Learning Goals for Russian Majors

The Amherst College Russian Department has a two-fold mission: to provide instruction in a foreign language at all levels, preparing students for informed study of the culture, and to offer literature and culture courses in translation as part of the broader liberal-arts tradition. The study of Russian gives our students a comprehensive knowledge of the language which will allow them to develop competence in speaking, understanding, reading, writing, and cultural literacy, while illustrating how language, society, and culture are inextricably linked.  The purpose of a Russian major is to furnish a nuanced appreciation of Russia's rich cultural achievements as well as an understanding of Russia's historical significance on the world scene.  Through the study of at least three years of the Russian language, including a highly recommended (though not required) semester or summer-long stay in the country, as well as an opportunity to choose from among a wide variety of courses (some conducted in Russian) in literature, film, theater, cultural studies, and history, majors have the opportunity to explore multiple facets of the "Russian experience" under the guidance of scholars and teachers who are actively engaged in the profession.  The reliable presence of a historian increases the appeal and depth of the Russian major, adding a more global and historic aspect to the curriculum.

Acknowledging the diverse nature of, and various approaches to, the subject matter, faculty assist concentrators in putting together a series of courses which cohere to a well-defined whole, often interdisciplinary in nature.  A senior honors essay is optional, but each student, in a required comprehensive essay composed over the course of two semesters that is followed by an oral defense during the second semester of senior year, explains and defends the primary focus of his/her studies as a Russian major.  Earlier that year the major is also asked to demonstrate Russian language proficiency in a 90-minute translation exam which reflects the ability to comprehend the written language at a sophisticated level.  Our students are readily accepted into all semester programs in Russia, and when they return, they claim that they were as well — or better — prepared than most of their counterparts from comparable institutions.  An unsually high number of our majors have gone on to graduate study in the field of Russian and Slavic cultures, and to academic and other employment using their knowledge of Russian.

To achieve these stated goals, we require a level of competency, demonstrated by these abilities:

  • to write in Russian clearly about a variety of non-technical topics with significant precision and detail and a fundamental grasp of the general rules of morphology and syntax;
  • to speak comprehensibly about a variety of non-technical topics covering everyday life and culture, making ideas known through mastery of basic vocabulary (about 3000) words) and intonation;
  • to comprehend ordinary, non-specialized conversation of a native speaker at a moderate or moderately rapid pace;
  • to read original Russian literary and non-fictional prose, with the occasional use of a dictionary;
  • to achieve competence through readings in English in the broad areas and periods of 19th and 20th-century Russian literature and culture, with some knowledge of modern Russian cultural history.