main meny  
    John Beyrle
U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation
Speech at NATE Conference, Kazan, 2009 (transcript)
   
 

Thank you very very much for this invitation to join you this morning. Its a very exciting moment for me and I want to express my gratitude to the President of Tatarstan, President Shaimiyev and to Prime Minister Minnikhanov for agreeing to co-sponsor this very important conference. Thank you, Minister of Education for your support and Kazan State Power Engineering University Rector Petrushenko for hosting this event. Thank you, NATE President Svetlana Grigoriyevna Ter-Minasova and TELTA President Gouzel Nezhmetdinova, for organizing this wonderful conference, and the whole organizing committee for your efforts in bringing together such a great audience this morning. , rahmat, thank you very very much. Min birede boluyma bik shatmyn , I am very very happy to be here. .

But I want to reserve my most special thanks to all of you, the English teachers who are attending todays conference. The very fact that you are here today, at the end of a long school year, when most teachers are beginning to enjoy a well-deserved summer break, its testimony to your dedication, to your drive, to your commitment, to your idealism, to your passion for your work.

And I would especially like to congratulate the generation of teachers who decided to enter the English language teaching profession more than 20 years ago. I lived in the Soviet Union and I lived in Russia 20 years ago. This was the time when the thaw between the tense relations of the Cold War was just beginning. It was the time before we got the Internet to connect us, it was before chat-rooms and it was before anyone ever heard the word e-mail which we take so much for granted now as a part of English language. No one knew what e-mail was 20 years ago, no one knew what Skype was 20 years ago. And I think most amazingly, 20 years ago was the time when the number of native speakers of the English language was still greater than the number of fluent non-native speakers of the English language. And to even decide to teach a language that was at that time as remote as English was here in Russia must have required some vision, some persistence and some patience. So I commend you all for that extraordinary resolve and now as we say we can fast forward, press the fast-forward button, and see how much has changed in the intervening 20 years, since many of you started out on this path.

For the first time in the history of the modern world, there is truly a global language, and that language is English. It is used more often than any other language in the United Nations, both officially and informally. It is the means of communication in more multi-national corporations, and among more businessmen in meetings with speakers of other languages, than any other language. The overwhelming majority of web pages and online documents are in English. The majority of Internet users communicate with one another in English. And as proof of the momentum that this language has gathered as a kind of global lingua franca, there are now more fluent non-native speakers of English on the Earth than there are native speakers, and by some estimates more than 50% (more than native speakers of English, fluent). The citizens of Russia are part of this growing number of advanced non-native speakers of English. Thanks in large part to your passion, to your dedication, to your professionalism. Today Russia is more connected to the outside world than at any time in her history. Last year Russians made 36 million trips outside of Russia, outside of the Russian Federation 36 million trips made outside of this country. This is a country that is open to the world now. One hundred eighty thousand of those came to the United States. Today 95 % of citizens of the Russian Federation who apply for a visa to visit the United States, receive a visa. 95 %. So today, I think, as never before no one doubts the importance of learning English in Russia.

Through your hard work, students gain access to new information, to new ideas. Because of your many hours of instruction, the countless hours of guidance that you give to students outside the classroom, you expose them to completely new perspectives. Once they attain that intermediate level , the holy grail of English knowledge, intermediate level, you unlock the door for them, you unlock the door to their of comprehension print material, news and radio programs, music lyrics, films and theater. At that point they can begin to surf the Internet in English, they can read breaking headlines, they can conduct searches on any topic they are interested in, and they can listen to audio podcasts on their iPods if they want to, to programs from all over the world. But you hold the key for them; you unlock that door to that wider world which is now available.

Now it is important to note that, and you know this better than almost anyone, ideas do not travel only in one direction. Your students are able not only to absorb new information, they are also able to engage to, as we say, transmit to foreign audience. Through English they are able to find friends in almost any part of the world. We all remember the institution of pen-pals. I have a pen-pal in Minnesota; I have a pen-pal in South Africa. Now we have something much broader that allows your students to contact the outside world. They can respond to news stories, they can join online discussions on topics that matter to their lives, they can start a website, many of them actually start their own blogs, or take part in social networks such as the new Exchanges Connect site that we started on the State Department website. And as the students grow in competence, they participate in exchange programs and conferences, they enroll in online courses, they submit articles to professional journals around the world. And upon graduation, they immediately have access to a much more varied selection of work possibilities.

It is important to understand that there is now a new global linguistic map. The United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, we do not have a monopoly on the English language anymore. You do not learn English with the expectation of reading only American authors or watching only CNN. Accordingly, a Russian speaker of English should not expect to conduct business only with a U.S.-based company. In fact, it is now more likely for a Russian businessman to use English with someone who is not a native speaker of English. Two nights ago I was in Samara preparing for the opening of a new production line at the Alcoa plant. The executive Vice President who flew in was an Austrian. One of his main customers was a German, the head of an American company, he was a German man. The two of them at the table were speaking English to each other. Two native speakers of German the entire evening spoke English to each other.

You are on the front line of this; you are on the front line of grass-roots, citizen-to-citizen diplomacy as well. You are the true bridge builders I would say of the 21st century: you are the ones who are preparing future generations to cooperate beyond their national borders so that we can solve some of the worlds most serious issues. Through your tireless effort, students develop into mature, well-informed adults who will add to the international debate of key issues in such important areas as global warming, rule of law, human rights, terrorism and the management of increasingly complex economies. Like language itself these issues are no longer restricted by modern geographic borders.

You are also helping students better understand foreign cultures, because you cannot expect to teach a foreign language without understanding the cultures that are shaping the language. I think this is one of the most exciting and probably one of the most challenging aspects of your work. By better understanding the different cultures, you are opening your students to new ways of seeing the world. Through the study of American literature, for example, students are not only able to better understand U.S. behaviors, understand our traditions and our patterns of thought, but they are also able better to understand and appreciate their own countrys customs and assumptions. This cross-cultural exchange of perspectives is a natural part of any well-taught foreign language class, and it gives the students a deeper and broader appreciation of the view of the world.

Your conference is important because it represents the confluence of a number of key efforts. It demonstrates how American, Russian and Tatar interests can unite in yet another sphere - the educational sphere - to ensure the incorporation of the latest methods, of the latest innovations, for successful language teaching. It juxtaposes Russias, Tatarstans and Americas efforts to help our multi-cultural societies speak the same language. And it is also a celebration of the synergy between teachers associations, the Ministries of Education and the U.S. Embassy; it highlights the important programs and projects that this unity can create especially in the area of teacher training.

This is the 15th annual NATE conference and it marks 15 years of growth in the number and quality of professional associations in Russia. As civic structures, associations represent an important step in the democratization of education. Associations such as this allow practitioners to voice their opinions and to shape their own professional development. They also unite instructors from universities, from schools, from institutes. And I am very very proud that a large number of associations are supported by alumni of our exchange programs, exchange programs supported by the U.S. Embassy, by the American government and that you use our network of American Corners as venues for various programming events. We look forward to continuing our support for the outstanding contribution of these professional associations in the area of language education.

I would close by making an observation that I think is fairly evident to all of you, that full understanding goes beyond language, that it reaches deep into the patterns and experiences with which we were raised, and into the very heart of how we perceive the world. Senator J. William Fulbright, I think, captured this idea brilliantly when he said, Over the long history of the world, having someone who understands how you think provides you more security than just another submarine. But even more succinctly in Russian, .

I sincerely hope that you will all find this here in your exchange of ideas over the next three days. And I hope that these new ideas will spread to hundreds of English teaching colleagues who could not attend this years NATE conference, as well as to your new students when your academic year begins in the fall.

I congratulate you, but more importantly, I thank you for the excellent work that you are doing and will continue to do. May you have a fruitful three days of sharing new ideas, of building strong associations and networks and know, know that you have a friend, a supporter, a in me. Thank you.