Anastasiia Cherygova: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Anastasiia Cherygova

Learning both English and French when you arrive straight from Russia may seem quite daunting, but with a little willpower, it ultimately becomes a very stimulating challenge. At least, that has been the experience for Anastasiia Cherygova, who arrived in Canada in 2014 to attend high school and who, four years later, can proudly claim to be fluent in the languages of Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Molière.

A penchant for English and French

Anastasiia first came to Canada—to Vancouver, to be exact—when she was 15 years old. That’s hard to believe, considering that she now speaks English without a trace of an accent. “I was already comfortable in English because of my education in Russia,” she explained. “Living with a host family in Vancouver helped me to improve a lot, but I still had quite a few Russian-speaking friends, so I didn’t have many opportunities to practise with them.”

Two years later, Anastasiia wanted to see more of the country and decided to continue her studies in the nation’s capital. “The real breakthrough came when I arrived in Ottawa. I made English-speaking friends, and I was so busy at school that I didn’t take time to call my mother, with whom I normally speak Russian.” The young university student was completely immersed in her environment and quickly became perfectly bilingual.

However, for the Yekaterinburg native, the work was only half done. “In Russia, when I was younger, we often listened to Garou and Céline Dion, and I always had a strong image of French-speaking Canada. And although I was very eager to improve my English, I also wanted to learn French. I was very excited when I arrived at the University of Ottawa and noticed that the signs above the doors said ‘Sortie – Exit.’”

Determination pays off

Anastasiia had already taken a few French courses in Russia and Vancouver, so she enrolled in an academic program that allowed her to do part of her studies in French. Through the University of Ottawa’s French immersion program, she has access to a wide variety of resources, including a mentoring centre and French writing help, and to many activities that help her practise her French outside the classroom. Her French has vastly improved.

Anastasiia’s determination was apparent when she decided to submit some of her work in French, even though she didn’t have to. “I’m quite proud of myself for having written some of my assignments in French, and I’m especially pleased to have received an A on one of them! It’s a personal victory.”

Another victory: Anastasiia is hired by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages as a student, in the summer of 2018. She works in a work environment in which she can speak in the official language of her choice. She chose to answer most of the questions in this interview … in French and to use French as often as possible. "It's not easy”, she says with confidence, “but you need to put in that extra effort if you want to get better."

Immersion is key

Anastasiia had the chance to live with an English-speaking host family for seven months after coming to Canada, and she was surrounded by English speakers when she came to Ottawa. She also had the opportunity to work on the Quebec side in Gatineau, where many of her colleagues are Francophone. How much has all this immersion helped her learn?

When you learn a language in a classroom,” explained the student, “you’re taught how to speak about very theoretical topics, but not necessarily about the things that you’d discuss on a street corner or in a café. For me, the hardest thing about learning a language is the difference between formal language and informal language. Immersion gives you an opportunity to improve your informal language, which is very hard to do in a classroom.”

Clearly, Anastasiia is sparing no effort to embrace one of the fundamental values of Canada—linguistic duality—and she seems to have found a winning formula for success: be willing to step outside your comfort zone, have a plan to achieve your goals, and let curiosity be your guide.

Published on Monday, September 17, 2018

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