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Steve tells Mark about Echo Moskvi, a great site for learning Russian and learning about Russia. They discuss education and the Internet.
Steve: Hi Mark.
Mark: Hi Steve.
Steve: You know I have something I want to talk about today; because you know how I am, I get excited about things for a while.
Mark: You certainly do.
Steve: Yes and right now I’m very excited about this Russian website that I’ve found called Echo Moskvi (Echoes of Moscow).
Steve: And the reason I’m excited about it is that it is such a phenomenal resource for a Russian learner like me, but also if I were a Russian person.
I think it’s largely directed at people living outside Russia; although, they have a lot of people listening to their radio station and television station within Russia.
Because I mean when they open up the phone lines they get calls from all over the country right away.
But the kinds of things that they do are so interesting.
It’s, basically, a news and information station far superior to the CBC, for example.
Mark: The CBC being the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mark: But is it, in fact, a large broadcaster in Russia?
Steve: I think so.
Mark: Or is it sort of a niche broadcaster?
Steve: Well, I don’t know.
But one of our members at LingQ told me that Gazprom, which is a big gas and banking company in Russia, is a major shareholder.
I think they have hundreds of thousands of people who listen.
For example, there was a recent unfortunate plane crash in Russia around the Town of Perm and they said we want people to phone us from Perm and people phoned from Perm.
So, I mean, they have a lot of listeners for that to happen.
Mark: You think they only have a couple thousand listeners?
I mean if that’s…
Steve: Seven hundred thousand I think he said; I can’t remember.
Mark: Oh that’s quite a lot.
Steve: It’s getting up there.
I mean there’s a lot of…I don’t know.
At any rate, the kinds of things that they do…I want to describe what they do and how wonderful this is as a model for a variety of things.
First of all, every morning I go there and they will have both the audio and the text of a large number of the programs that they ran the day before.
Steve: So I can download both and it’s not in a PDF format that I can’t copy and paste or whatever.
It’s free, just download it.
They have news programs; they discuss the events of the day.
A lot of it is simply discussions with interesting guests, important guests.
I mean they will have…they had…I’m just thinking.
You know, they had the American Ambassador on there.
They have Ministers on there (Russian Ministers).
They have experts in their field.
Garry Kasparov was on there, for example, who’s a very famous dissident.
And they talk about politics, they talk about history, they talk about cooking, they talk about travel, they talk about the stock market.
It’s a tremendous…and history, you know, and they’ll talk.
I want to get to one of the interesting things that they did.
Mark: But I guess that…I mean in terms of…I mean you’re obviously quite excited about it.
But you’re suggesting that what makes it so unique is, obviously, the fact that there are transcripts too, so that for the language learner you can learn from everything they have on their site.
Mark: I mean from what you’re describing, yeah, it sounds like a typical broadcaster that you’d find in any country.
I mean I don’t know what they talk about specifically, but talking about the news, talking about sports, talking about business, talking about whatever, what makes this site unique, at least from a language-learner’s perspective, is that the transcripts are available for everything.
Steve: I know.
I mean if this were available for Portuguese, for Italian, for German; I mean it’s tremendous.
Mark: It’s much more…it is nice.
Like even as I’m studying French now, it’s nice to go and read the newspaper in French.
I end up maybe not importing articles into LingQ as often as I would if they had the sound, but they are more interesting; current events.
I mean it’s more interesting to read about stuff that I would read about in English and here I am reading about it in the language I’m learning.
And, unfortunately, I can’t find, I haven’t found and maybe someone out there might know of a site where I could find things that you talk about (news, current events, sports, business) in French with transcript that I could import into LingQ.
I mean that would be great.
Steve: See, it’s great, because if I read it in LingQ, I mean you really do focus on the language more when you’re reading in LingQ on the screen then when you’re just reading a book.
Because your previously-saved words are highlighted, so you get this real focus on this text and then you go away and you listen to it once or twice and it’s wonderful, but there’s more to that about Echo Moskvi.
Even if you weren’t a language learner they do some very interesting things.
For example, whenever they have a discussion on an issue, let’s say it has to do with peacekeepers in Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia.
So they’ll discuss and they might have two people on with two different points of view on whether they should have international peacekeepers or Russian peacekeepers or Russian troops in those breakaway provinces and then they’ll have a vote.
People will phone in while they’re having the discussion and then oh 65% think they should be international peacekeepers and 35% think they should be Russian peacekeepers, so they’re always doing things to engage their audience.
Another interesting thing along the same lines…
Mark: I mean I think that’s something that’s probably done; like it’s fairly standard stuff to do those kinds of things.
Steve: No doubt, no doubt, but I don’t have it on radio stations here.
Steve: Another thing that they do, one of their series is to talk about famous personalities and they bring in experts on history to talk about famous personalities.
One of the things they’ve done is that they’ve said for each letter we want people to recommend a person and then we will go and do the research or bring in an expert so we can talk about that person.
And so then people say…like when I happened to be listening it was the letter “R”, which in Russian to us is the letter “P”, but to the Russians it’s the letter “R”.
So then they would have Rocmoninov and Radek (who was a famous revolutionary; he got zapped by Stalin) and whatever his name was, the General, Roskovski and stuff and so then people vote on who they want and then they end up with three names.
Out of all the people that were put forward with the letter “R” they end up with three people then they do a program about this person.
They have very interesting discussions.
I was listening to a discussion about Garibaldi, they did one on Abe Lincoln and they talk about their history and their life and stuff like that and it’s all done in a very interesting way.
Cooking, travel, you know name it, so I’m just saying it’s very high-quality.
And they have advertising.
This is not like the CBC where you and I are the… First of all, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has advertising and on top of that you and I the taxpayer have to pay for it.
Mark: Does the radio station have advertising?
Steve: No, maybe the radio doesn’t have advertising.
Steve: But the advertising doesn’t bother me.
Mark: No, well, what bothers me is the programming on the CBC.
So, I was saying, they had a very interesting discussion on this Echo Moskvi which I mention on my blog, which is, you know, what is the role of a teacher?
They quoted Bismarck as saying that the Franco-Prussian War was won by the Prussian education system because they inculcated whatever Prussian ideology, you know, into their children so that they were then able to dominate on the field of war.
Of course, Russia right now is going through this process of revising their history books and we’ve seen this in Japan where they’re revising history books, so the whole issue of what people teach in school becomes a pretty important issue.
How can we get it so that teachers are not able to push their agenda, whether it’s their own personal agenda, their own political agenda, the political agenda of the state?
You know, is it possible to have an education system — where things like history and sociology and even things relating to the environment — where we can prevent teachers from imposing their own political values on the kids or religious values for that matter?
Mark: Yeah, I mean I was going to say, whether it’s…I mean, obviously, in Muslim countries, fundamentally, or religious countries where the education system is run by religious people they get educated in a certain way.
Here it’s a little bit different, but it’s a certain group of people that control the education here and the kids get (for want of a better word) brainwashed in another way.
Mark: And, yeah, whether it’s religious or ideologically motivated like it is here, it shouldn’t be possible for a certain group to sort of control people’s thinking.
Steve: There should be an obligation to present at least two other points of view on any issue.
Mark: I mean the fact of the matter is everybody has their own beliefs or opinions on different issues and it’s fine for them to express them, but not to inculcate kids or people with their opinions.
I mean teach people how to think, don’t teach them what to think.
I think the best way to help people learn how to think and make judgments is to expose them to a variety of points of view.
It doesn’t even have to be equal exposure.
Steve: It’s not obvious that because the teacher has the floor for, you know, most of the time that, therefore, having others come to the classroom and present a different perspective…that might be all it takes to make the kids realize that there are other perspectives out there.
I mean you mentioned Muslim countries and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
I mean the stuff they teach about the West, that the Crusades were the worst thing that ever happened.
The fact that the Muslims conquered between the Arab conquest and the Turkish conquest…there was an ongoing period of Muslim conquest, but that’s all fine and dandy.
Steve: But they rather poorly organized an undoubtedly quite brutal period of the Christian Crusades.
It was a minor incident in that long history of all kinds of people beating up on all kinds of people.
Mark: I mean you can always choose to dwell on any event that occurred in the past and I mean to, basically, blame your misfortune on someone else.
I mean I think that’s probably fairly standard behavior.
Even here, whether it’s capitalism…
Mark: …or whatever it is that, you know, I guess the teachers are blaming their lot on, really, as you say, it just shouldn’t be part of education.
Education should be a process where the kids are exposed to many different points of view, the world, what’s happening and the kids can form their own opinions about things.
Steve: I think, particularly where there has been a war, you should almost be obliged when you’re studying history (of course, kids get so little history anyway) but you should be obliged to read articles from the former enemy and see how their history books describe the events.
Steve: I mean even here in Canada the take on, for example, the Battle of Quebec and the Conquest, the British Conquest of Quebec.
I mean I am sure that the textbooks in Quebec present that in an entirely different light.
Mark: Yeah, for sure.
Steve: And the whole struggle for, you know, the French language versus the English language, the perspective will be completely different.
Why wouldn’t we in our schools make sure that both perspectives are presented?
Mark: But there are not always two perspectives; I guess there can be many different perspectives.
Mark: I don’t know how you insure that that happens.
I do think that the more different players you have involved in education the more likely you are to have an even playing field.
Like right now the education here is essentially controlled by the Teachers Union and this central organization controls all the schools.
Steve: And a lot of bureaucrats.
Mark: And a lot of bureaucrats and all the teachers are educated in the same place and they all think the same.
I shouldn’t say all, but a majority think the same way and along the Union Party line and it’s unfortunate.
It hurts the kids as well as the teachers, in fact.
Whereas I think if there was more competition in education I think (A) educators would be more innovative and you wouldn’t be able to get away with grinding your ax, so to speak.
Steve: But, you know, in this regard, I get back to Echo Moskvi; they have so many interesting discussions.
If there was this vast library of discussions on an issue…pick an issue.
Let’s go with Canada, Quebec, you know, the French-English rights, whatever and if you had a discussion between…you could have one in French and one in English, but you would talk about this issue.
You’d have two people or three people defending different points of view and you would also have a transcript.
So this is your assignment, you’re to listen to this and you’re to read it and you’re to come in to discuss it.
These discussions on Echo Moskvi, they’re like 40-50 minutes long; we’re not talking about a five-minute interview.
These are one-hour programs minus advertising, so it’s a 50-minute program.
So here’s your assignment, go listen to this.
So they don’t get all the dates and the facts, but at least they’re stimulated.
Steve: They hear three different perspectives presented and hopefully then they would come back to class and, you know, well who was right?
Well, I don’t know, I need to learn a little bit more about this.
I think that’s the strength of the Internet, then they could go and research this rather than having everything built around a textbook.
Steve: Because most kids are too lazy to go…
Mark: For sure.
Steve: I mean you’re lucky if they read the textbook, so maybe that’s the problem.
Steve: They won’t go to the website.
Steve: I don’t know, we can theorize.
The practical issue is most kids just want to get through their class.
Mark: Well yeah.
Mark: That’s the reality.
Mark: But, at the same time, it probably could be presented…I mean they should try and present more than one side and they tend to not do that I don’t think.
Steve: Yeah and this is where Echo Moskvi has done a great job.
I mean in education itself, mind you, there is a fair amount of controversy.
We’re rambling a little bit here, but people talk about phonics versus whole-word learning to read.
Steve: Phonics is you learn the individual pronunciation of the letters and whole-word means you’re learning from interesting content.
Like I don’t see the contradiction, surely you need to do both.
Steve: Surely you need to know what the letters mean and surely you need to have interesting content.
So this, apparently, has been a great flaming controversy in the whole literacy field.
I don’t understand what the disagreement is about, do you?
Mark: Well, I mean, you know, my opinion on most of the work shopping that goes on as it relates to at least primary school education…I mean reading to me is sitting down with a kid and here, read and I’ll help you.
And we keep reading and, eventually, maybe using LingQ you could listen too, but read.
Just read, the more you read the better you’ll get.
Steve: Mind you, easier said than done if the kids aren’t motivated to read, but then you’ve got to find stuff that they are interested in reading.
Mark: Yeah you do, yup.
Steve: They want to read about sports, let them read about sports.
Steve: Anyway… Well, we started out with this discussion of Echo Moskvi.
I still think…to me it’s my university, it’s my school.
Echo Moskvi beats any Russian program in any university…
Steve: …because they talk about famous people.
They talk about Tolstoy or they talk…a very interesting one on the return of these Russian bells that were originally hanging in the St.
Daniels Monastery in Moscow.
Stalin and his gang basically, you know, burned all this for scrap back in the ‘30s.
An American philanthropist bought these bells, took them back to the U.S.
and donated them to Harvard.
And then there was a great drive in Russia to raise money to get them back and they cast some other bells which, presumably, sounded the same and they were able to do this deal with Harvard.
So through that you get a discussion of the history and what this means to the Russians and, you know, the sort of renewal of the Orthodox Church in Russia, this happening and stuff like that.
I mean Echo Moskvi is, to me…you know I get excited about things.
Steve: But it is far better, more interesting, more alive than any university Russian program, especially when it’s combined with LingQ so that I can save the words and learn the words and so forth and so on.
Have I convinced you of that yet?
Mark: You have.
Mark: I’m going to go start studying Russian.
If anyone out there knows of any similar site in any other language, please let us know because we would love to let our members know so they can use it for other languages.
Alright then, thank you.