The St. Petersburg Times   Issue #1042 (8)
Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Arts + Features

Russian For Beginners

Special to The St. Petersburg Times

ALEXANDER BELENKY / The St. Petersburg Times

Stanislav Chernyshov set up his own school, Extra-Class, to teach Russian as a foreign language. Four years later and clients from international media agencies, foreign embassies and prominent businesspeople regularly attend his school in St. Petersburg.

What makes foreign diplomats, BBC and Spiegel journalists and high profile businesspeople from all over Russia come to one St. Petersburg school?

Bypassing prominent language centers in Moscow, many international organizations put their faith in a small school on Ligovsky Prospekt to teach Russian to their employees.

Stanislav Chernyshov, director of the Extra-Class language center, has devoted most of his teaching career to bringing the Russian language closer to foreigners. Explaining his success with Extra-Class, Chernyshov said: "I understand what students from abroad are looking for."

"In contrast to pupils or students at a university, these people are highly motivated to learn a new language. They know exactly what they are looking for and are willing to spend time and money on a good language school," Chernyshov said.

Geraldine Norman, executive editor of the Hermitage Magazine, and a former student of Chernyshov, explained why she wanted to brush up her Russian.

"It is not an absolute necessity to know Russian - many people here speak English. But knowing Russian gives you an enormous advantage to understand people's mentality. You are not so obviously foreign and can better interact with locals," she said.

Chernyshov founded Extra-Class three years ago to offer specialist Russian language courses for foreign businesspeople.

A former graduate from the St. Petersburg State University, Chernyshov developed his view of how a second language should be taught during more than 12 years of teaching.

"Learning a new language does not mean filling in grammar exercises and quoting grammar rules by heart. First and foremost, it is important to know how to react in specific everyday situations, be able to talk to people and express yourself," Chernyshov said, taking a subtle sideswipe at Soviet teaching methods.

Since good teaching material is as important as good tutors, Chernyshov wrote his own course book for beginners, "Poekhali" ("Let's Go"), which was published three years ago.

For Chernyshov, "Poekhali" focuses on modern Russian life and does not confront students with the former Soviet world. While identifying in the books the Russia that students daily encounter, they are also asked their opinions about it.

Establishing his own business, however, did not go that smoothly at first, Chernyshov recollects. Without his passion for teaching and commitment to the project, he says he would have given up long ago.

"When we founded the school three years ago, all government benefits for educational institutions were cut. In former times, educational institutions only had to pay one tenth of the rent. Now we have to pay all the costs," he said.

There were other obstacles.

"In Russia, we have quite an inflexible banking system. If, for example, we want to offer a student a discount, it takes many extra documents and explanations to the bank to do that," Chernyshov said.

"I do know a bit about how things like that work in the rest of the world and I have the impression it is much easier elsewhere."

Since it was founded, the school has had to move twice and will soon move a third time. Nevertheless, students keep finding their way to Extra-Class.

The school has its own web site, and recommendations by former students have given it a good reputation.

Diplomats, journalists, and foreign businesspeople have all taken "extra classes" at Chernyshov's language school.

Simon Evans, from the British Embassy in Moscow, said he gained valuable training at the school.

"Extra-Class provided me with focused material which I needed for my job and I was taught both ordinary and more formal language. That covered what I needed, basically," Evans said.

For Norman, the decision to take lessons at the school was finalized by Chernyshov's enthusiasm.

"He takes great pains to make lessons interesting. For instance, he creates situations, he encourages his students to tell their own stories and prepares material that is of interest to them," she said.

Another student, Kalle Kaub who works for the BBC in Moscow, wrote the following in the school's guestbook after graduating from the course.

"It's quite apparent that teaching is not just bread and butter to Stanislav, but a mission and passion," Kaub wrote.

Following the success of the school, Chernyshov hopes to develop his activities further.

"'Poekhali 2' will soon be published" he said. "And I am thinking of offering courses for specific purposes, like, for instance, Norwegian for businesspeople. But I do not have any particular plans to enlarge my school. Quality is more important than quantity and I stick to this motto for the future."

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