Introduction: Teaching Slavic Languages and Cultures

By Pylypiuk, Natalia | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2004 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Teaching Slavic Languages and Cultures


Pylypiuk, Natalia, Canadian Slavonic Papers


The year 2004 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS). This special section of Canadian Slavonic Papers-the first ever devoted to the teaching and learning of languages-represents a fitting tribute to an association whose express purpose is to promote understanding of the cultures comprising the Slavic realm.

The idea of producing this collection was bora in 2000 at the Annual Conference of the CAS, which was held at the University of Alberta and featured two panels on second-language teaching. The panel organizers, Alla Nedashkivska and Waclaw Osadnik, encouraged articles from across North America and Europe. With contributions from Canada, Poland, and the United States, the present collection testifies to the international profile of our journal, as well as the diverse traditions that inform the teaching of Slavic languages. Addressing questions that pertain to Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian (as second languages), our anthology covers a wide geographical spectrum and represents, albeit only in part, the Southern, Western and Eastern map of Slavic languages.

Six articles comprise the first part. The second, "Practicum," features two detailed descriptions of projects developed by the School of Polish Language and Culture at the University of Silesia in Poland. all eight contributions complement each other, and each one offers stimulating ideas that can prove useful in the teaching of other Slavic languages.

The first article addresses an important psychological factor that explains the achievement of proficiency among language learners. "The Role of Motivation among Heritage and Non-Heritage Learners of Russian" by Anna Geisherik emphasizes that the design of classroom activities must take into consideration the reasons students study language. While noting the difficulty of codifying every motivation, Geisherik recognizes two: one integrative, the other instrumental. The former is inspired by a desire to integrate into the culture of a given language group; the latter acknowledges language as a useful tool for professional advancement. Geisherik's exploratory project involved forty students at two American universities and compared the motivations of twenty-three heritage learners to seventeen non-heritage learners. Her findings suggest that Russian heritage learners are strongly motivated by both the integrative and instrumental orientations. Her results confirm previous research indicating that Russian heritage learners manifest a strong integrative orientation. They also differ from findings of a study that suggested German heritage learners exhibited lower motivation than their non-heritage counterparts. The discrepancy, Geisherik posits, may be due to the fact that the German students did not speak the ancestral language, whereas her learners still spoke Russian at home. Noting that heritage learners of Russian come to the classroom with a greater variety of skill levels than their non-heritage counterparts, Geisherik proposes that it is necessary to set specific goals for students at their level of proficiency.

Besides alerting instructors to the paramount importance of understanding student motivations, Geisherik's discussion implicitly signals the need to define more precisely the concept of heritage learner. The influx of newer immigrants introduces new types of heritage learners. Such is the case, for example, in the Ukrainian-language classroom at the University of Alberta or the Macedonian-language classroom at the University of Toronto where more recent arrivals meet coevals who are descendants of much earlier immigrants.

"Letter-Sound Correspondence Acquisition in First Semester Russian" by William J. Comer and Meghan Murphy-Lee reports on a semester-long study which identified the five grapheme that lead to the most frequent misreadings by beginning learners of Russian. The researchers discovered that the sooner students mastered the correspondence between letters and sounds, the greater were their chances of mastering other features of the language. …

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