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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When in Russia Learn to Speak as Russians Do

MTYoung Polish students working on their business-Russian skills in a summer class at the Pushkin Russian Language Institute.
To the uninitiated, Russian can seem a daunting maze of strange letters and unusual sounds, but English is not widely spoken in Moscow, and learning the language is a must for foreigners planning to spend any time here. Those willing to put in the effort will be rewarded when the mishmash begins to make sense.

The good news is that the number of respected and well-established language schools has grown to accommodate the expanding expat community.

After perestroika "language schools blossomed like mushrooms as foreign businessmen came to the capital, but many of these were run by unqualified and unaccredited instructors," says Igor Korobushkin, a Russian tutor.

"Then after the economic crisis in '98 many of these schools failed as the business community left, and even more closed when the government cracked down on those that weren't paying taxes."

However, there still are a number of fully accredited language courses and private tutors, both in and around Moscow. For complete beginners, if time permits, it is generally recommended that a student attend an intensive course for a week or two to learn the basics.

One option is the Russian Village, which is located just outside Moscow and offers a minimum of 40 hours a week instruction. James Sharkey, the Irish ambassador to Moscow, says he found the Russian Village "a very user-friendly place. They really went out of their way to discover my level and what my failings and potential were." He said the context was familiar, because as a boy he attended Irish-language schools in Ireland, where English was forbidden.

The Village has also begun to offer intensive weekend courses for those who don't have the time to dedicate to a full-time program.

If you prefer to remain in Moscow, Language Link operates both in Russia and abroad. David Galletta, an American who studied there in 2001, says the teachers "would explain something in as many ways necessary for us to understand." The school offers general and conversational Russian, Russian for business, and Russian for state university entrance exams, and it is also possible to arrange a class according to your own needs and schedule.

Several universities in Moscow -- including the People's Friendship University, Moscow State University, Moscow State Linguistic University and Moscow Pedagogical State University -- offer a wide variety of courses. However, one Russian-language teacher, Elizabeth Gippius, says that while "the organization is good, these programs are quite old and haven't changed for years." Korobushkin agrees that some programs quite old and that "they survive because they are taught by retired pensioners prepared to work for very little money or young Russian girls hoping to meet and marry foreign students."

Gippius teaches diplomats at the British and Swedish embassies, as well as IKEA and other private companies. She recommends the Pushkin Russian Language Institute, which she says is "progressive and very good."

The Grint Center for Education is another possibility. Located not far from the Kuskovo Estate, the Grint Center is accredited by City Hall and offers conversational and business Russian, as well as private tuition both on its campus and in students' homes.

For many people, however, incorporating any kind of group class into a busy work schedule is impossible, and a private tutor is preferable.

The best way to find a tutor is by word of mouth. If by some remote chance none of your acquaintances can suggest a good tutor, try ringing the British Council, which offers private lessons.

The bad news is that once you have signed on with a language teacher or program, you will need to put in a huge effort and be 100 percent committed to make real progress. Don't get discouraged when Russians say it takes at least 10 years to obtain any degree of fluency, but if you have studied French or Spanish, don't expect a similarly easy ride.

Gippius recommends an absolute minimum of two lessons a week and adds that most students do not realize the amount of preparation necessary.

"I recommend that long-term students have an exam, or at least an intermediary goal, because if students have something to aim for, they are more motivated and interested," she said.

"There is a big foreign community in Moscow and many are eager to learn Russian, but I find they get frustrated quite quickly."

Russian Lessons

Language Link: Tel. 232-0225.

Patriarshy Dom Tours: Tel. 926-5680

Russian Village: Tel. 933-8230, 721-7294.

Grint Center for Education: Tel. 374-7430.

British Council: Tel. 782-0200

Elizabeth Gippius: Tel. 971-2821

Pushkin Russian Language Institute: Tel. 330-8929, 336-0288.

Moscow International Higher Business School: Tel. 237-9220.

Moscow universities information: link to many university sites at the International Study Center.