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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Be Particular In Choosing English Class

The signs are everywhere: classified ads requiring fluent English, billboards filled with English slogans, English-language bookstores.

You can rent a video, buy a khotdog on your way home and later help a friend solve her krosvord puzzle -- all words now recognizable in Cyrillic.

The message is not lost on Vanya Osipov, 10, a fifth-grader at public school No. 78 in Krylatskoye, where English is taught every day.

"It's important because you can't get by without English," said Vanya, who has been studying English since the first grade.

English has become so pervasive in Moscow and St. Petersburg that authorities in both cities have started to enforce laws requiring signs to be in Russian. Failure to comply can bring heavy fines.

Study of a foreign language is mandatory in all Russian schools for three hours a week from fifth to ninth grades, or roughly from the ages of 10 to 15, said Margarita Leontyeva, head of the general education department at the Education Ministry. The most popular language is English, with 10 million children studying it.

"It's necessary in Russia to get jobs ... for everything," said Arkady Sandler, 21, a student in his final year at the Railway Institute. He studies English at a school called Language Link.

Naturally, English teachers agree that English is essential for professional success.

"If [people] don't know English then their career is literally being held back," said Gary Collins, director of the Polyglot International Language Academy, which has been offering primarily business English classes to adults for three years.

Many schools offer English classes for adults, and teachers are also available for one-on-one instruction. Unfortunately, plenty of poor-quality "cowboy operations" also are in business, said Lorraine Swann, an English-language teacher at the British Council's English Study Center.

So, just as it pays to shop smart for a motorcycle or a fur coat, it pays to do your homework when looking for a language school. Experts suggest prospective students should:

...Talk to teachers and students.

...Check teachers' credentials. Teachers should have either a certificate for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, also known as TESOL, or a Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults, CTEFLA. Look for low teacher turnover and low teacher-student ratio. Most schools limit classes to 10 or fewer.

...Consider the school's facilities, such as audio or video cassette libraries. The British Council's English Study Center has a comfortable student lounge with English-language newspapers. Language Link has a Russian teacher with whom students can consult.

...Consider costs, which range from $3 for 45 minutes to $69 for an hour.

As any foreigner who has tried to learn Russian can probably attest, it takes time to learn a language. If your goal is passing the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, which is required to attend U.S. universities, then you'll need about 2 1/2 years of classes five hours a week, said Thomas Kral, attach? for English-language programs with the U.S. Information Service in Moscow.