Shahid Beheshti University (Iran) Dr. Nazari: Learning Russian is a sweet challenge

“Learning Russian is a sweet challenge,” Dr. Fatemeh Nazari said in an interview with Public Relations Office of Shahid Beheshti University (SBU).

Dr. Nazari is an assistant professor of the Department of Russian and Slavic Language and Literature of SBU. This young professor, who is mainly engaged in research in the field of grammar, is the author of works such as “Russian language in business and commerce” and the translation of the third chapter of the book “The Manuscripts of the National Library of Russia”. Here is part of our interview with her:

•    Please introduce yourself and describe your education background.
Greetings to you and your colleagues. After receiving my diploma, I decided to continue my studies abroad. My choice was Russia. When I arrived in this country, I was not even familiar with the Russian alphabet, and the airport and city signs were incomprehensible to me. Upon arrival, I started my studies for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Moscow. I had to study Russian for a whole year to get permission to take university courses. While I was studying Russian, my teachers and friends agreed that I have a good talent in learning this language. Actually, my intention was to study another field, but considering that I passed Russian courses well, I started learning Russian at the academic level at the suggestion of my professors. The undergraduate program in Russia lasted five years and I returned to Iran after completing my studies. In Iran, I submitted my documents to the Ministry of Science for evaluation. Due to the fact that I did not have a bachelor’s degree in Iran, I had to pass a few general credits in order to be awarded a bachelor’s degree. Then, I continued my studies at the master’s level at the University of Tehran in the field of language teaching. After completing my master’s degree at the University of Tehran in 2008, I found out that the PhD in this field has just been approved at the University of Tehran and it still has no students. Therefore, I decided to follow the recommendation of one of my professors who always stressed that learning a language in an environment where the target language is used would be efficient, and I went to Moscow again and obtained a PhD degree from Moscow Pedagogical State University (MPGU). After finishing my studies, I immediately returned to Iran and the evaluation of my documents lasted for about a year. A year after that, I started teaching as an invited lecturer at SBU, and after passing various interviews and tests, I was employed at this university as a faculty member in 2012.

•    Please explain about the Department of Russian and Slavic Language and Literature.
When the program of Russian language and literature was established at SBU, the name of the department was “Russian Language”. In 2010, the Iranian Ministry of Science approved this program under the title of Russian language, and from the same year, we admitted students at the undergraduate level and taught them based on the program outline that was given to us. Of course, in the first semester, the students had to go through preliminary courses and if they managed to get the cutoff score, they could take university courses. However, currently, according to the revision by the Ministry of Science, students must complete their program in eight semesters, and the preparatory courses that are passed as a separate semester are considered among their university courses. For example, the course “introductory grammar” includes many topics, including pronouns, verbs, adjectives and numbers, but these topics are now considered separate credits (such as pronouns, two credits).

•    What degrees are offered in Russian language at SBU?
Unfortunately, there is currently only a bachelor’s degree. Many parameters such as educational space, language teaching facilities and sufficient professors are needed to expand the scope of this department’s activities. As we know, Russian carries the adjective “rare” with it in Iran, and therefore teaching this language strongly requires creating different conditions. The University of Tehran offers Russian at both the master’s and PhD level, but this university has been admitting undergraduate students since 1969; it has offered the master’s program since 2001, and it has been accepting PhD students for several years. In other words, educational space and facilities such as language laboratories were provided in this university. This is how this university could admit students at the master’s and PhD levels. Of course, Tarbiat Modares University follows the same path, though it does not have a bachelor’s degree.

•    Considering the vastness of the scope of language, what is the field of your activity in particular? What do you consider your most interesting research work?
From the beginning, my major was Russian language and I was interested in translation, grammar, and Russian literature, but due to the fact that at the PhD level, the departments in Russia are very diverse and specialized, and programs like Russian language (something similar to pure mathematics and pure chemistry), Russian language teaching, Russian language translation and Russian language for foreigners are each active separately, I had to choose among them and thus I chose the Russian language department and focused on grammar. Most of my articles are also grammar-oriented. I have also done some studies on translation and I have translated some works as well.

•    It is widely known that Russian is a difficult and complex language. Why is this language so complicated?
The first thing that should be said in this regard is that if we support this famous cliché that “Russian is a very complicated language”, it will certainly be difficult for us to learn it, but in my personal opinion, learning Russian is a challenge. When you start learning this language, you will encounter unfamiliar letters and when you start reading and writing, you will touch success in a real sense. I mentioned earlier that when I traveled to Russia, I was not even familiar with the alphabet of Russian and it was very difficult for me, but when a person starts education, s/he is invited to a new challenge. For example, although the Russian alphabet sometimes resembles English, the sounds and intonations are very different, and recognizing and pronouncing them correctly is a very important achievement. Russian is really difficult and has a lot of grammatical complexity, and this is no secret, but it is not so difficult that it is impossible to learn. Of course, some friends panic at the beginning of learning this language, and we have had cases of withdrawal, but if we follow this challenge, learning Russian will be very sweet.

•    What are these challenges? In other words, what makes Russian so difficult to learn?
One important issue is the alphabet, which has little similarity with that of English. In cases that they are apparently similar, there are many differences in terms of the way and tone of pronunciation. Another issue is the complex morphological structure of Russian, which does not exist in Persian at all. In Persian, we don’t inflect nouns at all, but in Russian, every word is inflected except adverbs. It is very difficult to learn inflection at the beginning of education. Of course, I emphasize “at the beginning” so that those who read the interview will not be afraid [laughing]. With continuous training, these difficulties will be tackled and the sweets and charms of learning will appear. That’s why I ask new students to think of themselves as different, because they have a privilege that others don’t have. Of course, this only indicates “difference” and not “superiority”. English, for example, also needs continuous training, but it has become so widespread that most of our people are fluent in it and it has become a requirement for PhD students in any field. But Russian is not like that and the number of learners is small and the proficient are even less and therefore they need a firm determination to be able to appear in the society. Currently, in line with the relationship with Russia in the current state of the country, there are job platforms for students of Russian from various scientific, cultural, economic, commercial and social angles.

•    So, there are jobs available for students of Russian after they graduate from university?
Yes, it is definitely so, and I make this promise to the students, provided that they have studied well. In fact, students should be very proficient in their subjects. Russian is a very rich language. In terms of the number of words, this language is very powerful, because there are many synonyms and antonyms. If someone has a complete command of Russian, they can list seven synonyms for one word in their texts. We know that Russian literature is well-known in the world. This comes from the vocabulary richness of this language, because the wider the range of vocabulary, the more solid the literature will be. I think writers who have been able to create good works are indebted to the language.