This year our university hosted the 26th international academic conference Language and Culture, organized by Prof. Svetlana Gural, founding dean of the Faculty of Foreign Language. The conference, which brought together famous academics from across the world, was held parallel with the international 1st Tomsk Workshop on Cognitive Linguistics and Pragmatics with guest speakers from America and Europe led by the renowned Prof. Istvan Kecskes of the State University of New York in Albany. If this in itself were not cause enough to celebrate, the conference was also dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Faculty of Foreign Languages.
Which all brings us to our topic: Language and Culture, neither of which it may be authoritatively stated may exist without the other. As our rector, Prof. Eduard Galazhinskiy, reminded us in the course of his opening speech at the conference’s plenary session, language and culture are fundamentals in a classical university. Unlike the scores of higher education institutions created in Siberia throughout the 20th century, it was Tomsk State University’s mission, its raison d’être even, to provide a world-class education for the future elite. In our globalized society, where the concept of the ‘knowledge-based innovation economy’ has stolen the limelight, the elite need educating in matters of language and culture perhaps more than ever.
At the conference itself, speakers gave presentations on a wide variety of topics concerned with those fields, members of our own staff making particularly interesting contributions. Prof. Svetlana Gural opened the plenary session of the conference with an enlightening talk on the history of language education at our university, to which her personal contribution was inestimable. Also at the plenary session Dr. Vladimir Smokotin, one of the Faculty of Foreign Language’s most distinguished scholars, spoke with authority on the concept of English Lingua Franca. The honor of closing the final plenary session of the conference fell to me, with the result that I decided to complete the circle by speaking about language education at our university now and in the future. It was only natural that I chose to emphasize a recent trip made to South America by students at the Faculty of Foreign Languages thanks to partial sponsorship from our university’s leadership.
It was during this trip – in the course of which a workshop was held in the town of Ijuí, Brazil, alongside visits to Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay – that I could truly appreciate the integration of language and culture in the native environment. As group leader, I had with me a trio of students who had until that moment only dreamed of foreign travel. Indeed, two of the three had never traveled by plane and never even been to Moscow. I am more than certain that for them this expedition was not only an experience never to be forgotten, but also the most valuable classroom they had ever stepped inside. This was the classroom of life, authentic in all its aspects. In communicating – in English, Portuguese and Spanish – with native speakers on foreign soil the theory, the grammar, the vocabulary, the information on the various countries… it all came together and it created in them not only motivation but an appreciation of the practical application of learning. This was true language and culture learning, and long may it continue!