Home / Seminars / 12 - 14 April 2013, Gothenburg (Sweden)


12 - 14 April 2013, Gothenburg (Sweden)

Seminar and Partner Meeting Odinsskola

13 April 2013

Introduction and welcome by Inna Khromova-Plekhanova, Chair of the Russo-Swedish Cultural Society and co-ordinator of the project in Sweden.

The Society was founded in1995 and is the largest in Sweden, providing opportunities for communication and social exchange among children in a multilingual environment. It opens on Sundays, and for special occasions such as new year concerts. It is very popular with Russian-speaking children, who typically make cut-out figures, decorations etc.

As many as 700 children participate in activities arranged by the Society, such as Russian language learning, drawing, art and creative craft work. Lessons and activities are free of charge and take place at the Odinsskola. Teaching is done on a voluntary basis but the school receives funding from the state.

Features of teaching bilingual children (Russo-Swedish bilingualism) and Presentation of the subjects taught at the School by Elena Strelkova, teacher of literature and drawing.

When is the best time to start teaching children other languages?

The answer to this question is simply; as soon as possible. A child is able to perceive sounds and voices while still in the womb and can even recognise his own mother’s voice. Even at a very early stage, children have an enormous capacity for learning. The age of 3 is crucial for a child’s acquisition of knowledge and information, but in order to learn a language properly help is needed.

Russian is the fourth most spoken language in the world and has by far the highest numbers of speakers among the Slavonic languages. It is a highly inflected language with a complex grammar structure. 300 million people speak Russian, and it is the mother tongue of a great many people from the countries of the former Soviet Union now living e.g. in Western Europe. In Sweden there are around 95,000 Russian-speaking people (quite a high number considering the country’s small population).

The subjects taught at the school include: drawing, dancing, arithmetic, culture, Russian Literature, Russian language. All sensory organs are used in learning these subjects, e.g. pictures are used to teach colours, songs are used to describe sounds (e.g. storms, rain). Singing is an important teaching method, in Swedish as well as in English. A lot of materials are imported from Russia. Picture books and visual aids are used to a large extent, e.g. ‘ABC’ books (“azbuka”) are ideal for teaching about animals and some can reproduce their sounds. Other books show, for example, the seasons and months of the year in chart form alongside a clock, so that analogies can be made as an aid to memory: 12 hours/12 months. Different coloured boxes are used to represent specific items or categories (for very young children, e.g. 2 years). For example, 12 boxes of different colours represent the months of the year, each one containing 30/31 smaller items denoting the days of the month. Removing the smaller items one by one denotes the counting down of the calendar days, and on completion the the child learns that a new box - i.e. month - will be started.

It was stressed that results can be achieved only if attendance is regular.

Alexey Zgersky, Artist, teacher of drawing at the School - commended the work of Inna and all the other teaching staff, and commented that the teaching of Russian in Sweden is going from strength to strength, and its effect has been to cultivate very intelligent polyglots, which can only be advantageous for the country and all concerned.

Presentation of the structure and analysis of teaching at the London School of Russian Language and Literature by Olga Bramley, the School’s Director and Chair of Eurolog-UK.

This is a professional school, with no state funding or other form of financial support. Staff receive a salary, although this is not particularly high, and a charity ethos is very much present (the school is registered as a company limited by guarantee, i.e. it has charitable status). Highly skilled and dedicated staff are selected according to qualifications and experience. The school operates on Saturdays only. It is situated in a green, pleasant residential location with good facilities, which is important as it provides an ideal learning ‘climate’ or environment.

The school accepts children from the age of 3. Children acquire maximum knowledge between the ages of 3 and 6 (первое предъяление информации).

Children have 3 classes @ 45 mins. There are 3 groupings of pupils, according to age: 3-4 years, 4-6 years and 6-10 years.

Tuition is most effective if pupils attend from an early stage and continue throughout.

Exams can be taken in GCSE and GCE A level, although the standard is raised and the syllabus is given greater depth than the exams designed for non-native learners of Russian.

A teachers’ meeting, lasting half an hour, is arranged every week to encourage an amicable and supportive working relationship among the staff. This factor, along with the pleasant working environment and the staff’s good relations with the pupils, are all important stimuli for good performance. The children enjoy coming to school, which is another important factor for the schools’ success.

Pupils learn on average up to 1,000 words per year initially. Emphasis is given to correct pronunciation and the consolidation of lexicology, which is learnt according to themes (ca.25-30 new words a lesson).

Quality materials, including classical literature, are used. It is most effective to include elements of grammar into the above teaching methodology, rather than arrange special grammar lessons. A new piece of literature is studied every week - this also forms the basis for homework.

Grades are given, but not low grades or failures.

There are typically around 10-12 children in a group.

Several concerts involving participation by all children are held throughout the year: “Последний звонок” (end-of-year celebratory concert, at which certificates are also awarded to the children), “Новый год” (New Year festivity), and also concerts to celebrate the 8th March and the Autumn Festival.

Pupils learn to write and read from the age of 6, in parallel with the English school system, so that there is no discrepancy in the child’s progress in the two systems.

Tuition can even continue into the school holidays, e.g. visits to the opera, concerts, exhibitions etc. are all useful for enhancing learning. In addition, the summer camp arranged by the school is a very important and effective method of consolidating fluency in the language. Children are mixed as far as possible (e.g. in dormitories/bedrooms) with speakers of Russian from other countries. Thus Russian is the common language of the camp. Children also identify with each other and develop their own identity.

The school’s success has been achieved over many years’ experience and dedication of the staff. It is to the school’s credit that former pupils emigrating to Russia have been immediately accepted into classes of their own age group in Russian schools.

Many pupils are able to write poetry and prose in Russian to a high standard, even those from mixed families.

Another important event arranged by Eurolog-UK is the Russian Song Festival and Contest, held annually. This is important not only from a perspective of culture or entertainment but also for enhancing language skills; language can be acquired very effectively through singing and music.

What further proof can be required that supplementary schools can achieve excellent results and high standards in education!

The specific features of working with natural bilingualism in a multicultural setting Presentation by Margarita Popova (Denmark)

‘The future of the Russian language lies in education.’

The main points of Margarita’s presentation on teaching bilingual children are:

  • bilingual teaching forms part of supplementary education.
  • knowledge of and learning the mother tongue helps the child to learn the language of the country and other school subjects as well.
  • hence, if there is such an obvious positive influence of native tongues, then surely a child’s first language should be made a compulsory subject?
  • it is very important for parents to provide support, stimulation and inspiration for their children in learning the mother tongue - this will have a definitive impact on the child’s success.
  • learning the mother tongue can only bring benefits; at the very least it does not hinder the child and at most it can help the child considerably in his/her education, but only with systematic and consistent teaching.
  • the topic of bilingualism: its definition, its advantages and disadvantages, is a subject of on-going research.
  • Politicians are still opposed to mother tongue teaching and reluctant to provide the funding for it. A possible explanation for this is that the business world prefers to communicate in one common world language (English). However, it has been proved that multiculturalism and hence multilingualism are beneficial for business: bilingual people have been found to be more creative (than monolinguals), they can resolve tasks more easily and can process information more quickly. In addition, they show a greater competence for cooperation and for switching between skills, without the need to concentrate as much.
  • This is supported by Danish scientists researching multilingualism at universities.
  • The ethos of supplementary (i.e. Saturday) schools for bilingual teaching is to provide well qualified, skilled and enthusiastic staff who can make tuition entertaining or interesting for children, as opposed to mainstream schools.
  • in Denmark knowledge of English is essential for study at universities, where a lot of materials have not been translated from English, hence teaching in both languages at schools is required.


Teaching native languages to migrants in second and later generations, by Marina Andersson (Sweden).

Marina has had experience of working at various schools, teaching English, and has observed the formation of a child’s personality with respect to language and bilingualism. Bilinguals can be said to have a different view or perception of the world.

Marina described her experience of living and teaching in India (at the Mitra Academy), where children grow up with and use two or three languages. In addition to English, the state language, which all children are obliged to know, children speak one or several of the local dialects of the country. Interestingly, there are marked differences between aspects of Indian sign-language and those in general use in the rest of the world (e.g. shaking one’s head means “yes” and waving one’s hands in the air signifies applause).

Marina talked about her own family, especially her children, who had become multilingual as a result of living for extended periods in various countries and learning the different languages from an early age. She introduced the group to her son, Daniel, 11 years old, who speaks Russian, Swedish and English, all to native standard and with equal fluency. He displayed no difficulty at all in switching between the languages when asked questions in different languages by the project participants.

Marina reiterated Margarita’s observation that bilingualism (or multilingualism) has clear advantages (e.g. children learn other languages more rapidly and with greater ease) and that these advantages, although widely accepted by experts, are, unfortunately, not recognised by politicians.

How can language learning be promoted?

Marina drew attention to various studies dealing with language acquisition and learning, notably by Lenneberg (Critical Period Hypothesis), Foust (Window of Opportunity), Lev Vygotsky (Theory of Cultural Mediation and Internalisation) and Richard Tucker (Development of Multiple Language Proficiency).

The main points to note are that the earlier languages are learned the better, and that children should be motivated, i.e. learning should be entertaining and interesting; children learn best through play, stories, music, games, i.e. “total physical response activity”

Experience of working in teaching Russian as a native tongue: “Dialogue” and “ABC by story-telling / Speech Palette” by Dr Ekaterina Koudrjavtseva, Germany

Ekaterina started her presentation by observing that Russian serves as a good starting point, or ‘gateway’ to learning other Slavonic languages, i.e. it lays the building blocks for learning other tongues.

It is quite common for bilingual people not to think in terms of a “first” or “second” language, but rather in the language best suited to a given situation, i.e. bilingual children choose speak in the language in which they feel better able to express themselves in the situation, or which they feel is more appropriate to the situation.

Ekaterina’s presentation had three fundamental parts:

  • the difference in methodology of Russian as a foreign, a non-native and a native language (or one of two native languages), depending on the knowledge and the self-perception, in this respect, of the child, and also the teaching environment,
  • the necessity for parents and teachers to work in tandem on an educational (not teaching) basis, whereby the child has the leading role in determining which direction this takes,
  • the difference between maintaining a language and studying a language for a specific purpose on an interdisciplinary level.


The next meeting is to take place in April in Ratten, Austria, and will be hosted by Viktor Anders of the Übersetzungsbüro Weltsprachen.