Learning Russian

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The time has come for me to learn Russian; and by learn, I mean become fluent. This will require much pain, as I still cannot pronounce ы without making my wife give me a corrective glance.

Of course, instead of actually learning Russian, the first thing I do is think about the economics of my learning Russian. Case in point -- the number and diversity of Russian textbooks published increases when enrollment in Russian declines.

This has happened twice, in the 1970's and the 1990's:

In his essay about textbooks for teaching Russian in Teaching, Learning, Acquiring Russian (Lubensky and Jarvis 1984: 347--59), Fred Patton wrote: "Although the 1970�s witnessed a decline in Russian language enrollments in US colleges and universities, the latter part of the decade was a particularly fruitful period for the production of Russian language textbooks" (Patton 1984: 347). This view was echoed by Adele Donchenko in her review of a grammar textbook: "It is curious that what can be characterized as a renaissance in textbook publication is taking place at a time that is probably the darkest for Russian language teaching in this country in the last quarter century" (Donchenko 1983: 130). It is now clear that this pattern has replayed itself in the 1990�s. Russian-language enrollments on the secondary and post-secondary levels declined rapidly in the early 1990�s... The peak of enrollments experienced in the late 1980�s may have stimulated authors and publishing houses to move into action and the result has been an outpouring of materials in the middle of this decade that has resulted in a wide range of materials available for the teaching of Russian at all levels of instruction. It may be hard for some of us to remember, but in the period from 1985--1993, relatively few new textbooks came into the market.

The situation in the late 1970�s was in many ways similar to the situation today.... At the time that Pattons essay was published it may have seemed that the rapid pace of pedagogical innovations would continue, given a gradual increase in enrollments beginning in the mid-1980�s. This, however, was generally not the case. From the mid-1980�s through the early 1990�s, there were few new entries into the textbook market for Russian. There may have been many factors contributing to the slowing of the pace of the introduction of new materials into the Russian market, and it is beyond the scope of this paper to consider what those factors may have been. However, just as enrollments began to decline in the 1990�s, a surge of new materials began to hit the market in waves, in many cases materials whose design reflects new paradigms in language instruction and a clearer understanding of how learners acquire a foreign language in a classroom setting.

I don't have a good handle on why incorporation of pedagogical innovation occurs during decreases in enrollment, but I thought I should throw it out there...

1 Comment

Perhaps as enrollment declines, Russian teachers have more time to devote to writing Russian language instruction.

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on May 31, 2005 12:49 PM.

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