Having traveled in Russia both in Moscow and St Petersburg, I can personally attest to the fact that people in Moscow will not speak English to you. I found it easily to speak English in St Petersburg especially with the students, but overall Russia has a (well deserved) reputation for not speaking very good English. Russia will host the winter Olympics in 2014. As part of the planning process Russian officials are trying to make their country more English friendly.
Russia hired the company EF (English First) to train 70,000 Russians to learn English. According to a press release “Under the contract, the international firm will educate athletes, Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee staff, service providers — including taxi drivers and hotel maids — judges and volunteers. Most of the training will be carried out online.” This is impressive because of the scope that Russia is going to to train so many individuals on learning English. For instance, the company EF was also retained to help in the planning on the Beijing Olympics. However in the Beijing Olympics they were only responsible for training 6,000 people. This newest endeavor represents a 12 times larger training than was performed in China.
EF which is based in Switzerland was hired after competing bids from 6 other companies. One of the main reasons they were chosen was due to their prior experience in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and the 2008 Olympics in Being. According to EF’s chief learning officer, EF is responsible for training 500,000 students annually in English. This makes them able to handle the immense task of training the 70,000 Russians. The online content is expected to be available in beginning in May of 2012, and will be available until the start of the games in February of 2014.
The announcement to undertake the large training of individuals related to the Olympics isn’t the only attempt to expand the amount of English spoken in Russia. Currently the Economic Development Ministry is proposing a plan which would call for 20 percent of foreign officials to be fluent in English by 2020. While the idea has not been officially implemented yet, it would require approximately 140,000 government officials to be fluent. The plan would further require fluency in English for all newly hired government workers.
While English in Russia is behind the level that it is in many parts of Europe, these are important first steps to be taken. With both of these major organizations proposing and attempting to modernize their workforce by being fluent in English, it shows evidence that Russia believes in the future of a global economy, and can’t rely on only communication in Russian.