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Jewish Journal

The Russian way of educating children.

by Julia Bendis

November 15, 2011 | 10:40 am

A distant memory came to mind the other day.  Back in Russia, well technically it was in Riga, Latvia my parents decided to get my brother and I English lessons in the anticipation of our future move to the United States.  This was about a year before we actually immigrated, so we thought it would give us plenty of time to learn the language…  On top of private tutoring, we also had English lessons in school, however as we found out later it was a total waste of time.  Not only was I NOT learning how to speak English, but it was confusing the hell out of me to have to go between Latvian language and English.  Since Latvian was the main language of this former Soviet Republic, those children whose first language was Russian had to learn it in school.  On top of learning Latvian, which by the way has a Latin alphabet where Russian is Cyrillic (more confusion there), going back and forth between English and Latvian made all the pronunciations that much harder. 

Take this Latvian word as an example: Piens.  In Latvian it means milk, and you would pronounce it just like its spelled: Pii-E-N-S, however in English you would pronounce the same word either: Pie-N-SA, or P-NSA.  See the confusion?  Also according to my English teacher at school, I was never going to speak English because I was absolutely awful at it.  Hmm, well… not much I can say here except for wishing I’d remembered her name so I could send her a very sweet letter, all in English.  Unfortunately, I do not. 
I vaguely remember forcing myself into her classroom every day, only to hear her monotonously berate the students about their lack of brain cells when it came to English.  It was definitely a very effective way to encourage students to apply themselves harder.  Now that I look back at all my teachers in Russia, it was almost THE protocol of how they were SUPPOSE to teach: berate, abuse, humiliate.  And it never failed; every chance they got to make fun of you, they took it!  Somehow it was supposed to make us better students, which at the time I didn’t understand or care for and it only made all of us more apprehensive and stressed.  The strange thing about all of that is somehow it worked!  Not only did I learn how to speak English, but obviously to write and read as well… 

Maybe this whole verbal abuse is not such a bad thing for children.  What I mean is, take a look at most Russians, they are for the most part accomplished, well-read, ambitious, and educated individuals.  Sure they are not the most balanced, calm, mild-tempered, soft-spoken, shy, aggressive-less people in the world, but who needs that?  That’s why they are one of the most feared people in the world.  And when you got that going for you, who needs to be chemically balanced? 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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I was born in Ukraine, in the former USSR, and grew up in Riga, Latvia which is on the Baltic Sea.  My family and I immigrated to the United States in 1989, right before the...

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