Foreign Language Feats

Freshman Wins Gold In Russian Olympiad


Photo credit: Emma Manley

Annoshae Mirza with her ACTR Russian Olympiada gold medal.

Freshman Annoshae Mirza received a gold medal in the ACTR (American Council of Teachers of Russian) Olympiada of Spoken Russian, a competition which she participated in on May 7.

Mirza completed the Olympiada in Dean of Student Life Joe Bruno’s office, where she had to present for judges via Zoom. While there were some questions she prepared for, the judges also asked questions that she had to answer on the spot. She also had to submit a pre-recorded presentation on Russian area studies, where she talked about landmarks, and literature, where she talked about Russian authors.

Mirza’s interest in Russian began when sixth grade English teacher George Drury gave her poems to read by Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva and other authors as she got more interested in Russian literature. “It started as a joke like, ‘Oh, why don’t I learn Russian’ but then I actually taught myself the script, and I actually started getting really into it and I fell in love with the language learning process,” Mirza said. After watching some YouTube videos she began using the app Babbel to learn and eventually got a tutor. Mirza hopes to become fluent and read Russian literature in Russian that she originally read in English.

“I met Annoshae this year when she became my advisee and I learned about her love for languages during that first parent/student/advisor conference right before the start of the school,” Upper School Spanish teacher Yadiner Sabir said over email.

“Annoshae is also a competitive fencer and we worked together in getting Annoshae a PE exemption. This frees time for Annoshae to dedicate to her study of other languages. Before Annoshae comes to school every morning, she has already taken a language lesson at home, while most Parker students are still sleeping.”

This Olympiada of Spoken Russian was Mirza’s first language competition, which she decided to do as a way to push herself. “I always love a challenge, especially when it comes to languages,” Mirza said.

As a Spanish teacher, Sabir describes language learning as “fun” but also “challenging” and “frustrating.” “It is a lot of mental work, and as your brain learns to function in two languages at once, communicating in that second language becomes easier,” Sabir said. “It totally changes the way you communicate with and relate to others who also speak that second language.”

In the contest, students must complete three commissions. The first commission requires students to talk about themselves in a conversational manner, the second focuses on Russian civilization, and the third includes readings. 

Each commission is scored on a 100-point scale which is averaged. To receive a gold medal and certificate, like Mirza did, a student must score between 90 and 100 points. 

While most students nationwide compete in the Olympiada as part of school curriculum, Mirza and her family had to register her. Sabir and Mirza’s advisor assisted in finding a quiet place for Mirza during the Olympiada—Upper School Dean of Student Life Joe Bruno’s office—so that she was not disqualified. 

Part of the language learning process for Mirza is being able to talk with other speakers. Through fencing, Mirza is able to practice her Russian with Slavic friends.

Mirza also knows Spanish, English, Urdu, and Hindi, and is learning German, French, Italian, and Arabic. “Russian was the first language that I went out and actively was like, ‘I want to learn this,’ and I fell in love with the process so much that I started learning a ton of other languages as well.” Mirza adds a new language “every once in a while” and uses the language learning app Duolingo to discover new languages she would like to learn. 

Learning Russian has also increased her support for Ukraine during the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. “My Russian skills have really helped me and helped me appreciate Slavic culture,” Mirza said.  “Language can be a bridge between people.”

Sabir believes learning three or more languages changes approach to life, values, and empathy. “It is another whole set of values and way of life that you then eventually adopt, enriching your human connections, your reflective skills, your deep analysis and interpretation. You are able to see what others cannot,” Sabir said. “Being able to communicate freely with others in their mother language without relying on a translator gives you the best, most authentic human experiences possible.”

“For me, language is really fun,” Mirza said. “I view it as something that can be a challenge, but something that you can also be really passionate about.”