A Russian Spotlight on Great Britain: the Way We See It

If you are a Russian who had English classes among other subjects at school, you certainly remember worming through the texts about Great Britain in your course books, and I bet you must remember your teacher of English! My memory still keeps the sound of my teacher’s voice, reciting with a terrible accent: “London is the capital of Great Britain…” Our teachers, who had never been to any of the English speaking countries and hardly ever met an English-speaker in person, did their job of teaching us about the British culture so well that many grown up Russians and Ukrainians today still have an unbreakable image of a typical Britisher in their heads: a neat, skinny man wearing a bow hat and a cane, walking around the Houses of Parliament, whose manners and face bear elusive, but reappearing features of Sherlock Holmes, Margaret Thatcher and Mr.Bean at the same time.

In a so-called English school, where I had classes of English during the whole 10-year cycle, we were taught even more: we had known the disposition of forces in the Battle of Hastings and such vital facts for the Soviet citizen as the dates of life of King Richard and the average weight of the Stonehenge stones. My teachers, both at high school and later in the English language department of university acknowledged the London accent as the only correct and legitimate, and thus the only accent acceptable in the classroom (you can imagine that accent in their performance, right?), so I remember myself sitting in the “lingua-phonetics” classroom (that’s how they called it) with a small looking glass in front of my mouth, trying to keep the “typical British smile” (that’s also the way they called it) and repeating after the tape recorder dozens and dozens of times: “She sells sea shells on the sea shore…”

At the same time, our teachers never taught us simple things like the names of little objects which surround us in everday life: door handles, buttons, road bumps, cracks on plaster, and so on. Our teachers had a very artificial vision of the western lifestyle, and I believe many teachers of English still have it now. So even now, after decades of learning about English cultures and lifestyles, I am still surprised every time I find out a fact which I should have known since school, but I’d never heard it from anybody.

Just recently I found out that “the United Kingdom does not have a constitutionally defined official language (thank you, the UK Guide! http://www.commisceo-global.com/country-guides/uk-guide) It appears that English is the main language being spoken by more than 70% of the UK population and is thus the de facto official language.

The Guide I just mentioned above, provides very good sets of information about various cultures, and I believe their description of traditionalBritish etiquette and customs is quite correct. Anyway, I enjoyed reading through the paragraphs about the UK, and am now moving on to read about my own culture. Who knows, maybe I am going to learn something new there, too!

P.S. This is the famous Starkov and Dixon’s school coursebook of English which we used to have in the Soviet time as the main and the only book of English. This one was for 8-th graders (13-14 year-olds), and we were always called pupils, sometimes just comrades, but never we were called students.


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this fascinating article. It was so interesting to learn how other nations’ education systems portray a country to their young ‘pupils’!
    Scary, the power and influence of education and teaching systems!
    Regards. Marie.



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