The Second International Conference ‘Synergy of Languages and Cultures: Interdisciplinary Studies’ has been held at St Petersburg University. It was timed to coincide with International Translation Day. Some 250 academics and professional interpreters and translators from 14 countries have attended online lectures and master classes.

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The conference was dedicated to the problems of modern linguistics, interlingual and intercultural interaction and translation, as well as to new academic and methodological approaches to foreign language teaching. These and other pivotal issues have been discussed by academics and professionals from Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Great Britain, USA, Spain, Belarus, France, Poland, China and Japan.

International Translation Day is celebrated on 30 September, and a unifying theme is chosen each year. This year’s theme is ‘Finding the words for a world in crisis’. It highlights the importance of: translators and interpreters ensuring that clear information reaches everyone; and overcoming language barriers in a world in crisis.

In her welcoming address, Svetlana Rubtsova, Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at St Petersburg University, emphasised that the organisers not only managed to maintain the high level of the conference, but also to broaden the area of discussion and interdisciplinarity of the studies presented. The conference was organised by the Faculty of Foreign Languages and the School of Foreign Languages and Translation at St Petersburg University. It drew interest not only from linguists, translators, foreign language teachers, literary scholars, and orientalists, but also from economists, lawyers, psychologists, historians, and sociologists. Moreover, this year, new panels were included in the conference programme: ‘The Russian Language in the Intercultural Context’, ‘The Peoples of the Arctic Region: The Sociolinguistic Context Today’ and ‘Pragmatic Issues in Translation and Management of Translation Processes’. Svetlana Rubtsova explained that the last subject for discussion had been initiated due to the developing contacts between St Petersburg University and employers, representatives of large translation companies, and companies developing innovative technologies in translation. Additionally, in line with recent trends towards strengthening the position of online learning, a new sub-panel was opened. It was dedicated to the problems of distance learning and continuing education programmes in translation and interpreting.

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The plenary session was opened by the Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev. He made a keynote speech entitled ‘The Problems of identity, resource and integration of the Russian language’. In his speech, he stressed that precise, accurate and easy-to-communicate language is an essential attribute of a state, alongside sovereignty and the armed forces. Russia has always been multilingual and multicultural. Some 150 languages are spoken by Russian citizens. However, it is the Russian language that became a resource that ensures communication at both domestic and international level.

Uniting Russian society in vital areas of life, the Russian language is not only the language of communication and culture for all peoples of our country, but also the language of economy, science, government, medicine, art, and sports. This is the language of work and leisure.

Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev

The official status of Russian as the state language helps building civic identity and tolerance, and promoting and strengthening social stability. The Russian language is gaining prestige in the world. To a large extent, this is facilitated by Russia’s scientific breakthroughs, technological advancements, and socio-economic development. Nikolay Kropachev noted that although Russian is the language of literature, at present it is more in demand as the language of science, engineering, and technology. Therefore, Russian for specific purposes should be given priority at all levels of education system. Introducing objective, clear, and verifiable communicative competence requirements that Russian university graduates have to meet is extremely important. Only 11 out of 600 State Educational Standards approved by orders of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education include the official language competence in the list of professional qualification requirements. Furthermore, this competence is not taken into account even in the professional standards for teachers, journalists or lawyers. Yet, the gap between the language taught at school and university and the language required in professional practice is quite wide.

Last year, St Petersburg University entered the world’s top 100 universities in Linguistics and modern languages in the QS subject ranking.

‘The linguistic norms of the language of belles-lettres, still prevailing in Russian grammar books and style manuals, are changing and gradually becoming a thing of the past. Writing in the natural sciences, social sciences, political sciences, and economics are becoming more in demand,’ said the Rector of St Petersburg University. ‘Therefore, a new generation of the Russian language textbooks and reference books is required. This will enable universities to increase international student enrolment, with the compulsory Russian language course.’ Over the past five years, the Research Institute of the State Language at St Petersburg University has been actively searching for solutions to these and many other problems, taking an interdisciplinary approach to the projects. Philologists, sociologists, lawyers and psychologists align and combine their contributions to achieve the best outcomes.

As a result of the 2020 admissions campaign, about 2,500 international students were enrolled in educational programmes at St Petersburg University. This is almost twice as many as the previous year. In addition, the number of teachers from foreign schools and universities who signed up for the ‘Methods of Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language’ course increased almost eightfold. All this, according to Nikolay Kropachev, suggests the growing interest in learning Russian.

The conference was addressed by Pavel Palazhchenko, the Soviet and Russian interpreter and translator, who worked with Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze. A presentation was also made by Aleksey Kozulyaev, CEO of RuFilms LLC, head of the School of Audio-visual Translation. The School is one of the leading companies in Russia that have been translating video content for over 20 years.

On the conference’s second day, the keynote speakers participating in the plenary session included: Merja Karppinen, Director of the Language Centre of the LAB University of Applied Sciences (Finland); and Ellen Inga Turi, Chair of the Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat board (Norway), who focused on the current state of the languages of the Northern indigenous ethnic minorities and the measures taken to protect and popularise these languages.

Over two days, dozens of presentations were made in eight panels at the conference ‘Synergy of Languages and Cultures: Interdisciplinary Studies’. The experts gave master classes on: consecutive and simultaneous interpreting; automated translation systems; and the particularities of documentation in education.