Monday, 26 February 2018
Teaching English in Russia. Helping Russians use the language they study for 10 years!
I have been enjoying retirement and relaxing. The latest book Redemption's Bullet is doing well and getting some good reviews. It went high on Amazon's reading lists a few times and I am glad people are enjoying it. So I got a little lazy! Hey, I am over fifty now, and while I feel like thirty, this is the reality! I also got a little bored. I left Russia to visit family and friends over Christmas and was away for a couple of months. I kept in contact with my Russian friends via Instagram and Whats App but it was not the same and I missed home. Anapa. During one conversation my friend Alexi said "My English has become terrible without you! When you come back?" I didn't correct him and say; "When ARE you comING (future tense and an irregular verb) back." I just said, "Soon my friend. I miss Russia and Anapa."
It is funny how a single conversation can spark an idea.
The usual teaching style in Russia is very structured and lecture based like in Europe and other areas of Eastern Europe. Grades are important. More so than knowledge. So getting five on a paper is more important than if you used Google Translate to get the five. I understand! I used a calculator in my childhood math classes to get the correct answer as well. My teacher would get angry and say; "You aren't going to be carrying a calculator around with you all the time when you get older are you?" She was wrong! Now I carry around a computer, called an iPhone, more powerful than my desktop unit at that time. But tech programs are not the answer. I should have memorized the tables as taught so I wouldn't have to use my fingers to answer math problems now! English is the same way! Except using Google in English interactions can cause significant embarrassment! I know I've had it happen to me. It's ok as Canadians don't mind being embarrassed, and that brings us to culture.
Russian people do not like to be embarrassed. They feel extremely uncomfortable if this happens. They avoid it at all costs. So they don't like attempting to use the language they studied for ten years. Because they feel embarrassed when they make a mistake. How many times did brilliant scientists make mistakes before they launched the first man into space? These were Russias BEST minds and the most BRILLIANT scientists in a space race with America. They made many mistakes, but they got Yuri Gagarin into space before the Americans. Perhaps Yuri's famous words "Let's go." best describes the attitude of the people associated with the program!
I knew coming up with a teaching style, that overcame this would be a challenge. I have travelled all over the world so I understand broken English very well. I tell people not to be embarrassed to speak broken English as it means you speak two (or more) languages. I knew this simple explanation wouldn't get past this cultural hurdle. I needed something modern, fun, and inspiring to get students to start speaking and learning from mistakes. Mistakes that must be made so that you hear the language correctly! English is a musical language. The tone, timber, and inflection communicate as much as the words. Musicians use this a great deal. Eric Captions famous speaking guitar is a good example I will insert the link for you if you want to hear it for yourself. Obviously, guitars can't speak English but if you listen carefully around 43 seconds into the song in the link you can hear: "Do you feel?" The guitar then goes on to say it again, and adds "like I do." It ends with the guitar saying "I want to feel you." This example might be hard for non-native speakers to hear but, it shows how the language can only be truly learned, understood, and used by vocalization.
Peter Framptons-Talking Guitar
I developed a program that builds on other famous English as a second language (ESL) programs. I adapted them for Russian students. Russians probably understand grammar rules better than English speaking North Americans. Yes, you read that correctly! The educational system's focus on words, grammar, and sentence structure at the expense of vocalizations means most University students have a better understanding of why a sentence is the way it is. North Americans and Europeans just know what 'sounds right'. Irregular verbs are a good example. Irregular in common usage means 'out of the ordinary' or 'different than the usual'. A regular coffee is the size most people order and drink. An irregular coffee might be bigger or contain garlic or some other ingredient 'MOST' people don't order. We know in English grammar irregular verbs are those that don't end in d, ed, ied in the past or past participle tenses. So in using the above definition of usual or common, irregular verbs should be the unusual ones. Yet they are not in common speech. Discussion about why the past participial should or should not have the Germanic strong verb may be fine for editors, but it is incredibly boring and uninteresting for the learner! Yes, I could run a class and get students to memorize the more than 300 irregular verbs or just the 223 in common use but this would not be very progressive. The progressive way would be to teach how they sound and get students to hear and understand these sound differences so when they come across a verb they are unsure of they can just say it out loud and hear the correct difference.
Is English really that simple and sound based? Yes, it is! A great example:
Why because of the sound. Sure I could spend an hour of class time explaining that the word came from the Algonquin Native Indian language and in that language and culture many names, or objects, were the same in singular or plural. But it isn't really required reading, is it? English speaking language countries have enjoyed the greatest immigration. So when people came they brought their culture and their language. When a new word worked better at describing something we adopted it. It became English which is why English grammar is so sloppy and difficult, containing more exceptions than rules, or so it would seem. It is also why sometimes Russian speakers recognize the English word because it sounds close to the Russian word. Catastrophe jumps to mind. But English is a crazy language compared to the very precise and accurate Russian language and grammar. But that is what makes it fun and enjoyable to write, talk, and play with. If you hand me a black mouse does it squeak or operate Google translate for me?
So if you want to actually have fun with the knowledge you have studied for ten years, or if you're just getting started my wife Inga has courses for little children, check us out!
English Canadian Language Club (see how I used the Russian format of English Canadian and not Canadian English...) has classes for all levels of learners. Inga speaks the Russian and English languages fluently, and a few more, and has had incredible success with young students for years. If you are prepping for government EGE, or GIA tests we can help. Business people and adult learners can take advantage of our classes, or one on one (face to face) classes in the evening and weekends. Even if you speak well and want to lose your accent, this can be accomplished, NOW right here in Anapa.
This immersion progressive and modern teaching style has not been available in Russia outside of major cities that had consulate schools. Even in those cities consulate employees children got the first spaces and only if the school had room would they make spaces available to outside students. Take advantage of this opportunity as we will fill our seat allotment quickly.