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Russian for Research: New Perspectives on Postgraduate Language Teaching.

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Presentation on theme: "Russian for Research: New Perspectives on Postgraduate Language Teaching."— Presentation transcript:

1 Russian for Research: New Perspectives on Postgraduate Language Teaching

2 Motivation for the Project Departments of Russian and Slavonic Studies are attracting more PG students who do not know Russian and whose research is therefore restricted Existing PG language provision does not meet the current demand and many students do not have access to any specialized language training There is a need to provide language training to remote-access students

3 CEELBAS (Centre for East European Language Based Area Studies) Innovative collaboration between the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), Russian and East European Studies (REES), University of Oxford, Centre for Russian and East European Studies (CREES), University of Birmingham Network partners: Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Kent, Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick, and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

4 CEELBAS Activities To provide advanced language training for research in all 14 languages that are covered by the centre To promote the use of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and other innovative modes of delivery

5 Broad Aim of the “Sheffield” Project Can PG students with no knowledge of Russian be provided with the language skills to successfully carry out their research? Can this be achieved within as little as 18 months? What format should the language training take?

6 Specific Goals To build up a profile of what PG language training is offered at CEELBAS institutions and to identify the methods of and problems in teaching languages for research To identify the demand for language training for research purposes at member departments and to establish what such language training should include To investigate new modes of delivery such as distance- and computer-aided learning

7 1. Existing Language Training

8 Existing Language Provision in CEELBAS “Tailor-made” intensive courses for PG students at CREES, REES and SSEES Commonality of approach and content, with emphasis on intensive training in reading skills Advanced oral course at Birmingham Manchester: combination of UG/PG classes Very limited training at other CEELBAS institutions

9 Existing Modes of Delivery Intensive language courses based heavily on reading and comprehension of set texts (Birmingham, London, Oxford) “Piggy-Backing” = combination of UG and PG modules (Manchester) Non-intensive reading modules UG programmes/private tuition

10 Problems with Existing Modes of Delivery Intensive training = costly and financially not sustainable in the long term (?); requires a constant stream of PG students every year and is therefore impractical at many institutions “Piggy-backing” = theoretically advantageous and cost efficient, but problematic for several reasons Non-intensive reading modules = ineffective UG courses = too general; do not meet PG students’ specific language needs

11 Other Problems Gap in the market in terms of teaching materials for research purposes at the beginners’ level Texts are out-dated and/or more suited to some disciplines than others Current PG language training doesn’t meet the growing need to provide advanced training in conversation skills The content of existing teaching resources is determined subjectively by linguists

12 Problems with Existing Courses (Students’ Comments) On the whole, the courses are very effective; high level of student satisfaction Very demanding and time-consuming, taking away time spent on the PhD Materials need to be revised More systematic presentation of (basic) grammar Too much flitting between materials

13 Conclusions: Existing Language Training PG language training is effective, but impractical at many institutions and possibly not sustainable in the long term(?) Other modes of delivery are problematic Many CEELBAS students have no access at all to language training New materials and more importantly new methods of instruction need to be developed Minimum of contact hours, based on self-study aided by some kind of interactive package for distance learning

14 2. The Demand for and Specific Requirements of RFR Programmes

15 The Demand for a RFR Course Based on comments from staff & students at CEELBAS departments of economics, history, politics, and sociology Data were elicited through meetings and via a questionnaire-based survey that was sent to CEELBAS departments by e-mail

16 The Demand for a RFR Course: General Comments “Massive demand!” Knowledge of Russian not essential at MA level, but a must at PhD level MA students are unable to progress to PhD level because of inadequate language training Potentially good researchers are lost Poor communication between departments of Slavonic Studies and other departments where research relating to Russia and Eastern Europe is carried out

17 Restrictions Inability to read and comprehend primary sources (few of which are translated into English) Inability to use archives Inability to conduct field interviews Inability to use certain statistical packages and online resources (economics) “You simply can’t do Russian-related economic research without Russian”; “Without language skills research is much impaired”

18 Current Research Trends Politics: geopolitics, energy and pipeline politics, conflict analysis, security issues, Russian foreign policy, international relations, Balkans (various topics) History: Soviet history, Cold War Economics: political crisis, labour markets, economic history, economics of former Soviet states

19 Specific Requirements (Mode of Delivery) Intensive learning: minimum of 8-10 hours/week (class time + self study) Regular contact with a class tutor Course should be taken early, preferably at MA level as a RTP module; “quick” learning is essential Focus not only on reading skills but also on conversation skills Cater as much as possible to the needs of the individual student

20 Specific Requirements (History) Specially-selected texts for reading practice that focus on types of discipline-specific vocabulary Communist vocabulary Soviet memorandum Academic articles List of important abbreviations Exerts of Russian handwriting Language training for use of archives

21 Specific Requirements (Economics) Vocabulary building (ratio of importance: 80% vocabulary / 20% grammar) Training in interview skills Training in “interview etiquette”: acceptable and polite procedures for interviewing, formulation of questions, non-verbal behaviour Information on Russian culture and customs

22 Specific Requirements (Politics/Sociology) Training of basic language skills Emphasis on in-class learning Basic conversation skills (politics); more advanced conversation skills (sociology) Emphasis on giving students a grounding of the basic language skills in the first year of their PhD degree

23 Students’ Comments A PG language course would be beneficial, especially for reading archive and online sources Extra language learning would be very demanding (especially for PG students with part- time jobs) Scepticism as to how successful such language training would be (cf. comments of students who had taken a PG language course) Prospective students seem unaware of importance of Russian for their research

24 3. Modes of Delivery

25 Distance Learning Based on teaching from March 2008 with a complete beginner with no previous linguistic training To test the effectiveness of an approach involving a minimum of contact hours with emphasis on guided self-study Problematic experience for both tutor and learner Less appropriate / effective at the beginners’ level Serious problems with motivation

26 Student’s Comments Language learning hampered by part-time status / remote access Scepticism as to whether a language can be acquired at the same time as working on the MPhil Inability to make progress without regular contact with a tutor

27 “ I saw the whole wide vista of the great Russian langauge ahead of me and became demoralised and intimidated by it”

28 Other Means of Providing Language Training Intensive Summer School in languages for research –Teach PG students the basics in preparation for self- study and guided distance learning –Provides a solid base for students to build on and gives them a greater sense of motivation –Sharing of language materials and resources –Perhaps shorter meetings at various stages of the year to refresh language skills Send students to CEELBAS institutions where intensive courses are offered

29 4. Conclusions and Future Goals

30 General Conclusions The demand for Russian for research programmes is high, but we are currently not meeting this demand; therefore, potentially good researchers are being lost Conventional intensive courses are effective and students are satisfied with them; however, are they sustainable? Can we increase their sustainability? Intensive courses are impractical at most institutions and many students have no resource to specialized language training Other commonly used methods are ineffective and unlikely to prove successful in the long term

31 General Conclusions 2 There is a need to develop new modes of delivery Distance and computer-aided learning is still under-researched and many scholars are at present dismissive of such an approach Combination of “innovative” and “conventional” teaching methods, at least at the beginners’ level? A key goal is to identify a cost-effective way of delivering shared PG language programmes across various institutions

32 Future Goals Short-term: revision of existing teaching materials and provision of training in advanced conversation skills Better collaboration between departments of Russian and Slavonic Studies and other departments where Russian-related research is being carried out Long-term: more qualitative research into both the market for and specific requirements of language for research programmes and into teaching methodologies and modes of delivery

33 Thank you!


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