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[b]Foreigners consider it prestigious to learn Belarusian [/b]Karl Marx Street is the most international street in Minsk, connecting various blocks of the Belarusian State University, where many foreign students study. The Philological Department is situated at the centre, with languages from all over the world heard. However, many of those who arrive in Minsk to study can already speak Belarusian, sometimes even without an accent. Those from neighbouring Russia and Poland come to Minsk to study, as do citizens from the Czech Republic, Germany and China. Chang In is the Dean of the Russian Language Department at Harbin’s University of Science and Technology, which has been liaising with the BSU for a long time.
Foreigners consider it prestigious to learn Belarusian

Karl Marx Street is the most international street in Minsk, connecting various blocks of the Belarusian State University, where many foreign students study. The Philological Department is situated at the centre, with languages from all over the world heard. However, many of those who arrive in Minsk to study can already speak Belarusian, sometimes even without an accent.  
Those from neighbouring Russia and Poland come to Minsk to study, as do citizens from the Czech Republic, Germany and China. Chang In is the Dean of the Russian Language Department at Harbin’s University of Science and Technology, which has been liaising with the BSU for a long time. Chinese students come to Minsk to learn Russian, but Chang In is launching a department to teach Belarusian. “I’m a linguist, interested in different languages. Belarusian and Russian are official languages in Belarus. To ensure close co-operation, I believe we need to know them both, so plan to start teaching both to my students,” she says.
Chang In has learnt Belarusian from her colleague, Svetlana Yakuba, an associate professor at the BSU. Additionally, the Chinese specialist listens to live speech, visiting villages close to Minsk and talking to residents in Belarusian. BSU associate professor Anzhelika Sadovskaya asserts that it’s not easy for foreigners to learn Belarusian. “For example, the Russian language lacks the ‘r’ sound, which is wide-spread in Belarusian. To learn how to pronounce it, you need to change the way you speak. It’s the first thing we show our students.”
Alexander Seleznev has come to Minsk from Moscow and has almost no problem pronouncing Belarusian. The main challenge lies in words which are very similar in pronunciation but different in meaning. For example, the word ‘staranna’ (translated as diligently) sounds like the Russian word ‘stranno’ (strange). Every new language has these stumbling blocks.
Alexander is among the few Russians studying Belarusian. It may seem strange but most BSU students learning Belarusian come from China, Turkmenistan and Germany. Of course, Belarusians and Russians understand each other without the need for translation; still, Mr. Seleznev is convinced that it’s important to know the languages of neighbouring nations. “It’s important not just for communication but for understanding each country in general. Each nation’s language is its soul. For a Russian to understand the soul of a Belarusian, they must study the fundamentals (at least) of their language. It makes us closer.”
Malvina Johnson, a student from Biała Podlaska (a Polish city on the border with Belarus), began learning Belarusian rather accidentally. “I entered the local branch of Lublin University to study Russian. I was surprised to receive my first lectures in Belarusian. However, I loved it; living on the border, alongside Belarusians, I’d heard it spoken before. I became ever more interested and, when offered lessons in Bulgarian, decided to continue with Belarusian instead.”
Malvina came to Minsk several years ago and speaks Belarusian without any accent. She explains, “In Belarusian, many sounds resemble those from Polish; our languages are both Slavonic. It’s easy for me to pronounce the strong ‘р’ (r), ‘ж’ (zh), ‘ш’ (sh), ‘ч’ (ch) and ‘дж’ (dzh) — which also exist in Polish. My tongue hasn’t needed retraining.” In this respect, it’s easier for Malvina than for Chang In. Interestingly, the Polish student has even begun writing a scientific paper in Belarusian — about the artistic life of Yan Barshchevsky, who lived in Belarus 200 years ago. He wrote his Gentry Man Zavalnya legends (likened to the Arabian 1001 Nights) in Polish, while living in Russian St. Petersburg. Clearly, our Slavonic nations share a special language and cultural ties.
Malvina is studying Russian and aims to pass an internship at the BSU. “It won’t be a problem for me to master Russian, since I already know Belarusian and Polish,” she says. Meanwhile, Mikhail Vashichek, a student from Prague, already knows every Slavonic language. He even speaks Belarusian, though only began to learn two years ago — at Prague’s Charles University. Mikhail’s colleagues in Prague and Minsk call him ‘a phenomenon’. He has already visited Polesie (as part of an ethnographic expedition) and the famous village of Motyl (where mixed Belarusian-Ukrainian dialect is used). Soon, Mikhail will be able to personally lecture in foreign languages.

By Viktar Korbut
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