Sun | Nov 27, 2022

Russian language takes root in Jamaica

Published:Monday | August 5, 2019 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma

“I am pleasantly surprised, or should I say I might be speechless, too,” said Alkesei Sazonov, head of consular section, Embassy of the Russian Federation in Jamaica. His reaction was not centred around any geopolitical discussion or debating on the current affairs. Sazonov was pleased with the turnout of students who signed up to learn the Russian language.

The Language Laboratory of the Department of Language, Linguistics and Literature at The University of the West Indies, Mona, was packed beyond capacity. Some of the students were standing, leaning against the back wall as the instructors explained the intricacies of the Russian script. Everyone was having fun learning the alphabet and writing their name in a language other than English.

Over 50 participants were part of the first official Russian language classes at the UWI, which were offered jointly by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Jamaica.

The six weeks-long course, taught by a team of Jamaican teachers, graduates of Russian universities, was aimed at developing initial language skills.

Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Jamaica Vladimir Vinokurov met with students and gave them some context for the course.

“We began the course in the month of June when Russian language day is observed,” he said.

“June 6 marks the 220th anniversary of the birth of the greatest Russian poet Alexander Pushkin,” Ambassador Vinokurov said. “His great-grandfather was an African who made a distinguished career in 18th-century Russia, becoming chief military engineer with the highest military rank. So the most famous Russian poet had African roots.

“I wish all of you the best in learning Russian,” he said.

The fact that Russian is one of the top 10 languages spoken in the world – it is estimated that over 260 million people speak the language. Russia could be a direction people look to for educational and professional opportunities.

At UWI, the faculty and instructors, who come from diverse backgrounds, were happy with the turnout.

“I thought this would be a small group with, maybe, ten university students,” said Claudja Brown, senior lecturer, College of Oral Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica and instructor of Russian language.

“However,” she added. “it blossomed into something much bigger and far reaching than expected. By the end of the first week we had more than 50 persons in attendance and not just UWI students.”

It was a wide spectrum group of attendees.

“The classes attracted significant number of participants of various ages, social groups and motivations,” Sazonov said. “We had professional interpreters, teachers, public officers, university undergraduates among others.”


According to Sazonov, the students’ motivation was to explore new avenues to travelling to Russia.

“Some are aiming to work with a growing number of Russian tourists, others are planning their own trips to the largest country in the world or preparing themselves for further study or working in Russia,” he said.

Of the 6.6 million square miles of the country, spanning 11 time zones, the vastness of Russia has deep-rooted and visible evidence of the rich literature, fine arts, music and architecture.

“Russia has a lot to offer in education, sciences, and is vastly unexplored,” Sazonov said. “Also, we want to present Russia on a people to people basis, beyond what you watch in the news, or the films.”

This language course was a teaser to present the romanticism and kindle people’s wanderlust. The enthusiasm in the classroom was not only restricted to the students, the instructors were equally upbeat.

“We managed to instil in the minds of the students all the basic tools that they need to push forward towards a full Russian language course either here or in Russia and be just as successful as the others who have gone there and now speak it fluently,” said Patrick Craig, one of the trainers, who is a veterinary practitioner and pathologist, but says being a linguist is one of his loves.

The possibilities are there to explore, says Sazanov, in October last year, Jamaica and Russia signed reciprocal agreement to waive the visa requirement for travel to respective countries.

The fact that the response to this first Russian language course was overwhelming gave a chance Nina Bruni, head of department, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at The UWI, Mona to promote the relevance of linguistics in the technology driven world.

“(By learning a foreign language) we expand our horizons to explore and take advantage of the possibilities and opportunities in countries which are not so ‘sought after’ if you may,” she said. “We are upbeat about the possibilities that linguistics has to offer.”

The world is out there to explore, for the traveller, it is the vastness, the unknown, that invites, intrigues, entices, and the cherry on top is to interact with the people of a country in their language. It breaks down barriers and makes the visitor experience personable, and enriching.

“Who would’ve thought that the interest in Russian language here in Jamaica would be so profound?” said Brown.

Sazanov’s reaction summed it all up.