Russia to Introduce Mandatory Language Test for Foreigners

Oct. 26 – Foreigners who work in residential housing and utilities, retail trade, and services will be required to pass a basic Russian-language test under a bill that the State Duma approved on Tuesday in a key second reading.

The head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, called the measure practical and rejected the idea that it was discriminatory.

“This kind of norm is not discrimination,” he said, according to Interfax. “Knowledge of the official state language is necessary to ensure that migrants are comfortable living in the country and that they have legal literacy and can defend their rights.”

Luke Jones, a partner at the Antal Russia recruiting company, learned Russian during his university years in the UK. When he came to Russia, however, he realized that his knowledge of language was not enough.

“The difficulty is not in the language, but in the Russian mentality that is hard to understand for foreigners,” Jones said to Russian daily Vedomosti.

He believes that only about 10 percent of foreigners coming to Russia can speak Russian well enough to function in the country and, of those, only 1 percent can hold negotiations in Russian.

“Most managers come here for a short period of time. They do not need to learn Russian, as they will soon leave for another country,” he said.

Evgeny Merkel, managing partner of Excellion Partners International, observes that international managers today are particularly interested in learning Chinese, German or French, if they are to reside over there. He sees economic and cultural causes behind this reluctance of foreigners to learn Russian. At the same time, foreigners “won’t learn Russian in Russia.”

“Perhaps it’s too difficult for them,” said Merkel.

According to Maxim Krongauz, the director of the Linguistics Institute at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Russia is no longer the international trendsetter in linguistics.

A manager of the Globus International language center, which offers Russia courses for foreigners, says that most foreign students don’t want to learn to read or write in Russian, just speak.

A number of senior managers of foreign companies study Russian at different language schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Very recently, since August 2012, St. Petersburg has become the first city in Russia to begin testing the Russian-language skills of foreigners, mostly immigrants, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports.

The test is done on a computer monitor with a touch screen. The block of questions is designed to test applicants’ abilities to go about daily life. It assesses whether or not the applicant is able to ask for directions in the streets, read job ads and buy groceries.

However, tests do not ask any questions involving words specific to a certain profession or sector of economy.

Evgeny Yurkov, Director of the Institute of Russian Language of St. Petersburg State University, said that they are aware of this problem and currently engaged in designing new methodic to resolve it. “I think we will be ready to supply every test with the extended working vocabulary for every specific profession soon.”

Meanwhile, according to the current to legislation, foreigners are not yet required to pass any Russian-language test. Moreover, as most Russian managers speak English, foreign managers do not need Russian to do business in the country.

The bill needs to be approved by the Russian Parliament in a third and final hearing and signed into law by the president, which won’t be happen before 2013.

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