Even though I am fluent in Russian myself, I think I have a good perspective to write this blog post. Whereas older people in Russia often don’t speak English, young Russians, say 30 and younger, know at least basic English. This doesn’t mean they are willing to speak it though. Sometimes they might be a bit ashamed to speak it.
The Company Education First (EF) publishes a so-called English Proficiency Index (EF EPI.) This index attempts to rank countries by the average level of English language skills amongst those adults who took the EF test. The ranking is based on people from that country taking online tests. At least 400 people from a certain country need to participate in the test for the country to be included in the ranking.
In 2017, with a test score of 52.19, Russia ranked 38th on this list. In between Japan (above it) and Indonesia (below it). EF distinguishes 5 different levels of proficiency: very high proficiency, high proficiency, moderate proficiency, low proficiency and very low proficiency. Russia’s test score gives it a low proficiency rating. So, at least according to EF, Russians don’t speak English so well, although it could be worse. But of course, this raises the following question:
How reliable is the test?
The Netherlands, my native country ranks number 1 according to this test. And without a doubt, people in the Netherlands speak better English than people in Russia. However, I have a suspicion (more than that I can’t call it) that in Russia such a test is more likely to attract absolute beginners. Whereas people in the Netherlands who would be interested in taking such a test would more likely to be advanced speakers.
It’s just my own subjective experience that people in Russia who are really focused on learning English are often not so good at it. I guess once they do make progress, they move on to other hobbies, where they might be already actively using the language.
But where in Russia?
When I first came to Russia it surprised me that Russians often only regard cities with over a million inhabitants as real cities. But, after having visited several cities with just a few hundred thousands inhabitants, like Tver and Veliky Novgorod I kind of understood what they meant. Even Russian cities with over 250.000 can seem like small, very provincial places.
I haven’t been able to find any statistics about this, but I suspect that nowhere in Russia you will be able to encounter as many Russian who speak English as in Saint Petersburg.
Stereotypically Saint Petersburg is known as Russia’s cultural capital. This is partially utter bullshit since the city is also (or at least used to be) known for its high crime rate. But, there is also some truth to it. According to some statistics the city has over one hundred institutes of higher education. Of course not all of them of the highest quality. But some of them are. Every year, people from all over Russia every try to get in one of the top institutions in the cities.
If your’re staying in a hotel, it will be extremely unlikely that the receptionist won’t speak English in Saint Petersburg. Unless you’re staying at a very very
Where can you go to speak some English?
In Saint Petersburg local couch surfers organise a weekly meeting for anyone that wants to come. People who tend to attend these meetings usually like to meet foreigners and to practice their English. The only things is that sometimes their English is not good enough to maintain a conversation and you will have to be patient with them asking you questions and then not understanding your answers. I’m not always in the mood for that. But in general it’s a great place to meet people if you’re new to the city. The meetings held at Cafe Africa. Be careful though: Cafe Africa has two different locations. The meeting is held at Pechatnika Gregoryeva street 13 (ул. Печатника Григорьева 13). The nearest metro stations are Ligovsky Prospekt and Obvodny Kanal (distance is about the same from each station). It is a little bit of the beaten track for most tourists, but not that much.
The couchsurfing meeting is nice, but very informal. If you prefer a more formal setting, you might want to visit one of the internations events. They meet less frequently though. And, unlike for the couchsurfing events, you are expected to register for these events on the website before you go. You can either choose to become a paid member of Internations or you can get a free membership, in which case you will have to pay for entrance at the door. Actually it seems like Internations has changed its policy and is now really pushing the paid membership much harder upon the people who might be interested to visit the events.
As you can see, internations also has its own English Club. I have attended it sometimes. Like at Couchsurfing, if you’re looking for a nice and interesting conversation, this might not be the best place to go. But, otherwise it is a good place to meet some locals.
Here are the current prices for Albatros membership (that’s what their paid Membership is called). Obviously a paid membership is only worth it if you like the atmosphere and therefore want to attend meetings regularly.
Also there are regularly English language event in Sant Petersburg announced on meetup.com.
Like in Saint Petersburg, in Moscow you also have Couchsurfing meetings and internations meeting.
Couchsuring meetings in Moscow take place on Friday evenings and not on Thursdays, which might be good for those who would like to continue the party. Normally Moscow couch sufers meet at the Anton Palych bar, but check the couchsurfing website to be sure about that.
Personally I find internations events in Moscow a bit more interesting than the ones in Saint Petersburg. Like the city, they are bigger in Moscow and more people attend.
Also there are a lot of events meetup.com for English speakers posted on meetup.com in Moscow. To be honest I have never attended one of these meetup events in Moscow.
Other Russian cities
I think English is quite popular in Russia. So, even if you won’t be able to rely on popular sites like couchsurfing, internations and meetup in smaller cities, you should be able to find some event for learners of English. Google is your friend.
As I mentioned, I am fluent in Russian myself, so I am partly guessing here how many people actually speak English. But, if you just want to visit Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you should be fine if you don’t speak any Russian. There will be lot of signs in English and a lot of people willing and able to help you. Of course, the deeper you go into Russia, the harder it will be to find someone who can communicate with you in English.If you plan to travel far off the beaten track in Russia you should therefore definitely learn at least basic conversational Russian.