Not that many British people study, let alone work with, Russian, and I've lost count of the times I've been asked when and where I learned the language, and why I decided to do so. Let’s deal with that straight away.
I took up Russian in 1994 as part of my BA at the University of Sheffield. Initially, my degree was in History, but the university’s modular system allowed us to try out new subjects in the first year. I opted for Russian and Philosophy. The latter went by the wayside after that year, once I realised that it involved studying philosophers rather than doing any philosophising oneself. With Russian, though, the small dash with which I marked my choice on the options form was to change my life. I enjoyed the classes, which had a convivial feel to them compared to the most of the History lectures, the teaching staff were engaging and approachable, and from the second year I switched to a dual honours course, half in History and half in Russian.
Why Russian? I was good at languages at school; I have A levels in French and Latin, and a GCSE in Ancient Greek, so I had experience with noun declension, verb conjugation and word order flexibility, not to mention learning a different alphabet. Russian seemed an exciting challenge and looked promising career-wise. In addition, I’ve always liked Russian arts and culture: in the sixth form, I read quite a few Russian novels in translation, and I find a lot of Russian classical music particularly evocative. On a less highbrow note, the USSR played some great football in the 1980s, and that may also have influenced my choice, even if most of the players weren’t actually Russian. So there you have it.
Friday 6 January 2017