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

    US Watching as North Korea Opens Biggest Political Meeting in Decades

    As Workers' Party Congress opens, Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    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.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora