"America Through Russian Eyes: "Using Video in Teaching Spoken Russian

Svetlana olny, Rutgers University

The question of Russian-Western relationships has long presented historical/political interest and is met with enthusiasm by the students of Russian language. During the past two years at Rutgers University we have included in the program of one of our advanced language courses the topic of "America through the Eyes of Russia" utilizing pertinent films. Activation and further development of oral and written Russian, while relying on an increase in student motivation based on their interest in this topic, is the main goal of our course.

In our presentation we will demonstrate a fragment of the course — the period of the 20th century, end of the 20s through the mid 30s (films Cyrk and 12 Stul'ev, and selected chapters from Odnoetazhnaja Amerika by Ilf and Petrov). The students view the video film Cyrk and then participate in class discussion addressing the goals of the film producers. Difficulties associated with the Russian language/grammar are reduced by prior lexical and grammatical exercises, which will be shared during the presentation.

The viewing of the film Cyrk and subsequent discussions of the film help our students to juxtapose the world of the Soviet idyll to the gore and misery of the Western/American world; the world of the happy and free nation, whose future is very promising and bright, to the rotting world of greedy villains, embittered people and enslaved women trying to shed off the chains of their humiliation. However, the simplicity of the Soviet reasoning and the clear contrast between white and black, kindness and evil, identifying the Soviet and American societies in Cyrk are far from being all that simple and sometimes are completely erased in a later movie production representing the same time period. The Soviet idyll, at best, is only ambiguous in 12 stul'ev, and unlike the overwhelming contentment of the soviet people presented in Cyrk, there is little guarantee that the search for happy and content soviet people will lead to success.

The Soviet reality depicted in the movie 12 stul'ev helps our students evaluate and better understand another creation by the same authors. The Little Golden America or Odnoetazhnaja Amerika, which literally presents America through two pairs of Russian eyes (not counting Soviet censorship). The artistic mastery and present-day relevance of Odnoetazhnaja Amerika is analyzed and discussed in class, paying attention to the political thread that encompasses this book.

In our talk we will present the methodology of the course and demonstrate fragments from the aforementioned films, connecting them with the reading of selected chapters from Odnoetazhnaja Amerika. In greater detail we will analyze from the point of view of two famous Soviet satirists the depiction of the Soviet reality and women's role in society against the background of technological progress.

The thematical organization of the course, from our point of view, serves its purpose and is useful not only in terms of promoting the independent Russian skills of our students. The organization of our course helps the students gain a large spectrum of lexical and grammatical materials. The students' interest in the topic, facilitated by the viewing of the movies, increases their motivation to engage in speaking Russian.