[lg policy] Georgia is speaking its way out of Russian orbit
r.amirejibi-mullen at QMUL.AC.UK
r.amirejibi-mullen at QMUL.AC.UK
Sun Jan 30 06:31:15 UTC 2011
Georgia is speaking its way out of Russian orbit
A brigade of native English speakers are being recruited by Georgia's
government to spur a linguistic revolution. The goal is to make
Georgia a country where English is as common as in Sweden ? and in the
process to supplant Russian as the dominant second language.
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
The New York Times
Deborah Cruz teaches 10th-grade students at School No. 161 in Tbilisi,
Georgia, on Nov. 4. Cruz, from Seattle, is part of a brigade of
English speakers recruited to teach.
TBILISI, Georgia ? The new teacher who arrived recently at School No.
161 could barely speak a word of the Georgian language, knew little
about local customs and easily got lost in the crazy-quilt streets of
this hilly capital. But she was at the forefront of one of the most
notable educational initiatives ? if not social experiments ? being
attempted in the former Soviet Union.
When the teacher, Deborah Cruz, walked into a classroom of squirmy
teenagers, they grew rapt. Here was a stranger who would help connect
them to the rest of the world, one irregular verb tense at a time.
Cruz, who is from the Seattle area, is part of a brigade of native
English speakers recruited by Georgia's government to spur a
linguistic revolution. The goal is to make Georgia a country where
English is as common as in Sweden ? and in the process to supplant
Russian as the dominant second language.
"What we are doing is really something groundbreaking," Cruz, 58, said
after leading her class in a form of tic-tac-toe on the blackboard,
with students devising a sentence to fill in a box.
One of her students, Tekla Iordanishvili, 15, chimed in, "English is
the international language, and we need it."
The government has already lured 1,000 English speakers to Georgia,
and by September, hopes to have another 500 in place so that every
school in the country has at least one. Under the program, which
resembles both the Peace Corps and the Teach for America program, the
teachers live rent-free with Georgian families and receive a stipend
of about $275 a month.
The initiative to embed these foreigners across Georgia reflects the
ambitions of its Western-leaning president, Mikhail Saakashvili, who
speaks excellent English and studied law at Columbia University in New
York City. Since taking office after an uprising in 2003, Saakashvili
has worked to wrench Georgia out of Moscow's orbit and move it closer
to the United States ? so determined is his effort that it was a
factor in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
Many ties to Russia
During the Soviet era, the Communists used the Russian language to
bind the nation's far-flung regions, requiring it as the second ? and
sometimes primary ? language, from Estonia to Uzbekistan. But since
the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, many of the former Soviet
republics have elevated their own languages and marginalized Russian
in order to bolster their independence and national identities.
The Kremlin is highly sensitive to the status of the Russian language,
viewing it as a kind of barometer of its influence.
The turnabout is stark in Georgia, whose cultural ties to Russia
extend back centuries. Many Georgians older than 40 readily speak
Russian, while the young people who have come of age under Saakashvili
are often more interested in English. The government is intent on
hastening that trend.
Dimitri Shashkini, the minister of education and science, said in an
interview that Georgia, which has 4.6 million people, would prosper
economically only by significantly improving its educational system.
Ensuring that every child knows English is a major part of that
objective, he said.
"Georgia doesn't have natural gas or oil," Shashkini said. "The
resource that we have is our human intellectual potential. So we need
to use that potential as much as possible."
Shashkini said the government was not doing away with Russian classes,
but rather making them as optional as French or German. In general,
English is now mandatory.
He pointed out that teachers from the United States, Canada and other
English-speaking countries were also serving as cultural ambassadors
in a society that is still often saddled with Soviet-era mores. The
teachers not only instruct students and assist local English teachers,
but also start English clubs and interact with parents.
The Georgian government has studied English-language initiatives
elsewhere, including in South Korea, and is working with a company,
Footprints Recruiting, of Vancouver, British Columbia, that
specializes in finding native English speakers for such programs
around the world.
The one in Georgia has stirred complaints among old-guard Russian
speakers, who maintain that whatever the country's political
orientation, it cannot escape its geography or history.
Still, many of the English teachers said they were heartened by the
initial response to their efforts.
"To say that children were extremely excited to meet me is a gross
understatement," Meg Bell, 23, who is from the Dallas area, wrote in
an e-mail. "Other teacher friends that I've spoken with had similar
experiences upon first entering their schools. An atmosphere of near
Beatlemania hysteria broke out for about a week or so. Kids wanted me
to autograph their arms."
Some of the new teachers, assigned to village schools with crumbling
classrooms and few textbooks, questioned the Georgian government's
emphasis on English.
"It's like buying an espresso machine before you've built a kitchen,"
said James Norton, 23, from Boulder, Colo.
"There are so many obstacles preventing this cadre of foreign teachers
from doing their jobs effectively," Norton said by e-mail. "I often
wonder whether the government would be better off focusing on
fundamentals first ? buying books for all students, training teachers
in modern techniques (as opposed to the translation-and-memorization
doctrine which is currently rampant), paying Georgian teachers a
living wage, better accountability metrics, etc."
He stressed that despite his misgivings, he was pleased with his time
in Georgia, had no regrets, and believed that he was enriching his
Cruz, who worked in the fall at a school in Batumi on the Black Sea,
recalled that when she started, the children seemed bored. Their
previous English teachers had never engaged the students in
"By the time I left, they were speaking English in the classroom, and
the teachers were excited about it because they saw the
transformation," Cruz said. "So this will continue when I am not here
anymore. To me, that is more important than anything ? this is not
This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
More information about the Lgpolicy-list