Thursday, February 17, 2011

Introducing Russian

Pondicherry is certainly waking up to the potential of foreign languages especially with languages from countries which are hosts to various lucrative post graduate courses. Recently Mr Adikesavan of the Japanese Language Institute, the first language institute for the Japanese language in Puducherry, has expanded to include a fully functional Russian Institute under the directorship of Ms Tatiana at Pondicherry. The Japanese Institute was inaugurated by the Japanese Consulate and is supported by the Japan Foundation. According to the Director, there are 250 students currently enrolled for several years in order to complete various levels of learning Japanese. They are eventually prepared to write the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) conducted by the Japan Foundation. The question can be raised as to how Pondicherrians really benefit by Japanese by investing so many years for these levels of study. Mr Adikesavan promptly replies that he is working on a tie up with Japanese Companies and that placements for these students are guarenteed at the end of the course as they would be able to work in Japan. What he is further looking to do is to introduce foreign languages into schools and engineering colleges so that students can have a foreign language at the end of their enginnering courses and use it to study further in the country of that language. While Japanese is already underway in several schools and some of the best engineering colleges, a new plan has been designed to also integrate Russian into these colleges and schools.
Today's trip to Rajiv Gandhi College of Engineering and Technoloy was for a promotional presentation made by Ms Tatiana Perova, Director of the Institue of Russian Language at the Russian Council of Science and Culture (RCSC) in Chennai. As a Russian student from EFL-U, and as one among a total number of 2000 Russian language specialists in India, I tagged along not only to benefit and get utterly intimidated by the rapid banter of Ms Tatiana Perova and Ms Tatiana, Director of Russian at the Japanese Institute, but also because I thought it was a great opportunity. Ms Tatiana from Chennai was well informed about Russian recourses and teaching centred in South India. She listed some places in Kerala and Andra Pradesh as existing centres for imparting education in the Russian Language even as she acknoledged Hyderabad's EFL-U and Osmania University as the strongest teaching centres in terms of rigour and quality in South India. For further information on Russian Language courses, which are also offered by the RCSC, one may look up the following link http://www.ruscultchennai.in/lang.htm

Rajiv Gandhi College of Engineering and Technology has a sprawling campus constructed in an area of 30 acres located 30 km from Pondicherry on the Cuddalore road. It has commendable facilities in terms of infrastructure, a large auditaurium, a well maintained and rich library with facilities for video conferencing and learning through distance which was shown to us by the Principal Dr. E. Vijaykrishna Rapak himself, a doctoral graduate from IIT Madras. First, we were directed to the Principal's office as Ms Tatiana gifted him with a colourful calender from Russia as a token to appreciation. Then we had a short meeting with the various heads of department and the Principal as Ms Tatiana briefed them about her subject of presentation and what she expected them to contribute for a clear partnership. She was very clear that in order to have any joint ventures or projects, which were immensely facilitated by the RCSC, she needed to know the needs of the college and what they were looking for with educational scope in Russia. The following presentation by Ms Tatiana Perova was aimed at a brief introduction to Russian culture and educational opportunities for the students. While the packed hall listened to her rapt with attention, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm and maybe even knowledge when Ms Perova asked simple questions about space history. I got the impression that this was perhaps the kind of education that was a burden rather than emancipatory. Forebodings aside, in our college tour after the presentation, Ms Tatiana from Pondicherry asked the very pertinent question that if the students lead such a hectic life and study for such long hours a day, how would they have time for Russian. She was promptly told that they would work hard for Russian too! We saw a fully equipped chemistery lab with pictures of Avogadro and Madam Curie smiling from the walls and also took pictures in front of a dozen monuments. As this was my first trip as a Russian representative to a college, I carefully observed formal etiquettes and customs. This was the first time that I was covered with a shawl and honoured as a Seminar Guest. After the tour the Principal and the Course Coordinator took us out for a sumptuous lunch, making sure that the dishes were less spicy for the Russians. On our return we made a short stop at the Japanese Language Institute and the Ms Tatiana, the Director from Chennai was delighted at the class and the software used as well as other teaching resources. She checked out possibilities of video conferencing classes and finally we took pictures again. This was probably the first day that I have heard so much Russian continuously and although I could understand a large part of it, I still feel handicapped at speech. However, this trip with Russians was a great one and indeed showed me how MUCH I have to brush up when it comes to spoken Russian at a native level. As for Russian in engineering colleges, while it does not seem to be a distant reality, inquisitive students would definitely want more clarity as to how Russian is going to make their futures better. While Russian is a leading country when it comes to space technology, oil, gas and energy related fields as well nuclear studies, the question that persists is whether learning Russian for three years on every weekends would actually equip students with adequate skills for these areas and whether these language skills are actually dispensable or not. Several universities have had ties up with foreign countries and arranged exchange programs without really investing into the language of those countries. In the end subject expertise would count a lot more than language skills although these skills would definitely be useful. The bigger question however is that in  a country like India, which is mesmerised by the US and UK, will Russia have any substantial takers?

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