Do We Need a Single International Language in Space?

Space.com | 6/13/2018 | Staff
Firefang (Posted by) Level 4
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Nowadays, most humans leaving Earth must do so through Russian territory. Space fliers ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which lifts off from a special parcel of Russian territory in Kazakhstan. Their spacecraft mission is commanded by a Russian citizen and a large chunk of their destination — the International Space Station — has modules and operations in Russian, too.

This means that all astronauts going to the ISS, no matter how many languages they speak, also need to learn Russian. And astronauts and cosmonauts all over the world need to learn at least some English to work with NASA. English is a challenging language for foreigners to learn.

How hard is Russian, anyway?

The U.S. State Department's Foreign Service Institute has a scale for English speakers to understand the difficulty of learning another language. The department ranks Russian among several "Category II" languages, such as Greek, Icelandic and Croatian, with "significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English. To reach a reasonable level of fluency in Russian, students can expect to spend 1,100 class hours — plus many hours of individual study time. That compares to between 575 and 600 hours for languages such as French, Spanish, Dutch and Afrikaans.

Speak - Language - Difficulty - Denmark - Astronaut

Even astronauts speak about the Russian language's difficulty. Denmark's first astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, once said that learning Russian was his biggest challenge as he trained for an International Space Station mission. Former NASA astronaut Bonnie Dunbar also described the difficulties of learning Russian as she prepared to live on Russia's Mir space station. For her first six months of training, although "you knew the answer, you didn't know how to say it in Russian. For about six months, I felt like a small child," she said in an interview published on NASA's website.

The NASA astronauts participating in Mir in the 1990s had varying levels...
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