News / Europe

English Replaces Russian as Top Foreign Language of Study in Ex-Soviet Georgia

A first grader attends his first English language lesson at a local school in Tbilisi, September 15, 2010.
A first grader attends his first English language lesson at a local school in Tbilisi, September 15, 2010.
James Brooke
Twenty years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, 90 percent of the people in the 12 new countries that surrounded Russia, Belarus and Ukraine spoke Russian.  By the end of this decade, linguists say, that portion could fall to 10 percent.

The decline of Russian is particularly sharp in Georgia.

Packed with eight-year-olds, a third-grade English class at a government school in northern Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, offers a noisy insight into the country’s linguistic future.

“I have a boat,” the students cry out, poring over their workbooks with encouragement coming from two teachers, Georgian Inga Chanturia, and Charlie McMurray, a 25-year-old American from the U.S. west coast state of Oregon.

McMurray is one of 540 English teachers, two-thirds of them Americans, who work here for minimal salaries under a new Georgian government program to teach English to all students, from first through 12th grade.

“There are 2,000 some odd schools in Georgia, and almost all of them have had a native English speaker at the school,” says McMurray, who has taught here for one year.


Key linguistic switch

After nearly two centuries of rule by Moscow, Georgia made a key linguistic switch two years ago.  English now is mandatory for all students, Russian is optional.

On Sunday (October 21), a Russian-trained, Russian-speaking billionaire, Bidzina Ivanishvili, becomes Georgia’s new prime minister.  Many Georgians hope he will bring better relations with Russia.  But in interviews here, no one said they wanted the language policy changed.

At Tbilisi’s school number 75, director Tina Alavidze foresees no language policy change.  She says parents demand English, starting in the first grade.

“The people themselves chose to learn English,” she said, speaking in Georgian and declining to speak in Russian.  “So no new policy will be introduced in terms of learning language.”

Georgia wants to join the European Union.  That may be far off, but Georgians know in Europe today 90 percent of school children study English.

Meri Sazuashvili, a 15-year-old student at the school, predicts the student reaction if the new Georgian government cuts back on English teaching: “We will have protests,” she said in the school library, where Russian books still outnumber English books on the shelves.  “English is really important.  If they do that, we will do our own study.”

Sazuashvili uses English to make friends around the world through Facebook.  Her girlfriend, Nanuka Abuashvili, uses the social networking site, Tumblr.

“I have talked to people from USA, Australia, England, France Belgium and other countries,” Abuashvili said. “They know perfect English.”

English, then Russian

Now in high school, both girls have started studying Russian as their second foreign language.  Although Russia still demands visas from Georgians and bans most imports from Georgia, the girls predict that by the time they are looking for jobs, normal relations will be restored, and companies will look for employees who can speak English and Russian.

In contrast to their English study, they say their mothers can help them with their Russian homework.  But the attraction is limited.  They say they never visit Russian language websites, and are not big fans of Russian pop music.

Last year, the girls’ American teacher was Raughley Nuzzi.  He joined VOA for a return visit to his old class at school number 75. Sazuashvili remembers American culture came with some of Nuzzi’s language classes.

“We learned some American dances, Elvis Presley songs,” she said.  “It was fun.  It was good.”

Now Nuzzi is spokesman for Georgia’s English teacher program, Teach and Learn With Georgia.

“The program is pretty universally popular, even amongst opponents to the previous administration,” he said, referring to the ongoing political changeover here. “The schools, families, students, parents, everyone has been very gracious and very much in support.”

From Tbilisi, Lawrence Sheets, Caucasus Director for the International Crisis group, is watching Russian lose its historical role as a language of empire.  For the past two decades in Georgia, Russian language signs have been banned, and Russian language TV and radio broadcasts have been limited.

“Many people have forgotten Russian,” Sheets said of Georgians of the "Soviet generation."  “If you go into the countryside, the older generation, where they definitely would have spoken Russia, at least some, during the Soviet era, you find areas where people don’t speak, or they speak very little.”

Many of the current wave of tourists to Georgia from the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Ukraine find that if they want to talk to a Georgian under 35 years of age, it is simpler to try English.  

Judging by the enthusiasm in the third grade of Tblisi’s school number 75, the wave of the future here is English.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: inga from: georgia ajara
October 27, 2012 7:37 AM
i think this programme must be continuied i am teacher and i know what is importance of this programme .students and even teachers are more motivated and interested in english .English is easier than Russian. georgian students are thankful of tlg program teachers

by: Lauren from: Chicago, USA
October 22, 2012 12:21 PM
For anyone interested in becoming one of the English teachers contributing to the progression of the English language in Georgia, you can join this great program through Greenheart Travel for 3-12 months (free program, flights included!)

More information:
http://www.cci-exchange.com/teach/georgia.aspx

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs