An Intensive Russian Language Course for Social Science Faculty: The National Security Education Program (NSEP) at the University of Iowa

Background and Overview

The NSEP-funded program at the University of Iowa aims to increase the institutional capacity of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic Affiliated Colleges and Universities (HACU) to teach courses with an international focus and increase the number of future minority faculty who can educate United States citizens in global issues. The creation of this unique summer program has as it cornerstone a specially-designed Intensive Russian Language course for adult specialists which meets three hours daily for five weeks.

During summer 1997 and 1998 twenty faculty (total) in the social sciences from HBCU and HACU participated in this five-week training program on the University of Iowa campus in language, culture, business and politics capped by a three-week educational trip to Russia and Ukraine. There the NSEP participants met with professional contacts to further develop ties and curricular materials for inclusion in their classrooms upon return to their home campuses. Given the intensity of the in-country seminars and consultations, the importance of providing participants a very fundamental, yet functional knowledge of the Russina language, speech culture, and pragmatic awareness proved to be the key to their successful participation in and high evaluation of their professional and personal experiences in Russia.

Course Design and Content

In light of the program goal of preparing the specialists to interact in a variety of settings in Russia, emphasis in course design was placed on high-frequency activities and encounters in daily Russian life. In 1998, I re-evaluated and revised the selection of specific speech encounters based upon suggestions in post-trip evaluations by the 1997 participants—thus creating a functional “catalog” of speech activities from which to work.

The shortened time frame of the course prompted a reduced focus on grammatical material, retaining only the most basic features needed to activize speech rituals in particular settings. The daily structure of the classes included sponteneous conversations and interactions with a variety of Russian native speakers (in addition to the instructor) and video-based activities which accompanied the textbook Live from Moscow (Gor and Hardman). Each day the participants were presented with brief texts selected on the basis of specialized themes and worked in small-group centers to activize model patterns, lists of phrases, replicas and expressions which all supported these themes. Significant class time was further devoted to role playing activities within these themes with the additional aid of visual materials and examples of realia from contemporary Russian life.

Examination and Evaluation

The unique goals and design of this course do not lend themselves to the traditional system of the instructor grading the participants—but aims to have the participants provide extensive feedback and evaluation on the course content following their trip to Russia. This system allows for insightful faculty input and “corrections” in both the course content and instructional design for the following NSEP seminar.