Popularity of Russian language sensitive to changes

Last Saturday, Russian language as an academic subject celebrated its 40th anniversary in Joensuu. Today, the academic subject comprises two majors: Russian language and culture, and Russian language and translation.

The study of a language is always linked to the history, culture and present of the country it is spoken in. Bearing this in mind, the past decades in the history of Russia have required language learners to constantly update their skills and learn new things. Indeed, the past 40 years have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia. The popularity of the Russian language has proven sensitive to changes, and the department’s activities have been influenced first by attitudes towards the Soviet Union and, since the 1990s, by attitudes towards Russia.

Decades of change

In Joensuu, the first students of the Russian language started their studies in the then University of Joensuu in autumn 1972. Their studies were characterised by enthusiasm fuelled by a general interest in the Soviet Union and in the Russian language. In Finland, the opportunities for speaking Russian outside the classroom in the 1970s were practically non-existent, so students were eager to visit Soviet twin towns and they also gained valuable experience working as interpreters. Indeed, students often completed their practical training as tour leaders on tours of Leningrad, which at the time was a popular destination for Finnish tourists.

In the 1980s, there was a strong labour market demand for people who mastered the Russian language, and many students were sucked into working life without needing to finish their studies. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Finnish students’ interest in the Russian language collapsed as well and, for a while, the department had to offer teaching at the very beginner level.

In the 2000s, the Internet and its opportunities for interaction have opened new avenues for studying the Russian language and culture. As the University of Eastern Finland was established, broad-based expertise pertaining to Russia was selected as one of the university’s strategic fields to be further strengthened and the university has invested in research and education addressing the Russian language, culture and commerce.

Maintaining this role as an expert on Russia has required plenty of fresh ideas and hard work. Today, the academic subject is middle-aged and it looks ahead with confidence: Russia constitutes a natural selection as an area of expertise of the University of Eastern Finland, and Russian has become widespread throughout Finland.

 

Publishing year: 2012

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