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Who knows why he’s winking?!

Language

ONE OF THE MOST OBVIOUS problems a visitor to Russia will face is the language barrier. Unlike those simple European languages such as Hungarian and Latin, Russian is not a language you can just pick up after hearing it for a few days. To those unfamiliar with it, Russian seems intimidating, and just getting used to the funky letters can be a real pain in the .

A lot of people in St. Petersburg have studied English. But they studied it at school where texts were combined with a complete lack of practice, leading most people to forget what they learned the way we’ve all forgotten trigonometry. Thus although many people have a passive knowledge of English and may know some basic words, it is rare to find a person with conversational fluency. But hotels, tourist agencies and many museums in St-Petersburg and Moscow have English-speaking staff.

Times are of course rapidly changing and English is all the rage, particularly with the younger generation. Competition for foreign-language courses in universities is extremely fierce, many students are going abroad on exchange programs, and English- language schools are sprouting like mushrooms. In the job market, English is one of the hottest, most valuable commodities.

It is even more uncommon to find people with active knowledge of another European language. German is the most common of the uncommon, thanks to the inclusion of the German Democratic Republic in the happy socialist camp; but to find a Spanish, French, or Finnish speaker is quite rare. In the business community people are more likely to know some foreign language (usually English) or else have translators readily at hand, but once out of this environment it’s a lot of “I’m sorry, do you want buy military watch?” and “Hello my name is two hundred dollars.”


 
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