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Who are University of Minnesota Russian Students? 

PACE Project Language Proficiency Data
August 31, 2020

The goal of the Proficiency Assessment for Curricular Enhancement (PACE) project, which collected second language proficiency test data between 2014 and 2017, was to learn more about second language learners at the University of Minnesota and what methods and experiences are effective in helping them improve their proficiency in a second language. In an effort to share some insights from the PACE data, the Language Center is publishing the first in a series of short articles that will highlight some of the findings of PACE researchers. We hope that these articles will provide information useful to instructors today.

Today’s Question: Who enrolls in Russian courses at the University of Minnesota?

Given the fact that there are few Russian high school programs, we expect that few students enrolled in Russian courses at the university have studied the target language before arriving on campus. On the other hand, we might expect a large contingent of so-called heritage learners to enroll in these language programs.

What the PACE data show, however, is that most students taking Russian during the time period of the project were “true beginners,” that is, students who do not identify as heritage learners, did not study the target language in high school, and who began their study of the language with the first course offered in the language program’s sequence (RUSS 1101).

The table below shows the number of Russian learners who identified themselves as heritage learners by responding positively to either of the following questions on the PACE Survey:

  • Did you speak Russian in your home while growing up?
  • Was Russian spoken in your home while you were growing up?

In addition, students were asked to indicate whether they had studied Russian previously in school.

  # of Students Percentage
YES previous study, NO heritage learner
8 6%
NO previous study, YES heritage learner 16 12%
YES previous study, YES heritage learner 3 2%
NEITHER previous study, NOR heritage learner 110 80%


Of students who started in RUSS 1101 (n = 137), 27 indicated heritage status and/or previous study.

Students who identified as heritage learners made up only 14% of those learning Russian, and 8% indicated prior language study.

The knowledge that a majority of students begin the language program as true beginners can guide instructors in designing a curriculum to address consistent student populations.

80% (110 out of 137) of students tested in Russian were “true beginners”.

Composition of Russian courses had a low proportion of students reporting previous study of the target language and/or indicating heritage status.

Why is it useful to know that most Russian students begin their language study at the University of Minnesota? Knowing this means that language proficiency test result data, like the information gathered from the PACE project, can tell us something about the language development that occurred as a result of the students’ class and class-affiliated experience.

Interested in learning more? Please send any questions or comments to PACE project data analyst Carter Griffith at grif0050@umn.edu.

Next week: who are University of Minnesota Arabic students?