The article, Georgia Pushes English in Place of Russian, is pretty interesting. It's about the Georgian government trying to get the people to speak more English, and putting less emphasis on Russian. Now this is kind of an issue for me because I've forgotten most of the Georgian I knew (which, to be fair, wasn't much), and the only other language that I know that isn't English is Russian. So, failing English as a common language, I might be tempted to speak to people in Russian. But I sincerely doubt that if I occasionally ask someone a question in Russian it will cause the entire program to come undone.
And chances are, if I'm speaking to someone in Russian they won't be a student of mine. I did notice a correlation between and age and language while I was in Georgia. Younger people, in my experience, speak more English than they do Russian, if they speak any Russian at all. Older people will generally speak more Russian than English. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. And I should also say that the community I was living in saw a lot of Westerners and as a result English became the common language. It'll be interesting to see more of the country and see the differences in who is speaking what.
Well, anyway, I didn't mean to get distracted there. I just wanted to let you all know about the article. In the interest of posterity (and the fact that I no longer have access to the New York Times archives now that I'm no longer in college [sometimes I'd like to go back to school just so I can access the New York Times archives, Jstor, and the Oxford English Dictionary. I'm such a geek!]), I'm just going to copy and paste the whole article below. Enjoy!
TBILISI, Georgia — The new teacher who arrived recently at School No. 161 could barely speak a word of the Georgian language, knew little about local customs and easily got lost in the crazy-quilt streets of this hilly capital. But she was at the forefront of one of the most notable educational initiatives — if not social experiments — being attempted in the former Soviet Union.
When the teacher, Deborah Cruz, walked into a classroom of squirmy teenagers, they grew rapt. Here was a stranger who would help connect them to the rest of the world, one irregular verb tense at a time.
Ms. Cruz, who is from the Seattle area, is part of a brigade of native English speakers recruited by Georgia’s government to spur a linguistic revolution. The goal is to make Georgia a country where English is as common as in Sweden — and in the process to supplant Russian as the dominant second language.
“What we are doing is really something groundbreaking,” Ms. Cruz, 58, said after leading her class in a form of tick-tack-toe on the blackboard, with students devising a sentence to fill in a box.
One of her students, Tekla Iordanishvili, 15, chimed in, “English is the international language, and we need it.”
The government has already lured 1,000 English speakers to Georgia, and by September, hopes to have another 500 in place so that every school in the country has at least one. Under the program, which resembles both the Peace Corps and the Teach for America program, the teachers live rent-free with Georgian families and receive a stipend of about $275 a month.
The initiative to embed these foreigners across Georgia reflects the ambitions of its Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who speaks excellent English and studied law at Columbia University. Since taking office after an uprising in 2003, Mr. Saakashvili has worked to wrench Georgia out of Moscow’s orbit and move it closer to the United States — so determined is his effort that it was a factor in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
During the Soviet era, the Communists used the Russian language to bind the nation’s far-flung regions, requiring it as the second — and sometimes primary — language from Estonia to Uzbekistan. But since the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago, many of the former Soviet republics have elevated their own languages and marginalized Russian in order to bolster their independence and national identities.
The Kremlin is highly sensitive to the status of Russian, viewing it as a kind of barometer of its influence.
The turnabout is stark in Georgia, whose cultural ties to Russia extend back centuries. Many Georgians older than 40 readily speak Russian, while the young people who have come of age under Mr. Saakashvili are often more interested in English. The government is intent on hastening that trend.
Dimitri Shashkini, the minister of education and science, said in an interview that Georgia, which has 4.6 million people, would prosper economically only by significantly improving its educational system. Ensuring that every child knows English is a major part of that objective, he said.
“Georgia doesn’t have natural gas or oil,” Mr. Shashkini said. “The resource that we have is our human intellectual potential. So we need to use that potential as much as possible.”
Mr. Shashkini said the government was not doing away with Russian classes, but rather making them as optional as French or German. In general, English is now mandatory.
He pointed out that teachers from the United States, Canada and other English-speaking countries were also serving as cultural ambassadors in a society that is still often saddled with Soviet-era mores. The teachers not only instruct students and assist local English teachers, but also start English clubs and interact with parents.
The Georgian government has studied English language initiatives elsewhere, including in South Korea, and is working with a company, Footprints Recruiting, of Vancouver, British Columbia, that specializes in finding native English speakers for such programs around the world.
The one in Georgia has stirred complaints among old-guard Russian speakers, who maintain that whatever the country’s political orientation, it cannot escape its geography or history.
Still, many of the English teachers said they were heartened by the initial response to their efforts.
“To say that children were extremely excited to meet me is a gross understatement,” Meg Bell, 23, who is from the Dallas area, wrote in an e-mail. “Other teacher friends that I’ve spoken with had similar experiences upon first entering their schools. An atmosphere of near Beatlemania hysteria broke out for about a week or so. Kids wanted me to autograph their arms.”
But some expressed frustration with the educational system in Georgia, which remains a relatively poor country. As in much of the developing world, the local English teachers sometimes do not speak competent English. Children are told to memorize lists of words and are engaged in little if any conversation. Teenagers who have been in English classes for years cannot utter a sentence.
Some of the new teachers, assigned to village schools with crumbling classrooms and few textbooks, questioned the Georgian government’s emphasis on English.
“It’s like buying an espresso machine before you’ve built a kitchen,” said James Norton, 23, from Boulder, Colo.
“There are so many obstacles preventing this cadre of foreign teachers from doing their jobs effectively,” Mr. Norton said by e-mail. “I often wonder whether the government would be better off focusing on fundamentals first — buying books for all students, training teachers in modern techniques (as opposed to the translation-and-memorization doctrine which is currently rampant), paying Georgian teachers a living wage, better accountability metrics, etc.”
He stressed that despite his misgivings, he was pleased with his time in Georgia, had no regrets, and believed that he was enriching his students. Others agreed.
Ms. Cruz, who worked in the fall at a school in Batumi on the Black Sea, recalled that when she started, the children seemed bored. Their previous English teachers had never engaged the students in conversation.
“By the time I left, they were speaking English in the classroom, and the teachers were excited about it because they saw the transformation,” Ms. Cruz said. “So this will continue when I am not here anymore. To me, that is more important than anything — this is not temporary.”