Friday, November 27, 2015

Do Russians Know English Well?

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) --  The advertisements appear ubiquitous. You come across them in your letter box and even on the minibus you wave down in Moscow. To state that the lessons of English First, a Swedish-based English language company is highly promoted is an understatement. You come across posters with photos of girls with class 'A' looks saying ' With English I can speak to children from different countries', 'With English I have many friends',  'English is a joy' but the more serious appeal to adults show a businessman leaping over a hurdle with the words 'English gives you a competitive advantage,' 'boosts your salary' or Helps you get promotion'. The message seems to be if you don't know English you are not a whole or complete person. No wonder some people get  a complex about not knowing any English. All the promotion is designed to persuade people that knowing English is a necessity and in the worst cases, almost a panacea for everything. Despite some research which finds, that in certain situations, knowledge
of English helps you get a job and even a pay rise, much of this claim is just hype. I have come across many rich businessmen in Moscow who don't know English and rarely use it in their day-to-day lives. Much more important in making a living is a useful profession which is in great demand or your place of life.

            I attempted to forget those E. F . advertisements by opening up a Russian newspaper 'Kommersant'. But alas, again, I came across an article on an E.F . Language survey.
There is no rest for the wicked!

            The study is based on an analysis of tests carried out on 910,000 people in 70 countries over the world assessing
their competence in English. The authors of this survey
make the claim that a country's level of English has a direct
connection with its economic competitive capacity as well as
affluence. The more a nation's people speak English, the
better their level of income. So there is a correlation between
mastery of English and a country's gross national income,
quality of life, access to the internet etc.

            The survey found that top countries who speak English well are Sweden, with 71 points, the Netherlands, with 70 and Finland with 64. Countries with a low level of English are Saudi Arabia (40 points), Cambodia (39 Points) while Russia has (52 points).

            However, France also has a low level of English and their people are far from poor.

            There is no real evidence to suggest a direct correlation between linguistic competence in English and the wealth of people. It is sheer unwarranted speculation  or rather a continuation of marketing by other means. The real reasons for poverty in Russia are not absence of English but the unfair distribution of wealth which is perpetuated by a rotten and ruthless government that serves the rich and bureaucrats.

            In fact, many English teachers happen to be among the poorest groups of Russians. I have lost count of the number of Russians who speak perfect English but are poor and abused by others.

            It is worth noting that the country which speaks the best English from the 70 countries is Sweden. English first just happens to be a Swedish company. The Swedish managers are so patriotic that the walls and the ceiling of the classroom are painted the colours of the Swedish flag; yellow and blue.

            Sorry, but it is difficult not to suspect this survey is flawed by experimental  bias.

            A pleasant Swedish manager who was visiting Moscow once told me, 'The Swedes are proud of their Viking heritage'.

            He also reminded me of how it was a Swede who invented dynamite! Well, to be fair, he never said they invented the elephant.

            At least the drive to globalisation has not dented the Swedish sense of patriotism!

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