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Filipino, alternative language course at Moscow State University

Text and photo by Gloria Hernandez Grejalde, Moscow

It is always amazing to hear foreigners speak Filipino, but it is beyond words knowing that it is being taught in a premium university like the Moscow State University (MSU).

Filipino is among the four alternative languages offered to students at the MSU Institute of Asia and Africa, the leading Russian Centre for Oriental Studies. Chinese, Japanese, and Turkish are the three other languages.

“We have been holding Filipino classes since 1957,” according to language professor Ekaterina Baklanova. She said that Dr. Vladimir Makarenko started teaching of Filipino in Russia. Dr. Makarenko edited and published the first ever Tagalog–Russian Dictionary (1960) and the Russian–Tagalog Dictionary (1965).

Three Economics students are studying the Filipino language where they are taught Philippine history, literature, culture, economics, and grammar. Ms. Baklanova said the language is part of their curriculum.

Filipino is “unknown”

Conversing with the Russian students in Filipino was astonishing, their greeting of “magandang umaga at ikinagagalak ko kayong makilala” sounded like music. Those greetings are not often used in the Philippines now. And the younger Filipino generations are more used to English or Taglish, coined Tagalog and English words.

They are also amazing to watch as they delivered in Filipino their analysis on the writings of Jose Corazon de Jesus.

Asked why they chose Filipino over the three other languages; they were in unison to say that the Philippines and its people are unknown to them.

“We know nothing about Filipinos. It is always interesting to learn new knowledge and culture. The Philippine culture is unique,” Dmitry explained. “It is always good to know the relations between the language and its people,” he added.

“When I was to choose which to take, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, or Turkish, I opted to take Filipino. I have no idea about the language, it excites me to learn about it,” Viktoriya, another student said. She also stressed that “it was “tadhana” that she will study Filipino.”

Danila, for his part said “it is a good opportunity to know other culture than Russian. It would be easier to communicate with people when you know their language, their history.”

Filipino influences and connections

The Filipinos’ ostensible biases against Russia seem to be also true to the Russians. The students related that their friends were more shocked than surprised when they learned that they were studying Filipino.

“Bakit????,” was their immediate reaction, Dima said, which was echoed by Dymitry.

Meanwhile, Viktoriya said that her friends have started greeting her “magandang umaga” and have adopted the expression “bobo ka.” The same with teacher Ekaterina who related that her husband greets her “magandang umaga” instead of the Russian greeting dobroye utro.

Teacher Ekaterina is hoping to establish more connections with the Philippine cultural and educational institutions. She said that the students’ exchange program with the University of the Philippines (UP) has long stopped.

“We hope to establish new connections with any willing university in the Philippines so we can take our students to further learn Filipino culture,” she expressed, stressing that cost-wise, it is expensive to send their students in the Philippines without formal agreement with any education institution in the Philippines.

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