Still Fighting Russia, This Time With Words

Deborah Cruz is one of 1,000 native English speakers working in Georgia

From Clifford J. Levy, the New York Times:  Ms. Cruz, who is from the Seattle area, is part of a brigade of native English speakers recruited by Georgia’s government to spur a linguistic revolution. The goal is to make Georgia a country where English is as common as in Sweden — and in the process to supplant Russian as the dominant second language. …

The government has already lured 1,000 English speakers to Georgia, and by September, hopes to have another 500 in place so that every school in the country has at least one. Under the program, which resembles both the Peace Corps and the Teach for America program, the teachers live rent-free with Georgian families and receive a stipend of about $275 a month.

The initiative to embed these foreigners across Georgia reflects the ambitions of its Western-leaning president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who speaks excellent English and studied law at Columbia University. Since taking office after an uprising in 2003, Mr. Saakashvili has worked to wrench Georgia out of Moscow’s orbit and move it closer to the United States — so determined is his effort that it was a factor in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. …

The Kremlin is highly sensitive to the status of Russian, viewing it as a kind of barometer of its influence. …

Dimitri Shashkini, the minister of education and science, said in an interview that Georgia, which has 4.6 million people, would prosper economically only by significantly improving its educational system. Ensuring that every child knows English is a major part of that objective, he said.

“Georgia doesn’t have natural gas or oil,” Mr. Shashkini said. “The resource that we have is our human intellectual potential. So we need to use that potential as much as possible.”

Mr. Shashkini said the government was not doing away with Russian classes, but rather making them as optional as French or German. In general, English is now mandatory.  (photo: Justyna Mielnikiewicz/New York Times)

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