiment. We recorded the speech uttered by 170 of our foreign students who speak different languages and generated database of speech samples. At the present stage we are developing the program to process the received speech samples, which will allow to analyze speech and give recommendations for further work on training phonetic skills. And in May we started working on MOOCs.

– What is the advantage of SUSU in working on the project?

– Our tremendous advantage is the that we can test the obtained results among our foreign students. As soon as we finish creating our virtual office, it is scheduled for December, we will conduct this testing. This will give us the opportunity to improve the course if there are any comments. One more advantage is that we develop both universal courses and courses for a certain language audience. For example, we invited the Director of Confucius Institute and made some video records where she gives comments in Chinese for Chinese speakers. The opportunity to receive a comment in your native language will also be an integral part of our MOOCs. To do this, when you enter the website you will need to specify your nationality. First of all, we focus on Chinese and Arab audiences.

– How long has the South Ural State University been cooperating with the Moscow Pushkin Institute?

– In 2014, the Research, Education and Coordination Center "Pushkin Institute" was founded in SUSU under the authority of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute (Moscow) to support the Russian language and education in Russian. The center was founded within the framework of the project by order of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, which aims at popularizing the Russian language. Today the center operates successfully, carrying out different activities to promote Russian language. For example, in April, together with the Department of Russian As a Foreign Language we organized a platform for conducting the Total Dictation for foreigners. And we took the first place in Russia by the number of foreigners who participated in it. It is very important for foreigners to feel as a part of the Russian culture, and we are doing everything to make students enjoy, to make their student life interesting. For this purpose within the framework of the program 5-100 the Center of Sociocultural Adaptation was founded in SUSU. Foreign students attend Conversation Club, where they communicate on different topics, talk with Russian volunteers. And on May 24, we will celebrate the Day of Slavic Writing in our University, where foreign students will read poems, participate in calligraphy contest and show Russian folk dance!

Olga Romanovskaya, photo by Oleg Igoshin
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