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The history of foreign students learning Russian

Russian is one of the six official UN languages, and is the fourth most spoken language in the world. English comes first, with approximately 500 million native speakers and over a billion others who speak it as a foreign language. More than 1.35 billion people speak Chinese, almost all as their native language. Spanish is in third place, with around 360 million speakers. 260 million people across the world speak Russian, including 110 million native speakers.
The Russian language became most widely used with the spread of Soviet culture across the world in the second half of the 20th century. It became one of the leading world languages, used in all major international organisations. By the end of the 1980s about 350 million people spoke Russian. As well as the widespread teaching of Russian in academic settings (in colleges and higher education establishments) many countries, in particular in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, put considerable effort into increasing the number of Russian language courses abroad. These were predominantly attended by adults wanting to master colloquial speech and reading.
The collapse of the USSR and Russia's loss of its previous geopolitical influence on the world stage was also reflected in the status of the Russian language abroad. However, in the 2000s this situation began to change for the better. The development of the country's economy, the arrival of foreign companies onto the market, the emerging ties with Western countries and, finally, the commendable way it coped with the world financial crisis led to more and more foreigners going to Russia to study Russian. Multinational companies began inviting Russian speaking ex-pats to work as more effective specialists. In several cases this was even one of the conditions of negotiating a work contract extension in Russia. Furthermore, Russian plays an important role as the language of international and interethnic communication in the Russian Federation and in the CIA region. In fact, in the Soviet Union it was the language of international communication for people from 15 different republics. Russian as a foreign language has therefore become essential for everyone whose economic, academic or other interests lie in the CIA countries.
International tourism has also drummed up interest in Russian language and culture in many different countries. The fact that Russia has more open borders than it did during the Soviet period has allowed group visits and contact with Russians’ culture and language for tens of millions of people from Europe, America and other parts of the globe.
The outposts of Russian language higher education in the CIA region are the joint universities founded by the Ministries for Education and Science of the Russian Federation and the National Republics – the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University, the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University and the Belarusian-Russian University. The number of students at these universities is increasing each year, currently totalling approximately 20,000, of which 12,500 are studying on Russian educational programmes.
To encourage people from different countries to come to study in Russia, and to help Russian nationals (one in four students from the CIA countries and the Baltic States who is currently attending a Russian high school is ethnically Russian) the Russian Federation gives out 7,000 state bursaries every year (quotas for free study paid for by the federal budget). Preference is given to those coming from the CIA region. On average one in every six full-time foreign students, exchange students, postgraduate students, and preparatory school participants at Russian institutes of higher education studies Russian language as their major subject, including in particular those from North America (especially the USA) and Europe.
Russia plays an important role in the global community in the new millennium, overseeing the active development of business, cultural and academic ties. A huge number of both large and small businesses see an opportunity for growth in the Russian market. Studying Russian is therefore undoubtedly advantageous to all those who want to study, develop a career, run their business or carry out research in Russia.