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Classes Start at HSE International Preparatory Programmes

Classes Start at HSE International Preparatory Programmes

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

In terms of format, this new academic year has been an unusual one for many HSE students. In HSE University’s International Preparatory Programmes (IPP), 90% of students from various countries will start their classes online. We talked with the IPP teachers and students about the structure and content of their courses, and the difficulties students face in mastering the Russian language and immersing themselves in Russian culture.

Interactive Learning in Action

Thanks to innovative approaches to teaching and online resources, IPP classes remain interactive and engaging, says International Preparatory Programmes Deputy Director Polina Shanko.

Polina Shanko, International Preparatory Programmes Deputy Director

‘Despite the differences in format, the curricula for online and face-to-face classes do not differ much. All students will be given access to materials and textbooks, and the lack of “live” communication will be compensated by new opportunities for online learning—interactive tests, watching videos, chatting with classmates, and the ability to record a lesson. Online classes will be held over Zoom and MS Teams, and all groups have teacher-student chats where you can ask questions and quickly receive answers. If a student is able to come to Russia, they can quickly transition from online to onsite classes at the university.’

New Course for HSE University International Students

On September 1, a support course began for IPP graduates who have received Russian government scholarships to study at HSE University in bachelor’s and master’s programmes. The course consists of four conveniently timed double classes a week.

‘We focus on the needs and weaknesses of our students, but the main goal is not simply to help students with their “everyday” Russian skills, but to teach them academic-style Russian, which is what they use in their university courses. We see the main task of this course as helping students adapt to the academic Russian-speaking environment’.

Teaching Students to Analyze and Construct an Argument in Russian

IPP teachers have extensive experience and are able tailor their teaching style to each group. In the spring, teachers had to work in extreme conditions: they had to quickly transition to online instruction, master various online programmes for remote conferencing, find new ways to communicate with their students who had returned to their home countries or were in quarantine, and conduct final assessments. After last semester, IPP teachers met the new academic year fully armed.

Armine Dallakyan, Russian language teacher

A big difference this year is that we met our students online and adjusted our classes for an online format. The students were familiar with the Zoom platform, where we meet for class in real time. For checking homework, we use Google Classroom, Cctalk, and we also download the text material used in the lessons there.

In my group there are 11 students from Spain, Albania, Serbia, China, Vietnam, and Mongolia. All these students successfully passed the preparatory programme exams last year and entered various faculties of the HSE.

The students already have good listening comprehension and can express themselves well in the language. The purpose of the class is to continue learning Russian and build upon the language skills they acquired last year. The main tasks set before the students this year are to learn how to analyze texts that they have read, construct a logical and well-organized oral or written argument, write papers in one’s field, and speak in a formal, academic style.

All in all, I think I can say with confidence that online classes are just as good as offline classes. Zoom allows you to lead a full-fledged lesson with quite a large group of students

The platform’s functions bring the lesson closer to a real lesson in the classroom. Students see each other and the teacher (this is a prerequisite for online classes), hear clearly the speech of their interlocutors, share the screen, exchange information, watch educational videos, play linguistic games, write on the interactive whiteboard, work together on the creation of projects, and more.

Yaroslav Pototsky, Russian language teacher

This year we were able to prepare ahead of time for problems that arose unexpectedly last year. Online classes are held as video conferences. Face-to-face classes—and in my case, this is the support course for IPP graduates—are held in the traditional format, of course, taking into account any pandemic-related preventive requirements.

The main disadvantage of online classes is the absence of live, face-to-face communication. But there is also a big advantage, as some students say—it is not necessary to spend time commuting to campus. In my opinion, the main plus is that the considerable difficulties students encounter studying Russian online only more clearly reveal their motivation to continue their studies and learn the language. In the face of all these challenges, they more clearly show their sincere desire to reach their goals. And the teacher, of course, is even more acutely aware of their responsibility to their students.

I adhere to a pedagogical credo, the core of which was formulated by Belarusian pedagogue Efim Passov, who was one of the founders of RFL methodology—the concept of dialogue of cultures, which can be summed up as ‘culture through language and language through culture’. This concept is particularly relevant to the support course.

In these classes, students are introduced to the world as seen through the Russian language, with the Russian worldview, with Russian culture

Already having a command of the language at a level sufficient both for communication in everyday life and for studying in a bachelor's programme, students get more actively involved in the dialogue of cultures. The interactive nature of our classes contributes to a more intensive exchange of cultural values, as well as the assimilation of cultural values ​​perceived through the study of the Russian language.

We look forward to welcoming new students to our groups. Each person who enters into cultural dialogue is unique. They bring their own vision of the world, and we remember this, and we respect it.

Wan Jiachen, IPP graduate,  master’s student of the programme ‘Muslim Worlds in Russia (History and Culture)’

The programme “Muslim Worlds in Russia” is taught in Russian, which is both difficult and exciting at the same time. One of the most unusual and difficult subjects is the Arabic language. Arabic script and grammar are, perhaps, even more difficult to learn than Chinese, but my classmates and I are gradually getting the hang of it.’

My classes in the International Preparatory Programmes are a great opportunity to improve my Russian, because there is always something to learn in this beautiful but difficult language! We have a fun, international group, and all of them are HSE master’s students or undergraduates. In the classroom, we review grammar, read articles, and analyze complex vocabulary. At the end of the course, we all want to pass the Russian language exam TRKI-2. Our teacher Elena Alekseevna Aisakova is cheerful and positive. In class we often discuss current social issues with her, which is always exciting in an international group.

Although now I still cannot always speak Russian without problems, I noticed that lately passers-by on the street often ask me for directions, and I almost always know how to help them. This means that I do not look as confused as before. Thanks to HSE and my teachers for helping me gain confidence in Russian!

‘The Language Cannot be Taken by Storm’

There are common difficulties in learning Russian that foreign students face when studying in Russia, says Polina Shanko.

‘It largely depends on the country—it is clear that students from Bulgaria will not have as much trouble with pronunciation as students from China. In general, as in learning any other language, the main difficulty is not grammar or vocabulary, but understanding another culture. When I communicate with students, I understand that I quite often use references and fixed expressions in my speech, and I have to separately explain to students where this quote comes from, or look for synonyms.

‘Once a student said a word in front of me that was not very appropriate, and when I commented on it, he explained that he had started listening to the band Leningrad and was learning new words from their songs. I then had to recommend some different Russian music to him for expanding his vocabulary.

‘When studying Russian, it is important to believe in yourself, but to also remember that the language cannot be taken by storm—it can only be mastered after long but interesting work.’

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