Frequently Asked Questions

I would like to take Russian, but I’ve heard that it is one of the hardest languages to learn. Will the courses be too demanding?

From the point of view of language acquisition, there are no hard or easy languages in the world. All children begin to speak the language they hear at the same age regardless of grammatical complexity of the language. For second language learners, the difficulty of learning a given foreign language depends on a number of factors:

  1. The learner’s first language (for a speaker of Bulgarian, Russian is very “easy”);
  2. The learner’s previous experience with learning languages (the richer the experience, the easier it gets);
  3. The learner’s motivation (we learn languages to the degree that is personally important to us) and
  4. The amount of time and effort the learner puts into studying a language.

Perhaps, Russian is considered difficult because for a native English-speaker it takes more contact hours to reach an intermediate level of proficiency in Russian than, for example, in Spanish. But that’s just it: the language needs more of your time.

Also, for all of the difficulties that case endings cause to native English speakers studying Russian, there are many other aspects of the language that make it actually “easier” in comparison to other languages (not only Chinese and Arabic, but also German, French and even Spanish) Here are some tidbits:

  • Gender is, for the most part, simple to determine. Just look at the ending of the noun. Not so for German or the Romance languages, where gender must, to a great extent, be memorized.
  • Russian has just one past tense and lacks all of those lovely past perfects, imperfects, past perfect progressives of Romance languages, etc. And there are, essentially, only four endings you have to learn for all Russian verbs in the past tense - l, -la, -lo, li. How simple is that?
  • Spanish has the whole ser and estar problem to work out. Russian has no "to be" verb in the present tense. Very simple!
  • German has complex word order that needs to be precise. Russian is quite flexible!
  • Chinese has no gender and no tenses, but look at the writing system and tones!

All language courses at Brandeis meet at least four times a week, some meet five or even six hours per week. Russian 10 through 40 courses meet four times a week. All language courses require homework completed on a daily basis, which includes at least some memorization tasks. You should plan on one hour of homework for each contact hour spent with a professor. Russian courses are no different in that regard.

Who can I ask about classes?

Professors are very accessible. You may contact Program Director Irina Dubinina or Undergraduate Advising Head David Powelstock.

If you want a student perspective, please contact Undergraduate Departmental Representatives
Maria Alkhasova, Sonja Bunijevac, and Dave Benger.

I grew up speaking Russian at home, but I have never studied it and I cannot read or write. Who can I talk to about my options for studying Russian at Brandeis?

Brandeis is unique among other universities in the United States in recognizing the needs of heritage speakers, and offers courses designed specifically for you. Contact Irina Dubinina to discuss your options. Her office is in Shiffman 206 and her office telephone number is 781-736-3223. During summer months, please use e-mail.

What is the language requirement at Brandeis? Can I take Russian to satisfy this requirement?

In order to graduate, students must be able to function at an intermediate level in reading, writing, speaking and listening in a foreign language. Students can satisfy this requirement by completing a three-course sequence in a language taught at Brandeis (10/20/30 levels).

Russian is certainly one of the languages students can choose to satisfy their language requirement. When you complete the 30-level course with a passing grade of at least C-, you will have satisfied the language requirement.

How can I be exempt from the foreign language requirement?

If you feel comfortable speaking, reading and writing Russian, you can satisfy your language requirement by passing an exemption exam. Please see the Placement page and contact Irina Dubinina.

I want to declare a major (minor) in Russian. Who should I talk to?

Please contact Academic Advisor David Powelstock.

Is there anything Russian-oriented on campus?

Brandeis has a very active student-run Russian Club. It is a friendly gathering place for all speakers or only hearers of Russian. The club has weekly meetings and organizes events that showcase the Russian culture, Russian language and Russian-speaking (or learning) students at Brandeis.

The Greater Boston area is home to a flourishing Russian-speaking population as well.

Why should I study Russian?

The reasons for studying Russian are as diverse as our students. To point out some obvious reasons in no particular order:

  • Russian language is the gateway to the great Russian literature.
  • Russian is one of the six official languages for the United Nations Organization.
  • Russian is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world (by number of primary and secondary speakers and number of countries where the language is used). It is No. 4 on Weber’s list of the world’s most influential languages.
  • Russian is a critical need language under the National Security Language Imitative.
  • Russian is either the second official language or is used for most business transactions in the majority of post-Soviet states (e.g., Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Tadjikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan).
  • Russia continues to be a major world power and is an important player on the world’s geopolitical stage.
  • As the Russian economy is gaining strength and Russian society continues to struggle for democracy, major private, state and non-profit organizations seek employees with an expertise in Russian (some big names include Price Waterhouse, Honeywell, Citibank, Amnesty International, Citizens Watch, NASA, State Department, FBI, USAID and many others).
  • Russian scientists have been at the forefront of many important technological discoveries; yet the language barrier has not allowed Americans to benefit from these discoveries or has delayed the introduction of new scientific theories to the American scientific society. Knowing Russian will allow you to connect with Russian scientists. (Examples of late American discoveries of Russian great minds include Vygotsky, Luria, Fedorov, Elizarov.)