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.

English Dethrones Russian as Top Foreign language in Ex-Soviet Georgiai
|| 0:00:00
X
James Brooke
October 17, 2012 11:16 PM
Twenty years ago, in the 12 non-Slavic countries surrounding the Slavic core of the old Soviet Union, 90 percent of the population spoke Russian. But with the break-up of the Soviet Union, linguists say by the end of this decade, that portion could fall to 10 percent. James Brooke visits Georgia where the decline of Russian has been particularly abrupt.

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

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid