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EDUCATOR SERVICES AND RESOURCES  / "SOUND BITES" - ADVOCACY FOR RUSSIAN PROGRAMS
27.02.2010


Colin Powell said these words while speaking at a NAFSA conference. Click for details.

Why Study Russian
Advocacy for Language and Russian Programs

In an effort to supply teachers with a ready source of advocacy for their programs, SRAS asked a series of people in influential positions to comment on the importance of programs dedicated to educating people about Russia, and about understanding it through its language. We also plan to include quotes taken from media sources as we get them. 

For lots more on advocating for Russian programs - and growing them - please see our page on Russian program development.

 

1.  Submitted by Dr. Stephen Blank, Research Professor of National Security Affairs, U.S. Army War College, on Feb 07, 2006. 

     "An unfortunate trend of the last thirty years is the gradual decline of American interest in and knowledge about all things foreign. This knowledge is intrinsically valuable for its own sake and as our current situation shows, essential if we are to conduct a successful global economy, foreign policy, and military policy. Failure to educate students in languages, history, and geography (and here I speak as both educator and parent) robs our children, our country, and our leaders of the knowledge that they must have in order to compete successfully and to have a full life. As an expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union I can say without reservation that one of the greatest drawbacks of American public life is the proliferation of ignorance about those countries, an ignorance which is no doubt no less troubling or pervasive about other areas of the world given the general trends in education and politics. Expertise about these countries is not only essential to my work in the Army and Defense Department but is essential so that our citizenry and leadership is accurately informed by something more than sound bites. Without the expertise that I and my colleagues have we could not serve the Army, DOD, or the country. Nor are we alone, as there are other similar institutions in the military and academia, or in private establishments. The point is that American society, much as it did fifty years ago, must understand that it is a compelling national interest for us to increase our knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world if we are not only to win the current war, but also to continue to be the main bastion of democratic order in the world and provide for the general prosperity."

 

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2.  Submitted by Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent, The Economist, on Feb 8, 2006. 

     "Russian is a vital tool for any foreign correspondent wanting to work  in the large slice of the world that lies between Poland and Japan, north of Iran. Reading Russian-language websites, listening to the programmes of Ekho Moskvy and Radio Liberty, and being able to talk to people whose only international language is Russian provides crucial insights into events and trends in more than 15 countries."

3. Submitted by Major John Lewis, US Air Force, on Feb 14, 2006. 

     "I work for the US Air Force as a pilot and am currently working in a transportation staff position in St Louis.  You may recall back in August of last year when there was an crisis involving a Russian submarine which was stranded and rescue crews needed to be flown in to assist?  Well, I happened to walk into work that morning and my boss told me to stop whatever I was doing and focus all of my attention on getting the plan together to fly the rescue teams to Russia as quickly as possible.  To keep this from becoming too long of a story, ... during that morning of planning I quickly realized how few people in the US know Russian and also how nice it would have been to know just enough to be able to make a phone call and ask a few questions to someone in Russia about airfield capabilities.  After that event I decided that I would try to learn some Russian and put myself in a better position to plan for a future crisis.  I have taken about 3 months of private lessons and can now blunder my way though a very primitive conversation, but I know I have much more to learn.  I hope to hone my skills in Russia someday since learning the language well can only be done through immersion."

4. Submitted by Philip H. de Leon, Deputy Director, Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (U.S. Department of Commerce), on March 24, 2006. 

    "Speaking a foreign language is critical.

"First, it shows to your interlocutor that you have a genuine interest in him and his country. If you have made the effort to devote years to learning his language, you most probably care more about him and what he has to say than someone who hasn't.

"Second, it breaks down the communication barrier as not only can you understand what your interlocutor says, but you can also answer and express your mind.

"Third, it will expose you to a different way of thinking that you cannot grasp until you know a foreign language. Languages are a reflection of the context in which they were created, showing a different reality. For instance, some languages have different levels to show respect towards an elder or someone you meet for the first time. Knowing it will enable you to make sure you carefully choose your words so as not to appear rude and will make you think about how you interact using English. Another example is the word Samizdat in Russian. It means to self-publish. This refers to publications that were forbidden and clandestinely published by people at home.

"Fourth, it will put you ahead if you are looking for a job. Companies need and want employees with a multicultural mind as we more and more live in a global world. More job announcements not only require one foreign language but also a second one.

"Last, the joy of reading a book in its original language such as Les Miserables or Doctor Zhivago is a thrilling experience.

"Personally, I would not have my job if I did not speak Russian. I would not have been able to enjoy my vacation in Argentina the way I did if I did not speak Spanish. I would not be living and working in the U.S. if I had not learned English in school as my mother tongue is French.

"To conclude, I would say of all the things I studied, I never regretted the amount of time I devoted to studying a foreign language and I encourage everyone who is willing to do the same." 

5. Submitted by Steve LeVine, correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, on March 28, 2006.

     "I went overseas as a correspondent in 1985 -- to the Philippines. I left after three years to be Newsweek's Pakistan-based contract correspondent covering Pakistan and Afghanistan. From there, I went on to the FSU (21 days after the Soviet collapse), to represent Newsweek, the Financial Times, and the Washington Post in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Then the same turf for the New York Times. Finally, I opened a bureau for the Wall Street Journal in Almaty and Baku. That's the upside. The downside is that those days are basically over. In none of those places did I have the local language; only after several years did I attain fluency in Russian in the latter posting. Two things are highly improbable these days -- that one can simply pop into a place and obtain a premier job based largely on personal enterprise. The second is that one can compete without language. When I look at the resumes of young people applying for the type of jobs I think are attractive -- covering parts of Europe, China, the Middle East -- I find qualifications that would have prevented me from getting a seat at the table. It's typical for our Middle East correspondents to have Arabic, and often Arabic plus Persian (in one case Arabic, Persian, and Turkish). Our most recent European hire is an LSE-Harvard grad with Italian, Spanish, and German. Furthermore, in Tom Friedman's Flat World, we are also competing with Lebanese, Chinese, Indians, and Mexicans. To compete in this world, one must enter with fluency in at least one and preferably two or three foreign languages. As for my Russian, even with my two decades of experience I simply would have no credibility as a foreign correspondent without it. In conclusion, it's not only a matter of being able to produce quality work by speaking with people in their own language; to get a seat at the table, meaning compete in the job market, one must have foreign languages."

 
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6. Submitted by Sergei Grigoriev, VP of the US-Russia Business Council, on April 26, 2006.  

     "Understanding the language and the culture helps to understand lots of things; it also helps to get rid of biases and prejudice. There was a major interest in Russia during the 1990's -- today the interest is declining. I may sound like an idealist, but I firmly believe that the peaceful future of the world depends on much stronger ties and on actual partnership between the United States and Russia in many areas. Language and cultural skills help promote better business partnerships. I strongly believe that it is in the interests of the United States to continue with many programs aimed at studying Russia, Russian language, and Russian culture."

7. Submitted by Prof. Andy Kaufman, University of Virginia, former guest lecturer on "Oprah's Book Club." Submitted on July 6, 2006.

     "Speaking more than one language is like living more than one life, one of the ancient philosophers said. And it’s true — traveling in a foreign country such as Russia suddenly becomes a lot more exciting when you can engage in elegant small talk with a hotel receptionist, compliment your tour guide’s dress, or actually read the menu and order the food that you really want. Being able to ask for things instead of pointing at them, and getting directions from the locals instead of staring at a map are some of the little things that make you feel at home.

"You don't even need to cross the ocean to immerse yourself in Russian culture; you can find little Russian neighborhoods (or even pretty big ones!) in many American cities. Whether your colleagues, your neighbors, or your friends speak Russian, the best way to win their hearts is to speak their language to them.

"Right now nearly 450 million people are fluent in Russian, and interest in this popular language is only increasing. Federal agencies and many businesses that are realizing the potential of the Russian market will look to those applicants who are fluent in Russian. In January of 2006 President Bush announced a new hundred-million-dollar initiative to bolster U.S. national security by expanding foreign language education in this country. The languages he named as key strategic languages are Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Farsi, and Russian."

8. Submitted by Eugene Huskey, Professor of Political Science and Director of Russian Studies, Stetson University. Submitted on Feb 2, 2010.

     "To study Russia is to engage an area of the world that is neither fully European nor Asian, and therefore to interrogate the meaning of both of these geographical and cultural constructs. To study Russia and its environs is to confront human diversity inits richest form. The “unmixing” of peoples that accompanied communism’s collapse has reshaped language use, religious practice, cultural identities as well as social and political relations within and among states.

"To study Russia is also to come to grips with the building blocks of a modern market economy. There is no surer way to learn about Western economies than to examine Russia’s tortured attempts to put in place the necessary infrastructure for a vibrant market, such as property rights, independent courts, and a professional civil service.

"In short, the study of Russia and the surrounding lands allows American students to see their own country and the world in a new light. In the words of John Stuart Mill, “he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” We are proud that Russian Studies at Stetson continues to provide the transformative education found in the best liberal arts colleges."

 

 
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From the Press

1. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, speaking at the Munich Conference on Security Policy - 02/05/06

     "Well, I believe there is a substantial overlap of interests among the United States, Germany, Europe and Russia. Certainly as my colleagues have said, there is an interest in countering terrorism and radical Islam. There is an interest in helping to re-build countries such as Afghanistan that have become breeding grounds of danger. Stopping nuclear proliferation by dangerous states such as Iran and North Korea.

"And here I am very pleased that Russia may be developing a special role in exploring the possibility of developing internationalization of the nuclear fuel cycle, where perhaps Russia and the United States have a particular historical responsibility.

"I also work a great deal with Asia; and I encounter my Russian colleagues at meetings of APEC and the ASEAN countries and Southeast Asia. I think the interest in northeast Asia in particular where we still have problems with the Cold War -- and even World War II -- that are still frozen and need to be addressed."

2. US Ambassador to Russia Willam J. Burns, speaking to the Gorbachev Fund / Carnegie Center Conference held on May 30, 2006 in Moscow:  

     "Another huge challenge before Russia today is how best to develop a resource even greater than its oil and gas: the immense potential of its well-educated and resourceful citizens. Interaction between us can help in important ways. Already, Boeing employs 1300 superb Russian engineers and designers in Moscow, in programs which benefit us both. Intel has similar programs in software development in Russia. They have only scratched the surface of what's possible."  (read full speech)

3. Eugine P. Trani, President of Virginia Commonwealth University, as printed in "Criticize but don't exclude" in The International Herald Tribune on Sept. 09, 2006. 

     "The Moscow and St. Petersburg I traveled to this summer stand in stark contrast to the Russia depicted by the media and politicians in the United States. The Russia I visited was one of growing prosperity and innovation, progressive education and an economic strength not based exclusively on oil and gas. It was a Russia uniquely positioned to forge solid partnerships for the war on terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation and energy - all vital issues for America."

4. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, at the NAFSA Annual Conference, May 29, 2007.

     "We live in a truly global age…. To solve most of the major problems facing our country today—from wiping out terrorism to minimizing global environmental problems to eliminating the scourge of AIDS—will require every young person to learn more about other regions, cultures, and languages."

5. The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, hearing on May 24, 2007.

     "Russia is an increasingly important and influential member of the international community, playing a key, albeit not always constructive, role in organizations such as the United Nations, the Group of Eight, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And in the not too distant future I expect this list to include the World Trade Organization."

6. Thomas Omestad, Reporter or US News and World Report, International Affairs and Diplomacy, opinion printed in US News and World Report on December 29, 2008.

     "Why not get ahead of the geopolitical curve and study Russian? Though it has never been a top foreign language among American students, Russian did grow in popularity during the Cold War. And the wealth of Russian history and literature has always made learning the tongue rewarding enough for many. Now, a resurgent and more nationalistic (though post-communist) Russia is again doing some muscle flexing, albeit much more modestly than in the past. American students currently rank Russian eighth on a list of foreign languages that interest them. But with Russia widely pegged as a re-emerging great power--and taking a tough line against a range of American policies--mastering the tongue of the Kremlin could well come to regain some cachet. And, if not, you still could read Dostoevski in the original form, not to mention order a vodka in Moscow with a certain grace."

7. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, opinion published at politico.com on June 25, 2009.

     "A recent report — “Foreign Affairs Budget of the Future,” by the American Academy of Diplomacy, in cooperation with the Stimson Center — has documented the problem and the need.

"The report makes the point that sending diplomats abroad without language skills is like deploying soldiers without bullets. Yet nearly 30 percent of positions that require foreign language skills are filled by officers without them. Why? Because State lacks the personnel to send to language training at a time when nearly 20 percent of regular positions in embassies and in the State Department are unfilled.

"From Grenada to Haiti to Afghanistan and Iraq, we have faced situations that demand a rapid deployment of technical experts in a wide array of fields, from police training to municipal administration. Our inability to respond promptly has cost us severely." 

 

Articles and Reports Providing Advocacy

1.  From the Media

Russian in the Real World is an extensive article by Paul Richardson of Russian Life Magazine.  In it, he describes how several professional people have learned and continue to use Russian.  (article in .pdf)

Does Russia Matter? is an editorial also by Paul Richardson of Russian Life Magazine, in which he argues for Russia's significance in the world.

SRAS Interviews and Personalities provides interviews and stories from professionals who use Russian in their jobs and from students who hope to use Russian professionally.

2. From Universities

Florida State provides its own page of reason to studies Russian - covering business, politics, and culture.

Rutgers University offers a long list of reasons why can and should learn Russian. 

3. From Government Sources

William J. Burns, former Ambassador to Russia, underscored the importance of studying and understanding Russia, which will play a major role in the world political arena and economy for many years to come. 

The Senate Names 2006 the "Year of Study Abroad"  "An education that includes study abroad not only opens doors to careers, it opens minds and worlds of possibility." 

Framework for the 2004 Foreign Language National Assessment is a document produced by the federally funded National Assessment Governing Board and provides a handful of good arguments for foreign language learning. However, most of its focus is on Spanish and the results of this scheduled assessment have not been found. 

State Department briefing on actions in and plans for Central Asia (where Russian is a major language of business and diplomacy).

 


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