Every year, many of our undergraduates come with little or no previous experience of Russian or Czech. Sometimes they have studied an aspect of Russian or East European history at school, performed some Russian or Czech music, seen a Russian or Czech film or play, visited Moscow, St Petersburg or Prague or simply had Russian or Czech friends. Often they have enjoyed and done well in modern languages at school and are looking for a fresh linguistic challenge. Four years later, they are speaking Russian or Czech fluently, having spent at least half a year in Russian- or Czech-speaking environments, and Russian or Czech has often become their favourite subject and a core element of future career plans. Every year, former beginners in Russian are among those who graduate with first-class degrees, with most students of Russian or Czech securing at least a 2:1 mark.
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Here are some more reasons to consider a degree with Russian or Czech:
Russian is the fifth most-spoken language in the world. Russia is an enormous potential market, a crucial source of natural resources, and a major diplomatic, economic and military power demanding a central role on the international stage. Contrary to some hopes in the 1990s, post-Communist Russia’s resurgence has not been founded on the wholesale adoption of Western democratic and economic models and closer alliance with the West, but the more familiar muscular assertion of a multi-polar world, spheres of influence and a specifically Russian way of doing things.
Russia’s stance on world issues from the environment to terrorism to human rights needs constant communication and interpretation by those who understand the historical and cultural background to this present position, whether working in the law, the printed, broadcast, on-line, mass and specialist media, national and international diplomacy and civil services, NGOs, charities or other organisations.
The Czech Republic was the second-largest of the ten countries that joined the EU in May 2004, and from January to June 2009 held the rotating EU presidency. Since the fall of Communism, Prague, now at the heart of the expanded European Union, has established itself as the dominant regional centre for banking, finance, media, diplomacy and tourism. The Czech Republic is a very close ally and trading partner of the U.K., and has benefited immensely from eastward investment in the last fifteen years, making Czech expertise a great asset in a wide variety of professions, especially combined with a major European language.
When beginning the study of modern languages, students often believe that their future lies in translation and interpreting. However, this is a highly specialised career, usually requiring further postgraduate training. Most of our graduates go on to careers with a very different central focus, but in the pursuit of that focus will make regular, often daily use of their language skills for translation, interpreting, negotiation, giving presentations or just day-to-day communication.As a modern languages graduate, you are not restricted to the small number of jobs specifically seeking speakers of Russian and Czech. You will find that these languages will be seen as a crucial asset by many employers looking for the range of transferable skills (including communication and leadership) that Bristol graduates normally possess at a very high level. Recent Bristol graduates in Russian and Czech have gone into career areas as diverse as accounting & finance, industry, the media, publishing, law, travel & tourism, British and international civil services, the police, the army, non-governmental organisations, teaching, translating and interpreting and academia.
Even if you decide not to use the languages directly in your future career, they attract attention on any CV as a relatively unusual, highly respected humanities degree. They suggest individuality, originality, intelligence and a willingness to take on something different and succeed.
Studying Russian opens up a country of amazing geographical diversity, with an often violent, dramatic past full of colourful, larger-than-life figures, with one of Europe’s most influential and admired ‘big’ cultures, and a society that shares much with the rest of Europe, but at the same time seems fundamentally different. Russian culture constantly worries about its relationship with the West, and the influence of the West in Russia, and tries to make sense of its role and place in the world. At Bristol you can study Russia’s development from the eighteenth century to the present day through its history, its thinkers, its literature, its cinema, its religion and its popular culture.
To get to know the Czechs is, many say, to get to know Europe. Normally we study the languages of once dominant, empire-building nations. By contrast, the Czechs have fought merely to preserve their independent language, culture and identity as Europe’s turbulent history has crossed backwards and forwards across their territory. All Europe’s major artistic, political and philosophical movements have found expression in Czech culture, which cannot decide whether to take pride in or curse its ‘smallness’. At Bristol you can study the Czechs’ experience from the nineteenth century to the present day through its history, its literature, its cinema and its contemporary social relations. You can also acquire knowledge of the closely related Slovak language and Slovak culture. Recently we have created with colleagues in German a co-taught course unit about the history and culture of Prague.
Russian and Czech may seem very daunting. They are Slavonic languages and, with the Cyrillic alphabet or numerous diacritics, look and sound exotic. However, both in fact put themselves together very similarly to other European languages. Learners of German, Latin or Ancient Greek will be especially familiar with the way the languages work. Once you understand the grammar of one of the Slavonic languages, you can easily pick up the others.
Russian and Czech are hardest at the beginning, requiring a lot of discipline and systematic learning, but students always comment on the tangible sense of progress that results in both spoken and written language. At this stage it is great to have a supportive group of teachers and fellow-students like you find at Bristol. However, you also need a bit of inner grit and commitment to the subject, for which you will be richly rewarded with wonderful experiences, valuable skills and broadened horizons. Every year students who were quite anxious at the beginning graduate with very good marks and considerable self-confidence in Russian or Czech language.
The year abroad is vital for achieving real fluency, making learned rules instinctive and securing passive understanding. For most students, the chance to live for an extended period, studying or working, in another country is the main reason for studying languages. For Russian and Czech students, however, it is often a life-changing experience. Students sometimes approach the prospect with trepidation, but return with much greater self-confidence and a transformed sense of themselves and their capabilities. The year abroad also makes your studies make sense; students become fascinated by Russia or the Czechs like never before, often wanting to return there and with much clearer ideas of how they want to use their knowledge and skills.
At Bristol you will receive a great deal of support from both the department and School both before and during your year abroad. All our Russian and Czech placements have been personally negotiated by staff with academic, business and professional contacts, ensuring a very ‘hands-on’ relationship, and we try to visit most students while they are abroad.
For more information, contact the Arts Faculty Admissions Team at firstname.lastname@example.org . For further information on Admissions, Open Days and Applications please see the School of Modern Languages website.
For entry profiles consult the UCAS website.
For information on the cost of studying at Bristol, please consult the Money Matters site.