Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at Russian, the language of the largest country in the world.
Russia (or the Russian Federation) has a population of 146 million people – a number that seems almost tiny when you consider how vast the country is (Russia is the largest country in the word by far). Nearly 260 million people around the world speak Russian – while much of this figure is accounted for by the Russian population, a significant number of people in Europe (particularly Eastern Europe) speak Russian, and a little under 100 million people speak Russian in the other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states (consisting of Russia and eight other countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Russian is clearly an important language beyond its borders and into neighbouring countries, but a key point to keep in mind is that very few people in Russia speak fluent English – so if you are doing business in Russia, a lack of Russian language skills could become a major limiting factor.
Learning Russian: Business Prospects and Opportunities
Russian is an official language of the United Nations (alongside five others) and Russia has the 11th largest economy in the world. It is a major exporter of oil, gas, minerals and metals, which is a significant driver of its economy – as such, fluctuations in the commodities markets can unsettle the Russian economy. Russia’s sheer size may in part explain its focus on energy and materials – the country covers an astonishing one-eighth of the world’s inhabited land area, and it operates across 11 time zones.
Russia’s natural resources may be the main economic drivers, but agriculture, tourism, and science and technology are all significant sectors for the Russian economy. Russia has produced astonishing feats of scientific achievement over time (while known as the Soviet Union, it was the first country to send a satellite and then a human being into space during the so-called ‘Space Race’ with the United States). Russia also has incredible UNESCO world heritage sites of cultural and natural significance that attract tourists from around the world, such as Lake Baikal (the oldest and deepest lake in the world) and the historic centre of Saint Petersburg (containing sights such as the Winter Palace).
The British Council acknowledges that Russian is the 10th most important language for the UK’s future success, but it is hard to gauge how much of this is due to the UK’s dependence on Russia’s natural resources. With no UK-Russia trade deal in sight, it is difficult to predict the UK’s future relationship with Russia. With fluent English a rare feature of Russian-based organisations, the global language of business is an unreliable fall-back for businesses facing a language barrier with Russian enterprises – which means that competency in Russian could make or break your business prospects in Russia and other CIS countries.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about Russia’s language and culture
If the next step for your business is a move towards stronger ties in Eastern Europe, Russia and/or CIS countries such as Azerbaijan, learning Russian may be top of your to-do list. Here are some useful facts to know about Russia’s language and culture before you dive in.
- Russian is a Slavic language written using the Cyrillic script. Other Slavic languages include Ukrainian, Polish, Bulgarian and Serbian. However, not all Slavic languages use the Cyrillic script – West Slavic languages (such as Polish) use the Latin alphabet, East Slavic languages (such as Russian and Ukrainian) use Cyrillic script, and South Slavic languages (such as Bulgarian and Serbian) use variations of both alphabets!
- Because Russia is spoken in countries across Europe and Asia, it often operates as a lingua franca between a range of countries, from the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) through to countries in Central Asia (such as Tajikistan) and Eastern Europe (such as Ukraine and Moldova).
- Russian is an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
- While Russian is the only official language of the Russian Federation, there are a number of officially recognised languages belonging to different regions, or republics, in Russia, such as Altai in the Altai Republic and Yakut in the Sakha Republic.
- Christmas is celebrated in early January rather than late December in Russia as per the calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church. But the big festive season celebration is New Year – and this is often celebrated twice, to fit with both the Gregorian and Julian calendars, on 1st January (New New Year) and 14th January (Old New Year)!
- The mystery of the Amber Room – a room in the Catherine Palace in Saint Petersburg that was decorated with amber and gold but looted by the Nazis during the Second World War – is still unresolved, though answers may lie off the coast of Poland in the wreckage of a German war ship. The Amber Room was originally gifted to Peter the Great in 1716, and a replica has since been constructed in the Catherine Palace.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Learning any new language can feel like a challenge, but learning a language with a different alphabet can feel like an uphill struggle. Fortunately, it is achievable if you are ready to learn. Here are a few tips to help you develop your Russian language skills.
- Little and often is the key, so practise regularly – ideally every day! – if you can. This is a new language with a whole new alphabet, so frequent practise may help to reinforce your learning far more than sporadic periods of intense study.
- Find the study tools that work for you, whether flashcards, mnemonics or lists of vocabulary – visual aids can really help you become familiar with the new letters in the Cyrillic alphabet. Utilise these tools in your daily practice whenever possible!
- Find a virtual (or in-person) language-learning buddy – or learn with your team! A language class would be ideal, or perhaps you have a friend or colleague who speaks or is learning Russian. If so, see if they would be happy to practise with you – and listen to how they pronounce key words and sounds, too. Listening to radio and watching TV and movies can help as well, but an in-person (or virtual) conversation helps you put key words into context – which could make all the difference when you plan to use the language for business (especially when you are unable to fall back on English as a ‘bridging’ language).
- Taking on learning a new language for business – especially one with a different alphabet – is an ongoing, long-term commitment, so remind yourself of why you are doing this. Is it for a promotion, new business opportunity, or to connect with future clients? Keeping your ‘why’ in mind will help to motivate you – and it may help you stay on track when the going gets tough.
If you would like to find out more about learning Russian to help you grow your business in this resource-rich country (and the surrounding regions), contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.