On The Mark has returned to Russia. This is the first in a series of new reports.
Speak English. A few years ago I retrieved a fax at home for my ex who was a grad student at a major U.S. university. She was in the process of grading papers and this fax was an essay from one of her students. I looked at the first page and said to her, “You have got to be kidding me. This looks like it was written by a fifth-grader.” After reading the first few paragraphs she said, “Actually, this is one of the better ones.” I was stunned.
Now the ripples of the continuing decline of the public education system in America have reached as far as Russia. I had the opportunity to talk to a professor at a local university in a city in the southern region of Russia. There are a number of foreign students at this university, including kids from the U.S. These students have many ambitions, one of which is to learn the Russian language.
This professor told me that the following phrase is as common for him as saying “good morning” – “Go back to America and learn to speak and write the English language properly, then come back to Russia to learn our language. I cannot teach you how to speak Russian when you cannot even speak and write your own language properly.” He asked me, “Does this shock you?” I said, “Actually, no,” and then I went on to explain my experiences.
Which brings me to me. Another evening I had the opportunity to speak to a 30-year-old man who has a private business teaching English to Russian students. He was quite excited to learn I was in town, because in this city it is rare to find an American, especially during the dead of winter. After talking for a little while, he said to me, “I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to be rude, but you really don’t speak English very well. I find your pronunciation unbearable.” I laughed, thinking he was kidding, especially since he had an edgy sense of humor to begin with.
But he was serious. It turns out that most of the English taught in this region of Russia is British English. I understood what he meant. If you’ve ever been to Liverpool or the Midlands, you know as well as I do that it’s almost like a foreign language.
So, when you’re in Russia and a Russian asks you if you speak English, you might want to ask, “American English or British English?”