Total Dictation, April 7.


Thanks to Academgorodok (Academic Town) Novosibirsk is known as a city of ‘great brains’. No wonder that it is here, in the heart of Russian science, where an unprecedented campaign called ‘Total Dictation’ was born. It all started in 2004, when professors of the Novosibirsk State University (NSU), one of the best in the country, decided to check how well their students and staff know their mother tongue. The campaign was called ‘The Total Dictation’, though at that time it was not total at all and concerned only the NSU. A piece of text written by one of the Russian classics (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev) was dictated to the people and then spelling and punctuation were checked. Somehow the NSU residents liked the thing, and several years later the dictation spread over the whole city, while in 2011 it became international: people from 13 cities and 2 countries participated in it. After that ‘The Total Dictation’ turned to a boom: the number of participating cities, towns and countries started to grow exponentially. This year it was written in 866 settlements in 71 countries. It was written even by the staff of the polar stations in the Antarctic. Moreover, it is offered to passengers of a lot of flights, on trains, in railway stations. One can select where to write the dictation: in a university, in a school or college, in a local library, in a museum or even in a park tent. In Tallin, Estonia, for instance, it was written in a huge stadium, while in Perm, Russia, it was written in an art gallery.


The campaign is absolutely voluntary for all the concerned parties. Those who write the dictation do not pay for participation, while the ‘dictators’ (this is how they call the people dictating the text) do not get paid for that. While the majority of ‘dictators’ are teachers of Russian, many of them are prominent people like actors, TV moderators, showmen, ballet dancers, singers, film directors or even politicians. As some of them are not teachers, they sometimes cannot cope with challengers of dictating the text, but it is always fun. When it all started, a piece from classical fiction was dictated, but now the organizers ask of of the contemporary authors or journalists to write a piece. The ‘dictators’ see the text for the first time only 30 minutes before the dictation. It is possible to have the text dictated online, so that those who can\t leave their house or workplace also have an opportunity to participate. The campaign is so popular that starting from this year foreigners studying Russian are also offered a dictation, though, of course, it’s a much simpler text.

My husband and me participated in the dictation for the first time and we went to the ‘birth place’ of the campaign — to the Novosibirsk State University.


Traditionally the author of the text for the current year dictates there, and this year the text was written by a famous contemporary writer, but that hall was full by the time we arrived, so we went to another classroom instead. Our dictator was a nice lady, obviously a professor teaching Russian or literature. The atmosphere was great! People of all ages, from teenagers to seniors over 70 were there, and everyone was excited to know how well she or he knows and remembers how to spell and put commas and dashes. The results will be available after April 12, and the connoisseurs (those who make no or only 1 mistake) will be gives prizes. You may wonder what the participation in the dictation can give you, like, for example, higher chances for a better job or something. Nothing like that. This is just a challenge, a chance to see how well you know the language you speak and to participate in an event, which is totally peaceful, meant to unite people, and it is so important in this time of trouble.


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