What Was Lacking in the Nineties?
Creating this Center was the idea of Bertrand Coué, a Frenchman from Lyons, who was working at the Consulate. His friends told him that there was no such center in Moscow.
Foreign languages study centers are opening in Russia virtually every day, and the client is often at a loss to know which one to choose. But that is now. In the nineties, the situation was quite different. Only a few were offering foreign language study courses.One such center was CREF, which today is one of the leading language centers in Russia. Its particular distinction is that it was developed on the basis of French, not English, as is usually the case. Each month the Center, founded in 1995, teaches about 500-700 corporate and 500 private clients.“CREF was initially created to teach French to corporate clients, mainly foreign firms which were then beginning to operate in Russia”, says Fabrice Disdier, Director of CREF Foreign Languages Study Center. Creating this Center was the idea of Bertrand Coué, a Frenchman from Lyons, who was working at the Consulate. His friends told him that there was no such center in Moscow. So when he found himself with sufficient free time and money, he was able to open CREF.However, Bertrand Coué came up against a lot of problems in 1995. Russia still had laws inherited from the Soviet Union, and the living standards of Russians left much to be desired. Clients had to be financially secured to be able to afford studies with native speakers. There was also a lack of study materials in Russia, and no text books with the latest methods of teaching foreign languages. On the other hand, there were greater opportunities. All that was required to create a successful enterprise was sufficient free time and a little investment.
“To open a center like ours now, you would need about one and a half million rubles (about 50,000 USD) a month for wages alone”, Disdier continues. “And without this minimum capital, it would not be possible to set up such a school”.
Valentina Levashova, Associate Professor, English Linguistics Department of the Language and Literature Faculty of the Lomonosov Moscow State University:The study of foreign languages, and primarily of English, is now more urgent than ever in Russia. Knowledge of foreign languages increases one’s chance of obtaining a good education and gives more scope for professional development. This now applies not only to commercial enterprises, but also to state service. The strategy for the innovative development of Russia prepared by the RF Ministry of Economic Development envisages that by 2020 government employees of the senior and higher level will have to speak a foreign language without an interpreter.My own observations lead me to the conclusion that four out of five students, and about the same proportion of school graduates, focusing on getting higher education, are giving some thought to taking extra classes in a foreign language, including applying to various language centers and schools.
On the other hand, in the nineties there was no difficulty in finding staff. Teachers’ salaries in Russian state institutions were very low, so many of them were happy to come and work for the Center. Nor was it a problem to find native French-speaking teachers. Many of them had come from France as students, some could combine work in the offices of French firms in Moscow with teaching, and some were even working as families.Mr. Disdier admits that it is a lot more difficult to carry on a business now. Firstly, the Center itself is on a different scale. Whereas at the very beginning there were 23 teachers in CREF, now there are 120 in the Moscow branch alone. Secondly, teachers now have numerous other employment opportunities, including state projects. And the clients themselves have different demands, so what is required from teachers has changed too. Apart from obligatory higher education in linguistics, a teacher must also have several years experience of working with students in a private center. But the road is open to good young specialists. After all, it is easier to train someone certain skills than to retrain him.“Now we need not just teachers, but ones who teach our methods”, Fabrice Disdier says. “We need professionals working with new contemporary methods of studying French, Russian, English and Spanish”.
In P’titCREF, children very quickly start communicating in foreign languages as well as they do in their own.
CREF now has branches in Nizhni Novgorod and St. Petersburg, and plans to open one in Yekaterinburg. There are French, English and Spanish sections. And Russian as a foreign language is taught in the Center too. CREF’s clients include about 150 companies: from small ones, where only one group of two or three students is taught, to huge corporations. For example, the staff of ‘Auchan’ – French worldwide retailer – now studies languages in 30 to 40 groups. Altogether, 600-700 corporate students and 500 private students per month study at CREF. Most of the teachers are Russian but a quarter of them are native English and French speakers from France, the UK, the USA, and Canada…
You Want to Learn a Language Thoroughly? Put on a Show!
One of the Center’s innovations was the opening of the first CREF-based trilingual kindergarten in Moscow: the P’titCREF. A small network of them now operates in St. Petersburg, Nizhni Novgorod and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. English, French and Russian are taught there to children of ages from one to six. The initiator of the project was Virginie Durand, at that time a French teacher also responsible for developing courses for children and teens within CREF.Everyone knows that the earlier children begin learning a foreign language, the more rapidly they master it. In P’titCREF, children very quickly start communicating in foreign languages as well as they do in their own. Lessons in the form of play make studies easy, enjoyable and interesting for the children.The second important event was last year’s entry into the theatrical field under the leadership of the French actress Carole Le Sone. To get into this group, the students must already know French at elementary level. Acting skills, as well as improving use of language, enable them to pass the speech barrier, to liberate themselves and overcome their fear of public speaking in French. As their end-of-year exams, the students put on little shows and sketches.
“Our main goal is to give our clients the best possible education in foreign languages. We work at a high quality level”, Mr. Fabrice Disdier says. “The situation is such that those who learned French or English at school, but have never actually spoken these languages, often come to us. Our motto is: Its not important how you speak, the main thing is how you communicate. Of course it is not possible to translate every single word accurately. In such cases, we allow them to express their thoughts in Russian. But believe me, it gives us great pleasure to see students who after two or three weeks of intensive training, begin speaking in a foreign language. Unfortunately, Russian is still taught in France in the same way as French and English are taught in Russia. Therefore many French people arriving in Moscow are afraid to start speaking Russian. But after being taught in the Center, they can live and work here independently and communicate freely with their Russian colleagues.By the way, foreign students often apply specifically to CREF, about 150 of them every month. And so do the staff of European companies who work in Russia as experts. Everyone needs the language!
To Each His Own
Mr. Disdier gives an ambiguous assessment of the language services market in Moscow. Of course, you can find a huge number of centers offering foreign language courses on virtually every street. But they can’t all be put on the same level. On one hand, there are large centers based on teaching English, for example English First, with a great number of branches and great possibilities. On the other hand, there are small companies way below the international standard, which may only operate for two or three years, encountering various crises until one of them forces them to close.
Our motto is: Its not important how you speak, the main thing is how you communicate.
“Our Center is different because it is based on French and not English”, Fabrice Disdier emphasizes. “And we mainly attract corporate clients. I reckon we only have two or three competitors in our narrow field in Moscow. Of course there are different universities, schools and other centers – these are also our competitors, but they operate under an entirely different system. For our part, we always work consistently, step by step, and have no intention of starting out in some new form just because it has become fashionable. For example, I do not know Chinese and have no idea how it is taught. So I am not opening Chinese courses. Quality is the foundation of all our work”.
Lilia Khikmatullina, marketing analyst of Intesco Research Group:The size of the Russian market in paid teaching of foreign languages reached 47 billion rubles (about 1,6 billion USD) in 2010. It has doubled since 2008. In big cities, growth rates reached 25%, the regional market is growing more slowly: 15-20% a year. This tendency will continue in the near future, not only because of growing demand, but also due to increased competition in the market, on account of which the range of services is expanding, while prices, on the other hand, may come down.Investment of a little over five million rubles (167K USD) is required to enter the capital’s foreign language study center market. Outside of major cities, less than half of this is needed. Furthermore, regional projects take less time to pay for themselves: a little over 18 months, against two and a half years in Moscow.The quality of teaching is particularly important in Russia. According to some estimates, no more than half of language courses provide a satisfactory quality of teaching. Different international language centers are most often among the best known companies operating in the Russian market. Their distinctive features are their strong advertising support, and also their experience and well-developed methods. The presence of unlicensed courses, which form a part of the illegal market, complicates the situation.
We Want to Become an Examination Center
In future, CREF plans to devote its main attention to Russian as a foreign language as the main line of its development. It is also working on an interesting course for teens, where all special aspects of teaching foreign languages to schoolchildren will be taken into account. In Fabrice Disdier’s opinion, this is one of the fields with the best prospects.“We always have great plans, but basically we want to continue to expand”, he says. “For example, we would like to further improve our relations with other European companies, not only French. We would also like to become an examination center. We already prepare students to take the international DALF/DELF examination. But it is hard to compete with state establishments, since it is they who set the rules, and it is also they who can change them.However, even today, CREF is the only language center in Moscow holding the TEF and TEFAQ examination, and also a test to determine the level of knowledge of French”.