Steppes towards learning real Russian

29th September 1995 at 01:00
Teachers work together to tackle resource shortages. Until this term The Campion School in Essex, one of the Europa Centre's regular customers, has been offering French and Russian jointly as first foreign languages from Year 7.

All 120 pupils did both languages then chose French and Russian or just French from Year 8. But due to pressure on time the school is this year offering Russian from Year 8.

Of the four teachers in the modern languages department three are qualified to teach Russian and all can teach French.

Mark Felstead, Campion's head of modern languages, says they use the centre "for older pupils preparing for GCSE ... to put the transactional side of oral work into practice with native speakers and some real items of Russian daily life around them, like books, toys and shop signs. That's something that cannot be given readily in this country or even on a visit to Russia."

Mr Felstead, who is a former chairman of the Russian committee of the Association for Language Learning, says Russian materials do not match the range of new courses in French and German. What little published work there is invariably needs considerable updating, he says, though teachers cope by networking and producing their own.

"Reading material is another problem. We can't rely on support from Russia itself, because it is such an impecunious country. These are constraints that work against less-spoken languages generally. It's a situation the Department for Education should be taking more seriously," he says. Shortage of cash prevents the school using the Europa Centre more than once a year for each of the 10 classes in Years 10 and 11.

Trips to Russia are arranged every two years. In July, Mr Felstead took 13 boys to Rybinsk, a dilapidated industrial town on the Volga, for a two-week house stay. The idea was to see somewhere more typical of the country than Moscow - Rybinsk is an eight-hour drive away. The school borrowed the Europa Centre's concept of learning in a sympathetic environment and arranged for pupils to practise on staff at a department store and a chemist's.

"They came back very enthusiastic about Russian and much more aware that it is a living language. They got used to seeing written Russian all around them and hearing the pronunciation. And they now have the ability to read aloud more confidently. It was invaluable," Mr Felstead says.

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