By Shabana Begum
They are an energetic bunch, guffawing at their peers’ mispronunciations and cheering for those who correctly translate Russian phrases to English.
Whenever a student mispronounces a crucial word, the language coordinator asks the class to repeat it. The students more than gladly oblige.
This is the typical atmosphere of a Russian Language class here, the latest language elective offered by the Centre for Modern Languages (CML) this semester.
The University decided to offer Russian after it came up tops in a CML survey of 500 students, who were asked which languages they would most like to study.
NTU is the only university in Singapore to offer the Russian language as a module.
Two new languages — Swedish and Latin — will also be offered next semester, bringing the total number of language electives to 16.
The centre is also considering introducing Cantonese in the future.
CML lecturer Patricia Lorenz said expanding CML’s language options allows them to accommodate students’ demand for more languages, as well as their desire to stay relevant in a globalised world.
Forty students were enrolled in the inaugural Russian class this semester, conducted by Ms Elena Ermilova. Ms Ermilova hails from Moscow and is the only Russian lecturer at NTU.
For final-year School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) student Shimma Abdul Rahim, the desire to read her favourite Russian text in its original language spurred her to take up the elective.
“I did my Final Year Project on ‘The Master and Margarita’ by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov,” said Shimma, 27, who was introduced to Russian literature two years ago when she took HSS modules on
European and Modernist Literature.
Despite their strong interest, students whom the Nanyang Chronicle spoke to said learning Russian was no walk in the park.
Fourth-year Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering student Carrie Jiang, 23, who had taken French Level 1, said: “Some French words are somewhat similar to English, but Russian words are longer and different from English, except for borrowed words. So we remembered the words by memorising.”
Students also found learning the Cyrillic alphabets, which contain English letters but have different phonetic sounds, and differentiating between the vocal stress patterns, very challenging.
To help students master the language, Ms Ermilova conducts her classes using role-playing activities and multimedia materials that require students to work together.
“The role-playing tasks were beneficial because it helped me recognise which phrases to use in certain situations,” said Shimma.
Jiang also said: “Through the Russian cartoons Ms Ermilova showed us, we learnt to memorise Russian vocabulary.”
Jiang said knowing the language would also help her during her solo trip to Russia after graduation.
Russian language elective students are also able to attend lectures by prominent figures from the local Russian community.
Last March, the Russian ambassador to Singapore, Mr Andrey Tatarinov, was invited down to the University for a talk.
CML also plans to invite industry experts from Russian companies in Singapore to speak to students next semester, said Ms Ermilova.
“We want students to stay in touch with Russian culture and keep them informed about the happenings in the local Russian community, and the opportunities open to those who are learning
Russian as a foreign language,” Ms Ermilova added.
With increasing opportunities for Singaporean companies to conduct business in Russia, many students believe that learning the language will help them be more prepared for the future.
In May last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the media after a four-day work visit to Russia that trade between Singapore and Russia has been growing rapidly over the past decade.
The two nations established diplomatic relations in 1968.
But Mr Lee said there was a need to overcome existing language barriers in order to better understand Russia’s business landscape and governmental operations.
“I may come across a Russian businessman someday,” said final-year School of Civil and Environmental Engineering student Seah Xiang Yu, 26. “When that happens, I hope to apply the language and culture I’ve learnt here.”
Drawn to the prospect of mastering a unique language, third-year HSS student, Anthea Tan, 23, is considering taking up the Russian module next semester.
“It’s a language that hasn’t been explored much in Asia and Singapore, which makes it appealing,” Tan said.
“You might not be able to find many who speak Russian here, and you can be the exception.”