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New Grant Brings Lubensky’s Total Awards to $1 Million-plus
by Henryk Baran (December 12, 2003)

Sophia Lubensky, professor of Russian in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, has received a two-year, $274,448 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The award brings the total of Lubensky’s grants since 1981 to more than $1 million.

The grant will support development of the project Text, Thought, Speech: A Guide for Advanced Learners of Russian, a suite of instructional materials – an innovative textbook and accompanying CD-ROM – designed to help advanced students make the transition from slow, controlled speech to native-level fluency in speaking and writing. According to Lubensky, this level is particularly difficult to attain in a language such as Russian, whose grammatical structure presents special problems for speakers of English.

The materials Lubensky will develop in accordance with the Department of Education grant are based on a methodology that emphasizes situated internalization of vocabulary, with grammar skills developing through repeated use of particular words and phrases in combination. The textbook will feature authentic stories by contemporary Russian writers, supplemented by cultural background, various activities, and coverage of grammatical points particularly important for communication. These stories, in turn, will become the subject of follow-up discussions of their contents and application of the material to other contexts. A fully integrated CD-ROM and multimedia Web site, which will offer students the opportunity to further hone their linguistic skills, will complement the textbook.

Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian language remains significant internationally. Because there are few textbooks at the advanced level, the results of the project, noted a Department of Education reviewer, are “likely to find widespread use.” Reviewers gave Lubensky’s project very high marks and emphasized its innovative features, including the way it combines linguistic sophistication, cultural literacy and technology. They also predicted it would have a wide impact: “This project has an excellent chance of contributing to other programs by revolutionizing the study of Russian at the advanced level.”

A distinguished team of specialists will collaborate with Lubensky on the textbook and the CD-ROM. They include Slava Paperno, director of Cornell University’s Russian Language Program and a widely recognized expert in computer-assisted Russian instruction; Dr. Irina Odintsova of Moscow State University; and Dr. Marjorie McShane of the Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. McShane, a UAlbany graduate, has collaborated with Lubensky on other projects. Odintsova, a highly experienced teacher of Russian to foreigners, is the author of several manuals for learners of Russian.

The Department of Education award is the latest in a string of notable funding successes for Lubensky, an internationally recognized specialist in lexicography and language pedagogy and a UAlbany faculty member since 1977. In addition to internal grants from the University, she received a $284,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to support research on the Russian-English Dictionary of Idioms. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education awarded Lubensky $56,000 and $435,000, respectively, to support a first-year Russian language textbook with a video supplement.

LLC department faculty members Cynthia Fox (National Science Foundation) and Mary Beth Winn (National Endowment for the Humanities) also hold federal grants, which is “extremely rare in the humanities,” according to David Wills, department chair.

 

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