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Learning Russian in Order to Have a Job in Russia

By Jon, published on 20/02/2018 Blog > Languages > Russian > Is It Necessary to Know Russian if You Want to Work in Russia?

Globally speaking, it is estimated that three-fourths of the Americans living abroad will not come home in the next 5 years.

Russia is not immune to this phenomenon, despite some diplomatic tensions between Moscow and New York.

The American expatriate community in Russia continues to grow despite the problems before the two countries. There are currently more than 800,000 Americans living in Russia.

But is it possible to move from America to Russia without speaking a word of Russian? Superprof is here with some answers.

Where is Russia Situated When it Comes to English?

ranking-scale Pay attention! Russia is actually not so low on the English ranking scale.

A very interesting study by EF Education First is published every year and ranks the countries of the world according to their degree of the mastery of the English language of its adult population. Only countries for which English is not a mother tongue are classified.

At the top of the ranking are the Netherlands and Denmark, known for their strict language policies. Their respective indicators are 72.16 and 71.15, which correspond to “a very good command of English.”

Russia is an intermediate student, ranking 34th in a ranking of 72 countries. The indicator for Russia reads 52.32, which ranks Russian-speakers as the first country corresponding to “low English proficiency.”

As a comparison, France ranks 29th in the ranking with an indicator at 54.33, which corresponds to an “average command of English.”

Nevertheless, the results are nuanced for two reasons:

  • First, they only take into account the adult and de facto population of people over 50, for whom English proficiency has never been a priority,
  • In addition, command of English is much more developed in large cities (such as Saint Petersburg, Novgorod, or the capital of Moscow) than in the depths of Siberia! For an expatriate, the probability of working in these big cities is more substantial and it will be easier to find one’s place if the language of Shakespeare is your mother tongue.

You Will Need More than Just English to Work in Russia

Although there are many stories of people who go to work in Russia without first taking Russian courses online and without speaking a word of Russian, we advise against going on an expat adventure without a specific opportunity there waiting for you. 

Indeed, it is difficult to look for a job without first mastering the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian grammar, and without mastery of the intermediate language level. We are sure you know that an employer will favor a candidate with better command of Russian over one who does not speak a word of the language.

Suffice to say that the chances of finding a position in a Russian company (where Russian is the chosen language and English does not matter) are close to zero without a command of the language.

But if it is precisely this thirst for adventure that can push you to take the plunge into Russian. Know that it will be easier to move to Russia and apply for posts that do not require very long interactions with natives (such as being a bartender for example). For office positions, it will be very difficult for you to get the job.

It’s Easier to Get Hired With Certain Jobs

Est-il possible d'apprendre le russe gratuitement ?Knowing Russian words specific to your field can be very helpful.

Are you an expert in oenology, cooking, or baking?

Relatively quickly, you will be able to supplement the Russian language to your skills. Russians are fond of American cooks and pastry chefs. The only prerogative will be to become familiar with the Russian transcription of the technical terms you need to know for the job.

But, again, you still risk working with natives… While your expertise may gain you the job, the employees helping you in the kitchen are almost always locals. How can you communicate with them without basic Russian?

American Companies in Russia

Despite the tensions that may exist politically between America and Russia, the land of Dostoyevsky remains a formidable eldorado for American companies.

Indeed, many American corporations are present on the Russian territory. In total there are almost 3,000 American companies in Russia, and the U.S. is also the leader in terms of foreign companies in Special Economic Zones, with 11 projects. From MacDonalds, Ford, to Boeing there are plenty of companies for you to find the job you are dreaming of.

Ford has been in Russia for 13 years. In April 2015, the joint Russian-American venture Ford Sollers launched the production of the Ford Transit. The American brand launched four new vehicles in Russia last year,including the Focus and Fiesta models sold here.

According to Export.Gov:

The United States is committed to supporting the trade and investment relationship between the United States and Russia in non-sanctioned sectors of the economy. The foreign Commercial Service (FCS) at the U.S. Mission in Russia serves as an important resource for both U.S. and Russian Businesses seeking to develop and expand new relationships. FCS had helped Russian and American firms introduce innovative technologies and increase investment, strengthening ties between our two countries. The inhumane cap imposed by the Russian Federation on our staff has reduced our in-country presence, limiting our ability to provide the full suite of services. Despite these restrictions, we remain committed to supporting American businesses in the Russian Federation and will provide assistance and information as resources allow.

Working with an American company in Russia allows you to circumvent the imperative to speak Russian. Most of the exchanges will be in English, which is an important parameter for those who only have time to master the basics of Russian.

Being an Expatriate in Russia

Russia-preparation Being prepared is the most important thing when it comes to moving to Russia.

An American expatriate is “an American worker in the private sector working abroad under a US employment contract or a local employment contract.”

In this sense, the expatriate does not necessarily depend upon American labor laws – but each situation is different depending on the contract signed and the employer who has hired you. The expatriate travels abroad for an indefinite period.

In terms of taxation, if the expatriate keeps his or her tax residency in America, he or she will be taxed in America, which is not the case when he leaves America accompanied by his or her entire family and leaving behind his or her residence in America indefinitely.

Anyway, if the expatriation is done within the framework of an active American work contract, the transition will be much easier and there is a good chance that your current company will help you in the preparation of this big change.

In addition, for those who work in an international company (such as Ford or MacDonalds for example), the language you will use at work is likely to be English. In such a case, a perfect command of Russian is not really useful at first.

 

Taking A Few Classes in Russian Before Leaving: A Great Idea

russia-class Russian language courses are available throughout America and on Superprof.

We’ve now seen that mastering the Russian language will depend enormously on the conditions of the expatriation (on your own or with one’s company).

Depending on the conditions of the expatriation, command of Russian will be more or less required. It will be considered indispensable and need to be of an advanced level for those wishing to work in small Russian companies or for those wishing to open their own business in Russia, but it may be almost useless for someone working in a multinational company where English will be the dominating language.

Nevertheless, working in Russia is not just about the work. You will have a social life which you should not neglect. For this also, having some Russian basics down is also important.

Even if it will be impossible to become bilingual in a few weeks, some Russian notions are always welcome before making the leap! All the more if the job you are looking for is neither in Moscow nor Saint Petersburg, cities where it is not difficult to find someone to speak English with.

But if Russian seems too difficult to master on your own, some companies will ask you to take Russian courses.

For example, mastering the Russian alphabet is only a matter of a few hours of work. Havin that down is already a good start. As suggested by the Easy Russian website, a beginner’s level where one can conduct basic conversations requires about 6 months of practice for half an hour every day. This adds up to a total of only 90 hours of learning.

For those who do not have the time or for whom departure to Russia is imminent, learning some useful phrases will make it possible to manage your life in the country. You could always learn the Russian language by communicating regularly with native speakers once there.

In any case, an English-Russian or Russian-English dictionary or some online dictionaries must be a part of your “survival kit” before you go!

In short:

  • Although it is quite possible to work in Russia without mastering the language of Tolstoy, the challenge is  more complex if you have no basics at all.
  • Unless you want to go on an adventure and explore Russian culture, we do not recommend leaving without thinking about your action plan and not having hiring opportunities before leaving. Always keep in mind that the recruiter will favor someone who has a better command of Russian.
  • On the other hand, it is quite possible to get by in some jobs with basic knowledge of Russian. For an oenologist, the mastery of the terms specific to his or her field of activity remains essential to perform his or her job in the best conditions.
  • For those who already have a contract with an American company in Russia, the transition will be smoother, because the working language will not necessarily be Russian but more likely English. It is possible to find American companies established in Russia. They are numerous!
  • Finally, even if mastering the subtleties of the Russian language like a native is not your ultimate end goal, we still recommend taking some Russian introductory courses to at least get acquainted with the basics of pronunciation, phonetics, the accents, Russian expressions, or just to work on your listening comprehension. This learning desire will probably be lauded by the Russians.
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