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Russian Language Unites: HSE Students Come Together for Online Classes While in Self-Isolation

Russian Language Unites: HSE Students Come Together for Online Classes While in Self-Isolation

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Elena Aisakova teaches Russian to students of International Preparatory Programmes. Her five groups have all transitioned to distance learning. HSE News Service has asked Elena and HSE's international students what it’s like to study Russian online as well as what tips they have to help others learn effectively while being on ‘opposite sides’ of the computer screen.

Elena Aisakova

I have just completed my second full week of online learning with students of the HSE International Preparatory Programmes (IPP). At first, it was just a way to continue classes, when we hastily organized classes on Zoom and uploaded course materials to Google classrooms.

It soon became apparent that online learning—of which, I’ll be honest, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical—is a perfectly fine format and can be quite effective. Learning a language from your computer screen is the same as in the classroom: we talk, act out dialogues, read texts, repeat after the teacher and, most surprisingly, successfully master difficult grammar topics. In the now distant ‘pre-remote’ times, it seemed to me that grammar in particular needs to be explained in person in the classroom, and that on the computer it will be incredibly difficult, but, as it turned out, we can manage just fine.

I also want to note that online teaching has its advantages: during the lesson, you can use a much wider range of educational materials

Indeed, before, it seemed to me that it was necessary to supplement the textbook with other materials, which I would then have to submit for printing at our printing house so that I could give hard copies to each student. Now I only need electronic versions of textbooks, which are shown onscreen immediately to the whole group. Through Zoom, our main tool, we show video excerpts, listen to dialogues, and visit educational web pages.

By the end of the second week, I’ve come to the conclusion that online classes are not only valuable, in that they allow my students to continue their studies, but that they help students who are cooped up in their dorm rooms or homes (many returned home and are continuing their studies remotely from their country) to momentarily break beyond the boundaries of their surroundings, overcome their anxiety about the pandemic, and distract themselves from their everyday routine.

The regularity and stability of our classes helps underscore the fact that life goes on, we need to continue our lives and do our homework—which, by the way, I am now assigning much more of than before

One of the textbooks we use is called We Are Alike, but We Are Different. It’s such a banal phrase, but there have been so many times lately I’ve been reminded of it! We attend one Zoom conference, we have one textbook, one group and one teacher, but we’re all in different places. This situation has indeed also shown us how different we are from one another.

We are similar, but we are different, and it is so good that we have Russian language to unite us, support us, and save us during this difficult time!

A Good Time to Read Your First Book in Russian

One of Elena Aisakova’s Russian language students is Orkun Arslan from Turkey. He tells why he decided to study Russian in Moscow, what his future plans are, and how his classes are going.

Orkun Arslan

While working on my master’s degree in political science, I spent two years in St. Petersburg and Moscow. I earned my master’s degree in the ‘Politics. Economics. Philosophy’ Programme at HSE University in 2018. During my studies in Russia, I have come to believe that better proficiency in Russian language will give me access to greater opportunities for studying Russia, so I decided to apply to the one-year preparatory programme at HSE to acquire the necessary language skills so that I could then study in one of HSE’s doctoral programmes.

Currently I am enrolled in this preparatory programme and now we are following the same schedule we were following before the online study period began. We are using Zoom for classes. As before, classes continue to occupy most of my daily life, except I don’t go to campus anymore. Overall, little has changed. Lessons keep me quite busy as we follow our regular schedule online.

Certainly, online education has its drawbacks. It is more difficult to concentrate when the internet connection is slow and creates some undesired outcomes occasionally. However, considering the difficult yet interesting times we are going through, it is more than OK to be able to continue our lessons. We are still able to learn about Russian literature and history as we continue to improve our Russian skills.

The teachers are more than helpful. They are doing their best to help us overcome problems we face. I cannot put into words how thankful I am for all those who do their best to make it possible during these times

As for my progress, there is definitely a huge improvement since the beginning of this academic year. Personally, I feel more comfortable when I engage in conversations in Russian. However, often times I feel the need to check a dictionary when I read articles in Russian. When completing writing assignments, on the other hand, I do not have to check the grammar tables, or think about what case to put a word in. That being said, when speaking, it is not that easy. Naturally, I am more likely to confuse the cases and words while speaking.

To overcome these difficulties, I am trying to read more in Russian and watch Russian movies from time to time. Reading certainly helps as it familiarizes the reader with new words and usages of more complex grammatical rules. Apart from short stories, and journal and newspaper articles I am reading, recently I started to read my first book in Russian language, which is Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin. It is certainly difficult, but little by little I am making progress.

Life is difficult under these new circumstances, yet studying Russian keeps me busy and help me enjoy my time during these days in which we are supposed to stay inside our homes and minimize social interaction. I am grateful to those who are helping us to improve ourselves and most importantly to our teachers who are helping us under these conditions.

No Regrets about Staying in Moscow During the Pandemic

Vegas Vogel von Vogelstein

Vegas Vogel von Vogelstein is from Hamburg, Germany. Vegas has visited Russia twice—one of those times, in fact, was when he was on a trip around the world, during which he traveled to the United States, Africa, Southeast and Central Asia, and Central and Eastern Europe. When he traveled around the countries of the former Soviet Union, Vegas was struck that during the three months of his travels around the region, the language of communication remained the same. ‘I realized that the Russian language is completely underestimated in Europe and that having learned it, I will gain great potential and an advantage in the future.’ Therefore, Vegas began to look for Russian language courses and applied to HSE International Preparatory Programmes for an intensive course.

He arrived in Moscow at the end of January and settled in at Dormitory 1 on Prospekt Mira. He has two roommates—one from Armenia and one from Russia. But they still communicate mostly in English as Vegas lacks the vocabulary for quick conversation.

‘Of course, to study in a classroom when you see a teacher, communicate with them face-to-face, and work in a group is much better than distance learning,’ says Vegas.

But online classes are the best solution that you could resort to now. I study Russian three to five hours a day on Zoom, plus I still have to do homework. So I don’t have much free time

Vegas’s parents wanted him to return home to Germany. But he decided to continue his studies in Moscow, and he has not regretted it. Moreover, he has made progress with his Russian—especially in terms of the grammar. ‘With regard to the grammar, I know in theory what form I should use in order to form a correct sentence. Before, I didn’t know anything about grammar, though I spoke with people in the streets. I can definitely say that when we learn a fair share of the grammar, which is not easy, it’s still hard to talk. I don’t understand half of what people say around me, but I feel a lot more comfortable communicating. It’s given me more confidence.’

Vegas is now reading Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. So far, he is reading it in English, but he plans to read it in the original next. He also uses the time that he used to spend on his commute to campus to watch useful Russian video courses. He recommends the following:

Hse_preparatory Flashmob

In order to make her online courses more interesting, Elena Aisakova launched a flashmob for her groups. At her request, they sent a photo of the view from the window of the room where they sit for their Zoom class.

‘The result was incredible,’ says Elena. ‘I got about 20 photos with views of snowy, gray Moscow, green trees with plump wax apples from Sri Lanka, sunsets over the ocean from Albania and a Turkish Bodrum, tiled roofs of Macedonia, and postcard views of a quiet street in Rome. My students also sent me photos of their cats, cows and deer!’

They first launched the flash mob in their groups on WhatsApp, Elena explains. ‘Now we’ve transferred some photos to hse_preparatory on Instagram. On the Instagram profile, you can also see our toy crow, which is our profile picture. The account motto is: InstaKarantina or ‘Let's quarantine together.’

See also:

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