Russian lessons more than words to Kennewick class

Loretto J. Hulse, Herald staff writerFebruary 8, 2014 

Russian Teacher

Elina Movsesyan of Pasco, right, and one of her students Dr. Ronald Wojnas, a Kennewick pediatrician, share a light moment before her Russian language class she teaches at Kennewick High School through the Kennewick Community Education program.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— With the winter Olympics under way, all eyes will be trained on Russia for the next three weeks.

But there’s a handful of students studying Russian through Kennewick Community Education who have been immersed in the culture and language of the country for decades.

They’re students of Elina Movsesyan of Pasco. Two have been attending class for almost 16 years, another for at least 12.

“We’re like family, a Russian family,” said Dr. Ronald Wojnas, a Kennewick pediatrician.

Wojnas has taken 24 classes a year from Movsesyan for 12 years and has the certificates on his wall to prove it. He’s part Polish, and was looking for a class in that language when he found Movsesyan’s.

“Russian was my Plan B and I’ve not regretted it. She puts so much of herself into the classes. She’s an excellent teacher — tough, but patient,” he said.

Wojnas has an affinity for languages. He took Latin and French in high school, German in college and now Russian. And has no intention of dropping the classes even though his practice keeps him busy.

“They’re something fun to do after office hours. I don’t even mind the two hours of homework on weekends,” he said.

In his practice, Wojnas sees many Russian and Ukrainian patients.

“I can’t really hold a conversation, but I can use phrases and greet them in Russian. I can do the same in Spanish. I think it makes people more comfortable when you use their language. They seem to appreciate it,” he said.

Movsesyan, who grew up in Moscow, studied linguistics at a Russian university and taught school in her native country for about five years. She emigrated to the United States on July 4, 1996, and came to the Tri-Cities to be with her siblings.

It took her about a year to receive a Washington State Teaching Certificate, which allowed her to teach English as a Second Language classes in several Tri-City school districts, at Columbia Basin College and at Columbia Industries. Later she took a job as a counselor for the state Department of Social & Health Services.

“At one time I worked with people from 11 different countries,” she said.

Now she’s a counselor at WorkSource in Kennewick. But she still has a passion for teaching, she said, and has been teaching her native language through community education classes since 1998.

All her students — eight in the beginning Russian class, five in intermediate and nine in the advanced — are Americans with an interest in the language and culture of Russia.

Roger Shippert of Richland has had an interest in the Russian language since his teens, he said.

“I actually bought a book at one time and began studying it on my own. But I didn’t have a teacher and without a living voice it’s hard to work in a vacuum,” Shippert said.

Years later, he began taking Russian classes through the Richland community education program. That’s where he met Dennis Love of Kennewick, who shares Shippert’s fascination with Russia.

But after a few years the Richland teacher left the Tri-Cities. The two began attending Movsesyan’s classes in 2000.

Like Wojnas, the two have every intention of studying Russian with her as long as Movsesyan will teach it.

“Elina is such a good teacher, and so bilingual, she brings us along very gently and with humor. I have a friend who does crossword puzzles, Russian is my puzzle. It’s good mental discipline,” Shippert said.

Movsesyan’s classes are not all about conversing. She also teaches her students how to read and write, and how to train their ear by listening.

“When you learn a language these are all skills you need to develop,” she said.

Shippert hones his skills reading the Bible in Russian and subscribes to a quarterly newsletter published by St. Vladimir’s, a Russian Orthodox seminary in New York. The newsletter is printed in English but the writers use many Russian terms.

Love reads books on Russian history and literature — in Russian. And enjoys writing in Russian cursive.

“I’m not a great conversationalist. But then I have no illusions about becoming an interpreter or traveling to Russia,” Love said.

Russian — while it’s one of the longest-running classes — is just one of many offered by Kennewick Community Education, a program run by the Kennewick School District for 25 years. The website is at communityed.ksd.org. Find other city classes at www.go2kennewick.com under “Parks, Recreation & Tourism.”

Richland also began community education classes about the same time through the Richland Parks and Recreation Department. To find a list of the classes go to www.richlandparksandrec.com and click on “E-Activity Guide.”

Pasco offers educational classes at www.pascoparksandrec.com.

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