Saturday, July 16, 2016

‘The Pessimists are Learning Chinese …'

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 16 – It was said at the end of Soviet times that “the optimists were learning English, the pessimists were learning Chinese, and the realists were learning to shoot Kalashnikov guns.”  At least part of this anecdote has come true: in the 1990s, many Russians chose to learn English; now, an increasing number of them are choosing to learn Chinese.

            Ever more Russians are choosing to learn Chinese and other Asian languages not only because of career goals – people with those language skills are and will continue to be in demand – but also because they are increasingly interested in Asia rather than in the West, according to portal author Kristina Ukolova (

            Chinese language courses are now offered in “approximately 100 Russian universities,” and in many of them, it is now the foreign language students choose first.  As a result of this educational boom, more than 10,000 Russians now know Chinese “at a high level,” the journalist says.

            In addition, the education ministry says, “more than 12,000 pupils” in Russian schools are studying Chinese, the largest numbers being in the Russian Far East, Siberia and in the Russian capital, Moscow. Often these courses are offered in the earliest grades, Ulukova says, but many pupils do not continue in later ones.

            On the one hand, there are no state examinations in Chinese and so students and their parents have less motivation than they might to study the language.  And on the other, when students enroll in universities, there are no programs for putting them in more advanced language classes. Instead, they are forced to begin “’from zero.’”

            Nonetheless, the prospect of  jobs both in Russia and abroad for those who know Chinese or other Asian languages is now so bright that students continue to enroll, although one educational specialist in Moscow says there is as yet no reason to fear that Chinese is about “to become ‘a second English.’”  So perhaps all the optimists have not disappeared.

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