Monday, January 24, 2011

Still Fighting Russia, This Time With Words

TBILISI, Georgia — The new teacher who arrived recently at School No. 161 could barely speak a word of the Georgian language, knew little about local customs and easily got lost in the crazy-quilt streets of this hilly capital. But she was at the forefront of one of the most notable educational initiatives — if not social experiments — being attempted in the former Soviet Union.

When the teacher, Deborah Cruz, walked into a classroom of squirmy teenagers, they grew rapt. Here was a stranger who would help connect them to the rest of the world, one irregular verb tense at a time.

Ms. Cruz, who is from the Seattle area, is part of a brigade of native English speakers recruited by Georgia’s government to spur a linguistic revolution. The goal is to make Georgia a country where English is as common as in Sweden — and in the process to supplant Russian as the dominant second language.

“What we are doing is really something groundbreaking,” Ms. Cruz, 58, said after leading her class in a form of tick-tack-toe on the blackboard, with students devising a sentence to fill in a box.

One of her students, Tekla Iordanishvili, 15, chimed in, “English is the international language, and we need it.”

The government has already lured 1,000 English speakers to Georgia, and by September, hopes to have another 500 in place so that every school in the country has at least one. Under the program, which resembles both the Peace Corps and the Teach for America program, the teachers live rent-free with Georgian families and receive a stipend of about $275 a month.

The initiative to embed these foreigners across Georgia reflects the ambitions of its Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who speaks excellent English and studied law at Columbia University. Since taking office after an uprising in 2003, Mr. Saakashvili has worked to wrench Georgia out of Moscow’s orbit and move it closer to the United States — so determined is his effort that it was a factor in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
Read the rest here.

Better if they were taught Mandarin.

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