After the USSR gained many satellites countries in central/eastern Europe in 1945, Russian became obligatory at school. It seems those Russian courses were highly unpopular and only a small minority of people managed to actually get fluent in Russian.

Did the USSR send actual native Russian teachers to every school to their satellite countries, or did they just force local teachers to teach Russian ?

I ask because in my region German language is obligatory at school, but there is a huge lack of German-language schoolteachers and the vast majority of German teachers actually are local teachers, often rather mediocre at the language themselves, but they don't have a choice. The typical result is a awful quality of German course, low motivation for both the teacher and the class, and as a result an overall dislike of German language for schoolchildren, perpetuating the problem to the next generation.

I wonder if the situation in soviet satellite countries was analogous.

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    In the USSR all foreign languages were taught by native Russian speakers who even never were exposed to foreign language environment. As a resul, very low quality of the courses.
    – Anixx
    Sep 8, 2017 at 10:54
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    I would question your premise, being a native speaker does not make you a good teacher and there is only so much formal mandatory training can achieve. And a significant number of people achieved some fluency in the language.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 8, 2017 at 11:55
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    Language teaching is almost always done by locals (I was taught French at school by an Englishwoman and a Zimbabwean, and German by two Englishmen). I suppose it's possible that the USSR would back up its imposition of Russian language lessons with a large supply of teachers but in the "free" world, it seems too much to expect that, for example, enough French people would want to move to the UK to teach their language to more than 8 million schoolchildren. Sep 8, 2017 at 14:27

9 Answers 9


The USSR didn't send local teachers to the satellite countries. They probably could have done it: a quick demographic calculation shows, some thousands of native Russian teachers had been enough for ten million people in the satellite state. It is far lesser, as the "temporarily by us stationing allied forces", what was an euphemism for the Soviet occupants. They were in the order of 100 000 for ten million people.

Inside the Sovietunion, the situation was quite different. The CCCP utilized a large mass of (Russian, but also other) teachers, intelligentsia into the non-Russian speaking member states, with the goal to dissolve their culture in the CCCP. (After the collapse, they became a Russian minority, being nearly so hated as the Russian teachers in the satellite states.)

Of course, it didn't happen on a voluntary basis. It meaned that a part of the newly graduated people was simply sent to remote, underdeveloped, foreign language-speaking regions by command. For them, it was essentially exile.

Also I was thaught Russian in the classes 4-8. It was extreme unpopular, being a Russian school-teacher was a "dirty job". Sometimes intentional sabotage of the courses was not unheard. We all hated it. Even the few people learned it well, they did it because they've learned everything well, and not because they had loved it.

Being a Russian teacher had meaned, that you are "a man of the System". Like a membership in the Communist Party.

In the first years after Russian was made obligatory, there was a very big lack of teachers. All the schools had to hire them, following the law, but there weren't enough of them. Many times it happened, that teachers without a Russian knowledge were hired, they learned Russian as they've teached it, and many times they knew only a single lection more, as the class they've taught.

Later they became better, also in quantity as in quality, but the universal sabotage of the Russian remained until the end of the communism. Hadn't they collapsed, maybe we had adapted in some decades.

After the collapse, the same process happened, but with other languages (English and German). Everybody wanted to learn English and German, but there wasn't far enough teacher. But there was a large mass of Russian teachers, all threatened by the danger of the unemployment. Typically, teachers had qualification for two classes, thus the situation wasn't so bad for them, but the English/German teachers were still missing. On these reasons, most of the schools still made obligatory the Russian for some years, as a local privison, even if it wasn't obligatory by law any more.

  • Uhm... and sorry for my English :-)
    – Gray Sheep
    Sep 9, 2017 at 20:54
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    Which country are you speaking about? For Czechs (and Poles, South Slavs...) learning Russian is quite easy due to the language similarities. As far a I know many people learned it well. Even in the 1990's when I was attending school, there was enough interest to open a Russian class for my schoolmates who wanted to learn it as an extra language (in addition to obligatory German and English) completely in their free time. Sep 10, 2017 at 12:01
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    @VladimirF For Germans, Hungarians, non-Slavic people of Yugoslavia and the various non-slavic peoples inside the CCCP, Russian is one of the hardest foreign languages. But not this was the reason of sabotaging it, we did it because we wanted to belong to the West, and the collective unconsciousness of the people connected Russian and communism. Now I am deeply sorry for that; it was worthy knowledge, the language of the largest white people of Europe. I think the people hated the commies so strongly, that somehow we stopped to think. We knew well that the living standards of the CCCP are
    – Gray Sheep
    Sep 10, 2017 at 14:50
  • @VladimirF actually worse as by us, thus it is not the fault of the Russians, and we never hated the people, but as far we could, we tried to sabotage everything what is coming from the commies. It would look now so well my in CV! Sometimes I set my desktop GUI to Russian, to revive my few Russian knowledge, but it is hard because now I have a hard fight already with German and English. Maybe, as the EU is going more and more into a CCCP-like direction, I will apply for refugee status by you, like Snowden. It will be the strongest self-critic of my childhood dreams.
    – Gray Sheep
    Sep 10, 2017 at 14:54
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    @Morning Star non-Slavic people in the USSR know Russian quite well. It is not difficult for them.
    – Anixx
    Sep 11, 2017 at 4:18


  • Teachers were local.
  • Instruction was good enough for the majority of the victims ;-) to read a simple text and understand slow direct speech.


The foreign/second language teachers all over the world are overwhelmingly trained local professionals for whom the language is usually also foreign/second (the only major exception is the Israeli Ulpan).

The reason is that a language is not just vocabulary/pronunciation/idioms, but, more importantly, syntax, and children in the critical period learn the syntax unconsciously, while adults have to learn it consciously and systematically. Thus, there is little benefit from the teacher being a native speaker for the basic instruction: it is more important that (s)he understands the syntax well and can explain it well to the students.

Once the students have a solid grasp of the language, the benefits of the teacher being a native speaker increase dramatically, but most students never reach that level.

PS. Phonetics/Pronunciation

These are important, but only for oral communication. Reading a howitzer manual does not require it. ;-) Foreign travel is still relatively uncommon outside of the wealthy countries, and was extremely rare in the Soviet block.

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    This is not relevant to the question, but I disagree with your assessment of language teaching. I think you underestimate the importance of pronunciation.
    – Carsten S
    Sep 9, 2017 at 10:54
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    @CarstenS As someone who has had the misfortune of a couple of native speaker "teachers" of english I can assure you a good teacher who is non-native will run circles around the usual native speaker who has no clue how to teach. Pronunciation is somewhat important but is almost a non-issue when the languages are close (polish,russian, czech, slovakian, lithuanian, latvian, etc. are all balto-slavic and quite close). While the romance and germanic languages have some extra phonemes the differences are still fairly small and pronunciation is rarely the main issue.
    – DRF
    Sep 9, 2017 at 14:26
  • @DRF, I do not claim that a native speaker is automatically a better language teacher, so maybe I misunderstood sds. But my first English teacher (I am German, btw) was from a generation where many teachers had neither learnt proper pronunciation nor cared for it, and that certainly hurt. Fortunately I later had teachers who were better at that aspect of teaching, some of them had at least lived in an English speaking country for some time. This is of course much more common today.
    – Carsten S
    Sep 9, 2017 at 14:42
  • @DRF, you are very brave to declare slavic and protoslavic "quite close". For example: I am Russian and I can read Polish, although I never learned it. But pronunciation of Polish makes it more difficult for me than English. On the other hand: Latvian sounds very intimately for my ears ( in a strange way even more than my mother tongue), but vocabulary absolutely different.
    – Alex Yu
    Sep 10, 2017 at 17:24

Anecdotal reports from friends suggest that in the German Democratic Republic, the teachers were mostly Germans.

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    In Hungary they were locals too. Sep 8, 2017 at 12:29
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    Same for Czechoslovakia. Sep 8, 2017 at 14:21
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    Same for Poland.
    – kubanczyk
    Sep 8, 2017 at 18:08
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    In current-day German schools, most teachers of any language are Germans, too. Sep 8, 2017 at 20:56
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    @T.E.D. It's generally true for any language teachers in 20th century and later, save maybe for the US. Most countries just don't have enough native speakers of foreign languages to satisfy the demand. Sep 13, 2017 at 11:22

It was local teachers teaching Russian in Poland. Another interesting tidbit, is what happened when the USSR collapsed. I was born in 1980, and was lucky enough to be the first class of students who no longer had to learn Russian. If I were 1 year older, I'd be stuck having to learn it as well. Instead, we ended up studying English, and couldn't be happier about it.


My wife is an ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, formerly part of Yugoslavia. There too Russian was compulsory and taught by locals. At the time in the part of Kosovo where she lived, approximately half the local population was ethnically Serbian, and spoke Serbo-Croat. Given the linguistic similarities between Slavic languages, my wife tells me that most of her Serbian contemporaries could speak Russian very well. As to the ethnic Albanians, it tended to depend on how well they spoke (or were willing to speak) Serbo-Croat. Enthusiasm for learning Russian varied greatly, with a strong correlation to ethnic background!

The Slavic language connection was common in many of the former satellite countries of the USSR. Thus for many people, learning Russian was not as onerous as it might have been.

  • This is quite interesting to hear. I'm from Belgrade, the general impression here is that nobody managed to learn a foreign language in school.
    – AndrejaKo
    Sep 9, 2017 at 15:57

I had Russian lessons in 5th grade to 8th grade (when most kids were 10-15 years old). We were taught by a local teacher, but I don't know where he learned Russian. We were also taught French by a local teacher. In high school we were taught French and German by a local teacher, and also English was taught by local teachers. Even in university (Technical University though) our foreign language teachers were locals.

In my country, 6-7 years old was the 1st grade, thus 5th to 8th grade had 10-15 year old kids. The school system had a 8+4+5 structure. In the second, there were large differences in the satellite states, but as far I know, the start was always with 6-7

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    @Jasper In my country, 6-7 year was the 1st class, thus 10-15 years. The school system had a 8+4+5 structure. In the second, there were large differences in the satellite states, but as far I know, the start was always with 6-7.
    – Gray Sheep
    Sep 9, 2017 at 16:24

My experience shows that most people (who went to school in 1960-80) from the satellite countries could speak Russian, so the education system was effective. It mostly employed teachers from those countries (not from Soviet Union). I suppose that the system of training these teachers collapsed after dissolution of the Eastern block. But the system of training of teachers was effective, and I suppose many traveled to Soviet Union for practice.

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    It depends on what you mean by "could speak Russian". Sep 9, 2017 at 20:47
  • Could communicate in daily life.
    – Alex
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:27
  • If by "communicate in daily life" you mean "zdrastvaitie", being able to introduce oneself and maybe buying milk from store - that's competency level most people achieved. It was nowhere near "effective". Compare that to English Competency Index where most former Soviet satellite states rank high. Sep 11, 2017 at 7:00

Anecdotal experience follows :-) I had compulsory Russian class for 5 years, between 9-14 years of my age. Actually I don't remember the first teacher, but she had to be good because I was interested in the language. Next year we got the most hated teacher in the school - but I don't think it was because of her subject. Then we got an elderly male teacher for two years, who was again quite good, but by this time the times were changing, it was getting clear that Russian knowledge will be useless, so we were utterly unmotivated to learn. The teacher retired and then we got an unlucky female Russian teacher who graduated just before the Russians left for good. It was the sign of the changing times that she spent the whole summer before that last year sunbathing topless at the local beach, so I was pleasantly surprised when she arrived in miniskirts in September. However, even her couldn't motivate anybody - by the time we graduated from primary school, I think most of the class couldn't even read all of the Cyrillic letters. All of the teachers were local.

In retrospect the problem with Russian language education was not only that people (and their children) loathed the Communists - it's methodology was also bad. I don't remember actually talking in Russian in class while later in high school I did have to talk in English and German even when my vocabulary consisted of only 10 words.


In the Czech movie Kolya, a woman who taught Russian was a native Czech, which I suppose would have been typical. I imagine that those who dedicated themselves to teaching the language of world communism would have received privileges.

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    What makes you thing the teachers would receive priviliges? This was a common profession, and I don't know of any such priviliges, unless the teacher was also a party member or official or secret police snitch, but that is a completely different thing. Sep 10, 2017 at 11:56

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