Level-based Training and Innovative Developments: How International Students Study Russian at SUSU

Around 2,000 international students from 28 countries around the world study at South Ural State University. Each of them is trying to gain quality knowledge in various fields of study, however, the main goal is to master Russian at a high level. At SUSU, this field is given special attention. Professor Elena Kharchenko, Doctor of Sciences (Philology), Head of the Department of Russian as a Foreign Language of the Institute of Linguistics and International Communication, and the Department Associate Professor and Head of Pushkin Institute Research, Education and Coordination Center, Yadviga Berezovskaya, tell us about the approaches and innovations used in the academic process.

— Why is studying Russian in demand among international students?

Elena Vladimirovna: The amount of attention paid to learning Russian is tied to the international tendencies of open education. Modern students often go to study abroad to gain new knowledge in the best universities around the world, and universities, in turn, try to bring in more promising applicants. Today, academic mobility is the tendency which is significantly changing the approach to education. The prevalence of university rankings is also related to the fact that universities wish to show their advantages.

In Russia, the Educational Export priority project has been adopted, the key goal of which is to increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of Russian education in the international academic market. The planned indicators are impressive: throughout the time of fulfillment of this project – May 2017 through November 2025 – the number of international intramural students studying in Russian universities should grow from 220,000 in 2017 to 710,000 in 2025, and the number of online students from Russian academic organizations – from 1,100,000 to 3,500,000.

Of course, a portion of the applicants will be studying in English – the number of such programs is increasing in the university, especially in Master’s programs. However, students must be able to communicate in a store, in a pharmacy, in a post office, and in other public places, so everyone must take the beginner’s Russian course. We call this the “survival level”. Practically all international students from distant countries complete this course.

We can also note a group of students who are studying Russian because they like Russia – they would like to open their own business in Russia, or get to know the country and culture better and read Russian literature. But the majority study Russian to continue their education in Russian universities.

— How is Russian as a foreign language developed at SUSU?

— The development is rapid. Students from nearby countries traditionally have chosen our university as one of the most important universities in the Ural region. However, just a few years ago, there were practically no students from distant countries. Today, there are a few thousand international students studying at the university from 48 countries. South Ural State University is in many international rankings, which increases its recognition and attractiveness. But this is not the only thing that affects students’ choices. In our university, we have created all of the conditions necessary for students to actively study both Russian language and subjects in Russian. The classes are taught by professional teachers who have earned their education in the most well-known universities in Moscow and participate every year in scientific and methodological conferences. Students receive help from the staff of the International Affairs Division, and the Association of International Students works actively.

For several years now, the Center for Sociocultural Adaptation has operated at the university. The staff and volunteers of the Center help international students overcome the barriers of communication, find friends, and solve their everyday problems. The Center has a Conversation Club, and various events are planned from trips to theater, or to museums, to sporting events. For a few years now, students have been travelling to Olimp camp.

— How is an interdisciplinary approach to teaching Russian as a foreign language implemented?

— For the first few months, all of the students study only Russian, then they are separated in to their groups based on the profile of study they have chosen. We have 6 profiles: Humanities, Engineering, Technical, Economics, Medicine and Biology, and Natural Sciences. While studying these subjects, a lot of attention is paid to introducing them to terminology in Russian.

— Please tell us about the training levels for students.

— Starting from this year, we now have all levels of training for international students. For them, we begin with courses for enrolling in the university, which include study of Russian and subjects according to their chosen profile. A few students study only Russian. After the preparatory level, students can enroll in any Bachelor’s, Master’s, or postgraduate program. This year in our department, we have opened a Bachelor’s program in Philology with the specialization in Teaching Philological Disciplines (Russian as a Foreign Language). For many years, the Master’s program in Philology with a specialization in Russian as a Foreign Language has been popular. The Department also offers a postgraduate program in Language and Literature Studies with the specialty in Theory of Language. In addition, in the summer, we offer summer school programs of varying levels of intensity: 72 hours, 160 hours, and 240 hours.

— What other projects are offered in this field?

Yadviga Leonidovna: In the 2014-2015 academic year, SUSU received a subsidy to fulfill the Plan of Events for Supporting Russian Language and Education in Russian. Within this project, in 2014, the university opened the Pushkin Institute Research, Methodological, and Coordination Center, the goals of which include participation in conferences and exhibitions, development of the hardware and software complex, development of academic resources for distance learning for international students in Russia, holding courses for increasing the qualifications of Russian language teachers and teachers offering courses in Russia, holding an essay contest, and holding an Internet Olympiad in Russian.

In 2016-2017, a robotized dialogue system for studying Russian was developed at SUSU for various types of students, with electronic support for Russian language study and distance education in Russian. The development of the robotized dialogue system includes a virtual classroom with the system processing of voice samples, massive open online courses, and the program for the anthropomorphic robot’s functioning.

In 2018, work is being completed on creating and developing a network of Pushkin Institute centers (no fewer than 8) in China at organizations offering education in Russian. The goal of the project is to form a positive image of Russia abroad, increase its international authority by teaching a respect for Russian as the carrier of the traditions and values of the Russian people; to form a language environment by promoting Russian language and teaching in Russian as the bases of international dialogue; and to form and develop a partner network of centers under the Pushkin Institute brand to promote the Russian language in the international academic space.

— How do students assess the conditions at SUSU for studying Russian as a foreign language?

Elena Vladimirovna: I think they would rank them highly. The proof of this is that the incoming stream of students is increasing – the majority come by recommendations of their acquaintances or relatives. I know this well, because we often have friends or brothers and sisters who study with us. Many come to work with a specific professor, they talk about who studied with them and pass along hellos. I’d like to say about our professors that they are so dedicated to their craft that students feel this and try to thank them: they make films about them, write poems, gift them placards with the grammar of the Russian language, and one of our graduates, Uvindu Wijeweera, even created an application called Russian-Singhalese Dictionary, which he named in honor of his first teachers – YuLARA.

Azaliya Sharafutdinova, photo: Oleg Igoshin
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