1954-1991. Russian language courses and the Preparatory Faculty for Foreign Citizens.
The history of the Institute of Russian Language and Culture dates back to almost immediately after the end of the Second World War. With Soviet influence expanding in the post-war world, the urgent question arose regarding the admission of students from allied countries in Eastern Europe and Asia into the Soviet higher education system, most notably Moscow State University. Young people from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the GDR, as well as Mongolia and China, sought to take advantage of the opportunity and receive a free, high-quality education in the Soviet Union. For this reason, in the late nineteen forties, hardly recovered from the hardships of war, the country opened the doors of its universities to foreign students.
However, in order for foreign students to be fully included in the educational process on an equal basis with Soviet students, it was, of course, necessary for them to know Russian - the language in which their courses would be taught. Initially, Russian language classes for foreign students were carried out supplementary to their main course of study and taught onsite at their place of study; there was no systematic, academic base nor curriculum. Soon, however, owing to the ever increasing number of foreign students and the issues arising therewith, the question arose as to the formation of a new branch in applied linguistics (Russian as a foreign language), as well as the creation of a unified centre for academic methodology and application, specialising in the measures necessary to integrate foreigners into higher education (first and foremost, by assisting them to quickly overcome the language barrier).
By the mid-fifties, the urgency of the aforementioned problems increased further, due to the Soviet Union’s increasing international relations and the influx of foreign students from Vietnam and the Arab world. In 1954, therefore, Moscow State University focused all of its teaching of Russian to foreigners under one roof; MSU organised permanent Russian language courses for students from abroad.
These courses became the prototype for the full pre-university training courses for foreign students wishing to enrol in Soviet higher educational institutions. Soon the programme of courses would include general subjects, the study and successful completion of which was necessary to enter the main faculties of MSU and other higher educational institutions in the USSR; these courses had to be passed prior to entering university.
By the end of the fifties, the growing number of people wanting to study at Soviet higher educational institutions (during the period 1956-57, courses were taught to foreign nationals from 11 different countries; this number increased to 27 countries during 1958-59) meant that further institutionalisation and development of pre-university training for foreigners became necessary. In 1959, therefore, a fully realised subdivision of the University for teaching Russian language to foreigners was created at MSU: the Preparatory Faculty for Foreign Citizens. The Faculty was made up of three departments: the Russian Language Department, the Science and Humanities Department, and the Research and Instructional Methodology Department. The establishment of the Preparatory Faculty was not only a significant step forward in improving the immediate process of integrating foreign students coming to the Soviet Union to study, it also completed the unification of a previously dispersed specialist area of linguistics: teaching Russian as a foreign language. This was, of course, a major turning point in forming new understanding and approaches to the dissemination of the cultural and spiritual influence of our country throughout the world, raising the Soviet Union’s prestige and developing international interest in and respect for it. Ever since its establishment, MSU’s Preparatory Faculty for Foreign Citizens has been active and unrivalled in the field of Russian linguistics, working on textbooks, manuals and other pieces of methodological literature for foreigners. We can rightly say that all modern methods of teaching Russian as a foreign language are based on developments that took place within the walls of the Preparatory Faculty. Some widely known Russian as a foreign language textbooks written by the Faculty’s professors and teachers include: “Textbook of Russian Language for Foreign Students Enrolled in Preparatory Faculties of Universities of the USSR”, “Russian Language for All”, “Start”, “Rhythms of Russia”, “The Road to Russia”, as well as many humanities and science textbooks with a base in linguistic methods.
In addition to training foreign students wanting to study in Russian higher educational institutions, the Faculty took on the very important task of introducing visitors to the social and cultural life of our country, familiarising them with its history and popularising the achievements of Soviet science and economics. The Faculty’s membership was constantly expanding: in the sixties there were training courses for Russian language teachers from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa; students and post-graduates were joined by teachers and Russianists from abroad.
Methods of teaching foreign students Russian language and other preparatory training subjects was constantly improving. The Faculty accumulated a great wealth of teaching experience and academic potential. Other Russian universities’ preparatory departments and faculties soon began their work based on the Faculty’s programmes, text books and manuals.
A further increase in the flow of foreign students coming to study in the USSR was the reason behind the State Leadership’s decision to establish the People’s Friendship University (PFU) in Moscow. The Preparatory Faculty at MSU was tasked to help create a Russian language department specialising in teaching foreigners at PFU. The core of this new department would be made up of a large group of teachers who were transferred from the Faculty to PFU. The growth of our country’s international authority and the subsequent increase in the popularity of the Russian language added to the impetus to further develop the work on systemising our collective knowledge and practical experience, strengthening the theoretical basis of Russian language studies. To this end, in 1966, it was decided to separate the Research and Instructional Methodology department from the Faculty at MSU. Thus the Centre for Research and Instructional Methodology was born, staffed primarily with teachers from the Preparatory Faculty. The Centre would later become Pushkin State Russian Language Institute.
In the nineteen seventies and eighties, the Preparatory Faculty taught students from tens of different countries. In this period, more than fifty thousand young people from across Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa passed through its doors. Many of our students, not least because of the knowledge they gained in our country, went on to achieve considerable success, have commercial and artistic careers and play crucial and meaningful roles in their own countries.
1991 – 2013 the Centre for International Education
The significant changes that took place in the life of our country in the early nineteen nineties resulted in the need to seek news ways to work and approach the pre-university training for foreign students and the teaching of Russian as a foreign language at Moscow State University.
For this reason, in 1991 it was decided to change the MSU Preparatory Faculty for Foreign Citizens to the MSU Centre of International Education (CIE). Part of this reorganisation meant transitioning to new commercial principles for attracting foreign students, utilising promotional and marketing opportunities and integrating into the global education market. In the nineties, the Centre for International Education introduced a number of new programmes as well as greater flexibility allowing for the diverse needs of all those wishing to learn Russian and to prepare for admission to MSU and other higher educational institutions in Russia. Foreign citizens were offered pre-university training programmes of varying duration (from 10 to 18 months), as well as preparation for postgraduate study. The study of Russian was made available not only through university preparatory programmes, but also in the form of language courses of varying duration and intensity (courses for beginners, practical course for foreigners studying Russian language, speaking courses for foreign students and Russianists, specialised courses on topical issues of modern Russian society). The Centre also began to develop in completely new directions: in particular, creating and starting language courses for foreign teachers of Russian wanting to improve their skills.
The national makeup of CIE students also changed and increased significantly. Changes in the global political climate led to a significant increase in the interest in Russia from the populations and business communities in Western Europe, North American and Southeast Asia. At the same time, for obvious reasons, the influx of students from Central Africa and the Arab world decreased slightly. The development of international cooperation in the 1990s also contributed to the emerging need for Russian language in many regions of the world, especially in industrialised countries. In addition, considerable attention was needed to maintain the qualifications and practical application of Russian language studies in the former USSR and its allies. It was therefore extremely urgent to develop and implement common
standards for training and testing people’s Russian language abilities. Most academic and organisational work in this field was carried out by the Centre for International Education: the systemisation of levels for Russian as a foreign language and the development of testing methods and materials.
In 1997, the Centre for Testing Foreign Citizens in Russian Language was opened as part of CIE. Its specialists were actively involved in the creation of the Russian state standards for determining the levels of Russian as a foreign language. The Testing Centre carried out, and continues to carry out, theoretical and practical work on the standardisation of tests, the determination of certified levels of proficiency in Russian and the training of specialists from around the world working with testing materials. During its lifetime, the Testing Centre at CIE has gained wide popularity and credibility among Russian and foreign specialists. Since 1998, the Testing Centre has been a member of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE).
In 2002, as part of the wider development in new forms of teaching and introduction of modern technology in the Centre’s educational methods, the first multimedia and interactive remote learning course for Russian as a foreign language “News from Russia” was developed and implemented. In addition to language, materials in the course were included to provide a more expanded view of Russian national characteristics, culture and social life. This programme was evaluated by the Ministry of Education and was twice (in 2002 and 2003) winner of the “Russian language” federal target programme award, receiving the gold medal of the All-Russian Exhibition Centre in 2003. In 2003, endeavouring to improve the quality of teaching Russian as a foreign language, CIE launched the additional education programme “Methods of Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language”. Given the growing interest in Russian throughout the world and the constantly increasing need for specialists connected therewith, this trend has shown great promise in the past few years. The number of students in each course is steadily increasing.
The Centre for International Education was directly involved in the creation of the Russian Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature (RATRLL). The current director of the Institute of Russian Language and Culture, Prof V. A. Stepanenko, is a member of the Presidium of the RATRLL. Three sections of RATRLL – initial entry training, new technologies and testing - are headed by specialists of the Institute. CIE specialists also played and continue to play an active role in the activities of the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature (IATRLL), as well as in various types of conferences, symposia and professional workshops. Due to increasing international cooperation, there has been a significant increase in the demand for CIE specialists in foreign universities.
The persistent and purposeful work of the experts at the Centre for International Education has made it possible for us to overcome this difficult period of our history with dignity, to maintain a professional team, to develop strong business relationships with Russian and foreign partners, and to make a name for ourselves and create a strong reputation in the education market.
2013 – 2014 the Institute of Russian Language and Culture, Lomonosov Moscow State University
At the beginning of the 2010s, it became obvious that the potential to develop as an educational centre was almost exhausted; the need to transform CIE in order to expand opportunities for further development became a key issue.
The transformation of the MSU Centre for International Education to the MSU Institute of Russian Language and Culture took place in 2013. The new status as an institute was needed in order to develop and implement new educational programmes and to further promote the Institute in the international education market. The Institute’s plans are to open the MA programme “Teacher of Russian as a Foreign Language”, to further the development and worldwide distribution of uniform methods of teaching Russian as a foreign language, to standardise skills assessment, and to provide every possible assistance in popularising Russian culture. While continuing to develop as a modern, high-tech institution, the Institute for Russian Language and Culture cares for its traditions, trying to fully preserve within its walls the spirit of the country’s first, classical preparatory faculty. The Institute’s staff foster an atmosphere of warmth and trust for their students and endeavour to help them feel more comfortable and quickly adapt in an unfamiliar cultural environment. Students frequently take part in extracurricular activities: excursions, artistic and festive evenings, competitions etc.
In 2014, the Institute of Russian Language and Culture celebrated the 60th anniversary since the first Russian language courses for foreigners was organised at Moscow State University. The long accumulated wealth of theoretical knowledge and practical skills as well as the recently acquired stable relationships with foreign partners allows us to look forward to the future with great optimism.