Online-trip to Russia: creating a virtual sociocultural environment for teaching Russian as a foreign language


The necessity to develop new methods and measures in teaching Russian as a foreign language is caused not only by the growth of distant educational technologies, but also by new cognitive style generation formed in the circumstances of changing the natural surrounding into the virtual (the cyberworld) one. The lack of methodic instruments for compensating the language and sociocultural environment in distant teaching of Russian as a foreign language interferes the forming of students’ communicative skills. The aim of the research is therefore to develop and realize the sociocultural surrounding model for the foreigners learning Russian in conditions of restricted natural surroundings. The material of the research contained the digital culture and country study content created in line with culturological approach in pedagogy and linguistics and in accordance with distant Russian language teaching experience. The research was held with the help of theoretical (analysis, comparison, extrapolation), diagnostic (pedagogical observation, expert value, oral survey) and reconfiguring (pedagogical modelling, integration of the research results into the learning process) methods. The results of the research consist in working out the didactic and methodic demands for modelling a virtual sociocultural surrounding; creating on this base an interactive calendar “Trip to Russia” that corresponds with the cognitive type of the “digital” generation and allows to perform the functions of the sociocultural surrounding in distant learning of Russian as a foreign language: it promotes the development of sociocultural competence, positive attitude to Russia and Russians, increases motivation for learning Russian. In conclusion the authors present the opportunities of the virtual sociocultural surrounding to use it efficiently in studying Russian as a foreign language.

Full Text


The methodology of teaching Russian as a foreign language is transformed in the process of general digitalization in education, keeping the basic principles of communication, interrelation between language and culture, and practical orientation. The sudden transition to distance learning raised the problem of lack of authentic linguistic and sociocultural environment, which plays an important role in forming communicative competence in traditional full-time learning: it develops phonetic skills, contributes to the assimilation of speech samples of native speakers in natural situations of communication, forms sociocultural competence, creates a positive emotional background. The inability to activate the functions of the authentic environment in the distance format has reduced the effectiveness of traditional methods and means of teaching Russian as a foreign language. It is necessary to develop the requirements for virtual linguistic and sociocultural environment to use it for educational purposes, and to develop digital content corresponding to these requirements.

In the methodology of teaching Russian as a foreign language, the use of information and communication technologies was discussed long before the transition to distance learning by E.G. Azimov, O.I. Rudenko-Morgun, L.A. Dunayeva, A.N. Bogomolov, and others. Methods of using information and communication technologies in teaching Russian as a foreign language and the technology of developing electronic teaching materials were thoroughly studied,1 as well as principles of creating an electronic textbook and electronic test materials (Rudenko-Morgun, 2009), transformation of linguodidactic basics in information environment, changing approaches of teaching the language of the future specialty (Dunayeva, 2006); formation of information and communication competences of Russian as a foreign language teacher.2 An important research direction was the study of the possibilities of electronic learning environment (Bogomolov, 2008) and the justification of a new type of interaction between the environment, teaching tools, and the teacher (Gartsov, 2009). At the same time, psychological scientists studied the impact of cyberspace on cognitive and emotional state of students (Voiskunsky, Smyslova, 2003; Kerdellant, Greziyon, 2006); teachers and sociologists studied the issues of socialization of young people and the formation of personality in the information environment (Chistyakov, 2006; Pleshakov, 2011; Khamraeva, Gusev, 2020), and philologists studied the problems of forming communicative competencies in the digital environment (Gorozhanov, 2013; Kashchuk, 2014; Pashkovskaya, 2010; 2021).

The process of digital transformation in education, understood as “intensive development and introduction of e-learning and distance learning technologies in the educational process,”3 has affected the methodology of foreign languages teaching. The concepts of “cyberreading, cyberwriting, cyberauditing, cyberspeaking” (Kashchuk, 2014: 191–192) are introduced, the features of narrative in the information environment are studied (McLellan, 1994); the transformation of roles of integrative methods in online foreign language learning (Doiz et al., 2014) and text in electronic media space is defined (Askehave, Nielsen, 2005).

The problem of the impact of the virtual environment on the formation of socio-cultural competence of foreign students has been studied in a lesser extent, although the lack of natural language and socio-cultural environment is recognized by researchers as one of the main obstacles to effective learning of Russian as a foreign language in a distant format (Strelchuk, 2021: 105). The need to solve this problem has determined the relevance of this study.

The aim of the study is to develop and implement a model of virtual socio-cultural environment for foreigners learning Russian, based on digital linguistic and cultural content.

Methods and materials

The material for the study was digital linguodidactic content, including a variety of interactive materials on the culture and country studies of Russia, developed based on the main aspects of the methodology of teaching the Russian language, as well as the identified characteristics of the “digital” generation of students.

Theoretical methods included the analysis and synthesis of scientific works on the digitalization in education, the influence of the environment on forming communicative competence, as well as extrapolation of the characteristics of the natural sociocultural environment on the conditions of the remote learning format. Diagnostics of the existing teaching materials on linguistic and cultural studies (electronic and printed) was carried out with the help of expert evaluation and allowed to formulate the main requirements to the form and content of the simulated environment. Another important criterion for material selection was the information about the learning and cognitive type, formed in the conditions of virtual environment, identified in the course of pedagogical observation of foreign students in the process of distance learning. The method of pedagogical design and experiential learning were used as transformative methods.

Experimental training took place on the basis of the Russian Language Center of the Moscow Pedagogical State University in 2021. More than 200 foreign students from Asian countries (China, Vietnam, Mongolia), the Middle East (Syria, Afghanistan, Israel), Europe (France, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Italy, Hungary) took part in it. The level of Russian language proficiency in different groups ranged from A1 to B1. After the lessons the teachers conducted a non-standardized questionnaire in the groups (personal discussion with clarifying questions: 1–6 – closed, 7 – open) using the interactive calendar:

  1. Is the calendar convenient to use?
  2. Would learning the calendar be useful for living in Russia?
  3. Were the topics of the calendar interesting to you?
  4. Did you meet a lot of unknown vocabulary?
  5. Did you meet a lot of difficult grammar?
  6. Has your Russian improved after studying the calendar?
  7. What topics would you like to add?


The responses to the closed questions shown in Figure 1 proved that foreign students appreciated the convenience of using the calendar (interface), the informative and practice-oriented content, noted its compliance with the level of Russian language proficiency and a positive role in developing communicative skills.

Responding to the open question about the topics of interest to the students, the respondents could name several topics (we further grouped the answers into blocks presented in the diagram). The results showed that foreign students are interested not so much in the historical aspect of the Russian culture, but in its modern social aspect: relations between people, relations between a person and  the state, work and study, hobbies, leisure time (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Results of the answers to the closed questions

Figure 2. Results of the answers to the open question (about the country studies interests of the foreign students)

Results of the study were determined as:

  • the main requirements for virtual sociocultural environment in distant format of Russian as a foreign language learning were defined: systematicity, interactivity, integrative nature, heterogeneity, flexibility and controllability, procedural, content and emotional richness;
  • characteristics of educational and cognitive type of “digital” generation of foreign students (information adaptability, proactivity, multitasking, supranational character of thinking, cultural tolerance, polysensory perception, etc.) were revealed;
  • based on the identified requirements to the environment and characteristics of students, a model of virtual sociocultural environment for Russian as a foreign language in the form of an interactive calendar with linguocultural and country study content was developed;
  • the authors made a conclusion about the effectiveness of interactive calendar “Trip to Russia” in terms of forming foreign students' socio-cultural competence thanks to its informative content, high level of visualization and emotional involvement, user-friendly interface, dynamic and interactive learning materials, convenient format, and correspondence with students' interests and their language proficiency level;
  • conclusions were made about the direction of linguocountry study interests of foreign youth (emphasis on social rather than historical aspects of contemporary Russian culture).


Most foreigners studying Russian today represent the Millennial generation, born at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21th centuries and brought up in Internet and mass communication era. M. Thomas, who studied the impact of the digital environment on learning and socialization of young people (Thomas, 2011: 18), call them “digital” or “network dwellers” (digital natives, net-natives), for whom the virtual environment is more comfortable than the real one, and forms new ways of learning and world vision.

Why does cyberspace (digital environment) attract young people to such an extent that it becomes the main means of communication, cognition, professional activity, entertainment, satisfaction of personal needs (physiological, existential, prestigious, spiritual, etc.)? According to experts, the main reason is that while the ordinary world has a lot of stressors, the virtual world offers an opportunity to avoid them, to identify themselves in a new way, to increase their social status and to realize their aspirations, even if the results achieved “are of the nature of quasi-socialization” (Pleshakov, 2011: 31–33).

The modern learner in the virtual environment seeks not only to gain new knowledge, but also to realize the need for self-presentation and positioning, to find a comfortable place among like-minded people in social groups, to build communication with a wide range of people. In the cognitive type of Millennial learners we can distinguish positive characteristics (high level of information literacy, proactivity, ability to cope with multitasking, supranational character of thinking, cultural tolerance), neutral characteristics (polysensory, desire to involve as many perception channels as possible) and characteristics negatively affecting the learning process (low level of learning motivation, “cliquey” thinking, “zapping” effect). From a psychological point of view, millennials are characterized by an affinity for healthy lifestyles, a fairly high degree of life satisfaction, open to new experiences and new technologies, but also scared of entering adulthood (Radaev, 2018: 21).

At the same time, most teachers of Russian as a foreign language can be classified as “digital immigrants” who are still just exploring the new territory of digital space. Traditional goals, content, and methods of the teaching process come into conflict, firstly, with the new type of learning and cognitive activity, and secondly, with the conditions of the digital environment where the educational process is increasingly moving.

Summarizing the research on the influence of the environment on forming new personal qualities of students (Manuilov, 2000; Rubtsov, Ivoshina, 2002), the educational environment at the Russian as a foreign language lesson can be defined, firstly, as a special form of intercultural, social and pedagogical interaction with specific communicative and cultural characteristics; secondly, as a system of conditions aimed at forming both linguistic and extralinguistic competences of a foreign student.

Russian language teaching, as well as education in general, is unable to fully achieve its goals without involving a person in the system of socio-cultural education (Ariarskiy, 2000: 41). We face the difficult task of not only teaching Russian as a means of communication, but also involving foreign students of the “digital” generation in the system of meanings of Russian culture under the new conditions. The habitual extensive form of cultural activity, which implies the demonstration of reference samples of culture (Konev, 2006), is becoming a thing of the past. The interactive form of transmitting cultural experience is coming to the forefront – through various means of communication,4 including remote, digital format.

Depending on foreign student involvement, several levels of interaction with the environment are distinguished: mutual perception (knowledge of a foreign culture), mutual understanding (recognition of culture) and mutual connection (active participation in culture) (Miloslavskaya, 2001), which directly correspond to the three components of socio-cultural competence: to know – to be able – to possess. Consequently, we can speak about full-fledged appropriation of new cultural meanings only in the process of their “living” by a person5 in a new environment, whereas traditional linguocultural methods and means are mainly aimed at forming the “knowledge” part of sociocultural competence.

Of course, the formation of socio-cultural competence has never been limited to classroom lessons and includes extracurricular work (excursions, holidays, cultural events, etc.) which allows foreigners to interact with the material and spiritual phenomena of Russian culture in the natural environment in direct communication with native speakers. As we know, the attributes of natural communication are authentic video, authentic audio, natural situational sequence, which reflect the real behavior of native speakers (their speech intentions, speech strategy). But the main thing that researchers talk about is the high saturation of the natural environment with background knowledge and that special “element of language,” which by itself, without the participation of the teacher, plays the role of a linguodidactic tool (Orekhova, Trukhanova, 2019).

Finding ourselves in a situation where access to the natural socio-cultural environment is impossible or limited (for example, in distance learning), we are faced with the need to create with the help of special technologies (pedagogical, linguodidactic, information and communication) artificial environment, understood as an organized totality of educational conditions, influences and opportunities that promote the formation and development of social, personal and communicative competences of a foreign student.

Based on the ideas of Y.S. Pesotsky about high-tech educational environment (Pesotskiy, 2003: 18), we have identified the main differences between virtual and natural environment: lack of reference to real space and time (asynchrony) and the associated need to recreate the real chronotope in a certain way; intentionality of creation (modelling); potentiality as a set of inherent possibilities; systematic construction to maintain diversity and multilevelness; dynamism (the ability to make rapid changes of the content), technological character (the need to use special technical tools). Having extrapolated these characteristics to the distance learning process, we formulated the main requirements for a virtual sociocultural environment:

  • systematicity (subordination of all environment components to linguistic and extra-linguistic learning objectives);
  • informativeness (possibility to include any necessary amount of information);
  • interactivity (availability of feedback);
  • automativeness (realization of learning activity with the help of special programs);
  • integral character (formation of different components of communicative competence – linguistic, speech, illocutionary, sociocultural – with the help of different types of speech activity);
  • heterogeneity (combining a variety of methodological tools);
  • flexibility and controllability (the ability to promptly supplement or replace individual elements);
  • processuality (recreating conditions of a real chronotope);
  • substantial and emotional richness.

The most difficult issue was the question of filling the virtual sociocultural environment with content (the term “content” is used to describe electronic means of transmitting information). In contrast to the requirements for language and speech competences, which are clearly prescribed for each of the levels of Russian as a foreign language proficiency, the content of sociocultural competence is not strictly defined. The list of facts that we traditionally include in the country study course (descriptions of selected facts from Russian history, geography, and culture) often depends on the preferences of the authors of the program and the allocated class hours.

In an effort to realize the linguistic and extra-linguistic goals, based on the perception of the learning process by modern learners, we decided to create not just another textbook on Russian country studies or a linguistic dictionary in digital format, but a new in form and content didactic tool, which will seamlessly fit into the digital educational environment.

The interactive calendar “Trip to Russia”6 (Figure 3) is a model of a virtual sociocultural environment designed for Russian as a foreign language distance learning, but can also be used during full-time study (for example, abroad in order to compensate the lack of a language and sociocultural environment) as an additional tool for training and sociocultural adaptation of foreign citizens.

Figure 3. Screenshot of the calendar “Trip to Russia”

“Trip to Russia” has a number of important differences from both traditional (printed) and digital learning tools used in developing the socio-cultural competence of foreign students. The interactive linguocultural dictionary “Russia” is well known to Russian as a foreign language teachers (freely available at the site of A.S. Pushkin State Russian Language Institute),7 which is a systematic and methodologically well-structured description of the factual aspects of the Russian language, culture, history, geography, etc.

The first thing that distinguishes “Trip to Russia” is the form of presentation. Colourful, brightly designed calendar with highlighted dates looks not like a textbook, but like an ordinary application in a smartphone, where important historical and cultural events are marked (Figure 4).

Secondly, all materials were created by teachers of Russian as a foreign language specifically for this learning platform. They filmed videos in real conditions (in the streets, in a store, at subway stations). Audio materials of the dictionary “Russia” are fragments from movies and songs and recordings of the teachers in the studio). Therefore, foreigners have the opportunity to hear competent, stylistically correct authentic speech of native speakers, tied to a real everyday situation.

Figure 4. Screenshot of the calendar “Trip to Russia,” December

Thirdly, when selecting the language-country study content we were guided by the principle of feasibility and sufficiency, avoiding long and complicated explanations, understanding that a modern student is not ready to waste time studying long texts and videos, but still wants to learn something new about the country of the target language in an accessible and entertaining way. Most of the calendar topics are accessible to students who speak Russian at a basic and elementary levels. If we compare it with traditional printed textbooks of Russian culture, the closest thing to the level of difficulty and the principle of presentation of the material is the reading and country study guide “About Russia and the Russians” (Malyshev, Malysheva, 2015), while the reading book “From the History of Russian Culture,”8 recommended for preparatory departments, on the contrary, is designed for a higher level of proficiency.

Fourthly, following the principle of co-learning language and culture, we decided to link the dates in the calendar not just to a text or video on a corresponding topic, but to a full lesson, including work with vocabulary, tasks for developing all kinds of speech activity, and means of control. Interactive quizzes were especially popular during the experimental teaching (Figure 5).

Finally, attention should be paid to the choice of lexical material. The analysis of educational literature on Russian country studies showed that the authors often use too much specific vocabulary, which certainly reflects the diversity and depth of Russian culture, but at the same time complicates the assimilation of the material. For example, the recently published, beautifully illustrated and full of communicative tasks “About Russia in Russian”9 lists in detail the names of musical instruments, genres of classical music, definitions of literary genres – that is, what is rather necessary when learning the language of the future profession. The authors of the calendar “Trip to Russia” strove to avoid special terminology, folklore vocabulary, dialectisms and historisms, adhering to the lexical minimum of the basic level and neutral style of presentation.

Figure 5. Screenshot of the topic “Oimiakon,” QR-code for passing the quiz

The formulated requirements for the virtual sociocultural environment are implemented by means of various technologies. Binding to the real space and time is carried out due to the form of an interactive calendar. Virtual excursions, interviews with native speakers, videos, and a discussion club format is recreated by the natural video and audio sequence. The natural situational range is represented by various communication situations – in transport, at an exhibition, in a shop,  at the circus – which are integrated into stories about contemporary culture.  The richness of background knowledge is created by the thoughtful selection of linguocountry study and linguocultural information. The heterogeneous nature of the environment is ensured by involving all types of speech activity. The cohesive nature of the environment is formed with the help of a system of links, which allow to move through texts, creating a semantic connection between different resources. The procedural nature is ensured by the use of all types of visual aids, creating a bright, memorable visual series. Appealing to the personal experience of students and topics relevant to them, humour, gaming technologies ensure the emotional richness of the content. The possibilities of the digital environment allow to make the tasks interactive, provide an automatic check of the task completion.

Figure 6. Screenshot of the fragment from the topic “Trip to Kaliningrad”

The calendar includes 10 months of the school year (from September to June), the dates are tied to culturally significant phenomena of Russian reality – landmarks, holidays, cultural facts or events. The themes “Moscow is the Capital of Russia,” “A Walk in the Center of Moscow,” “Trip to Kaliningrad” (Figure 6), “Oymyakon – the Pole of Cold,” “Cape Dezhnev,” “Trip to Pskov,” “St. Petersburg (White Nights)” tell about the geography of Russia. Foreigners learn about Russian traditions in the themes “Russian Souvenir,” “Palekh Painting,” “Khokhloma Painting,” “Russian Painting.” In addition to traditional holidays, such as New Year, Christmas and Epiphany, Shrovetide and Easter, International Women's Day, Victory Day, the calendar presents the Day of National Unity, Russian Science Day, Day of Slavic Script and Culture, Old New Year, International Mother Language Day, Russian Language Day, Cosmonautics Day. In addition, foreigners can take a walk on the VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy), see a performance at the Moscow Circus, learn about the peculiarities of education in Russia, why one needs to study Russian, and much more.

Educational material is presented in several electronic formats: a video file, an audio file, a lesson-presentation, an online test, and an online quiz. As a rule, within one thematic unit of content there are different electronic formats, and students can access to video and audio materials with the help of QR code or by navigating within the sections on the site.


Virtual sociocultural environment modelled by means of linguocultural content has a number of advantages in teaching Russian as a foreign language to students belonging to the “digital” generation. The use of content, which reproduces a natural situational series by means of digital media, allows to activate different channels of perception, involve an emotional aspect, increase learning motivation, consider the interests of modern youth, form a stable positive attitude to Russia among foreign students.

The developed digital content is an innovative author's product in the field of teaching methodology of the Russian language, both in terms of content and presentation of linguocultural material.

The use of the “Trip to Russia” interactive calendar helps to increase the effectiveness of teaching Russian as a foreign language, promote Russian cultural values, and strengthen Russia's position in the global cultural and educational space.

As a further research prospect, we see the identification of relevant precedent phenomena of contemporary Russian culture to be added to the interactive calendar.


1 Azimov, E.G. (2012). Information and communication technologies in teaching Russian as a foreign language: A methodological guide for teachers of Russian as a foreign language. Moscow: Russkii Yazyk. Kursy Publ. (In Russ.)

2 Bovtenko, M.A. (2005). Computer linguadidactics: Textbook. Moscow: Flinta Publ. (In Russ.)

3 Lomovtseva, N.V., Zarechneva, K.M., Ushakova, O.V., & Yarina, S.Y. (Eds.). (2021). The Dictionary of terms and concepts of digital didactics. Ekaterinburg: RSVPU Publ., Azhur Publ. (In Russ.)

4 Grishayeva, L.I. (2008). The introduction to the theory of intercultural communication: Textbook (p. 19). Moscow: Akademiya Publ. (In Russ.)

5 Bondarevskaya, E.V., & Kulnevich, S.V. (1999). Pedagogy: Personality in humanistic theories and the education systems: Textbook (p. 23). Rostov-on-Don: Uchitel' Publ. (In Russ.)

6 Access to the calendar is provided by the link

7 Multimedia Dictionary of Language and Country Studies “Russia.” Available February 27, 2022, from

8 Kuznetsov, A.L., & Kozhevnikova, M.N. (2018). From the history of Russian culture. Textbook for foreigners studying Russian. Moscow: Russkii yazyk. Kursy Publ. (In Russ.)

9 Zherebtsova, Zh.I., Kholodkova, M.V., & Tolmacheva, O.V. (2020). About Russia in Russian: textbook. Moscow: Russkii yazyk. Kursy Publ. (In Russ.)


About the authors

Maria N. Kozhevnikova

Moscow Pedagogical State University

Author for correspondence.
Doctor of Pedagogy, Associate Professor, Associate Professor of the Department of Linguodidactics of Russian as Foreign Language and Bilingualism 1 Malaya Pirogovskaya St, bldg 1, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Elizaveta A. Khamraeva

Moscow Pedagogical State University

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8551-5462

Doctor of Pedagogy, senior researcher, Head of the Department of Linguodidactics of Russian as Foreign Language and Bilingualism

1 Malaya Pirogovskaya St, bldg 1, Moscow, 119991, Russia

Victoria V. Kytina

University of Kuala Lumpur

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4660-4726

Candidate of Pedagogy, lecturer of Russian as a foreign language

1016 Sultan Ismail St, Kuala Lumpur, 50250, Malaysia


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Supplementary files

Supplementary Files
1. Figure 1. Results of the answers to the closed questions

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2. Figure 2. Results of the answers to the open question (about the country studies interests of the foreign students)

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3. Figure 3. Screenshot of the calendar “Trip to Russia”

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4. Figure 4. Screenshot of the calendar “Trip to Russia,” December

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5. Figure 5. Screenshot of the topic “Oimiakon,” QRcode for passing the quiz

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6. Figure 6. Screenshot of the fragment from the topic “Trip to Kaliningrad”

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Copyright (c) 2022 Kozhevnikova M.N., Khamraeva E.A., Kytina V.V.

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