8 more mistakes Russian learners of English often make

In this post, I keep correcting most common mistakes Russian learners of English make.

I didn’t initially plan to write a sequel to my post about common mistakes that Russian learners of English actually make, but the post proved extremely useful. Instead of explaining the mistakes over and over again, I simply gave my students the link and the number of the mistake they kept making. Seeing how well it worked, I’ve decided to put together one more list of common mistakes Russian learners make.

The root of all the mistakes below is the direct translation from Russian. Again, the list is based on my personal teaching experience. The order is almost random.

#1 Feel yourself good 

Feel good. If you think about it, isn’t ‘yourself’ redundant anyway? Of course, it’s yourself you are talking about, so you don’t need to say it. On top of that, ‘feel yourself’ actually means something you probably don’t want to say. Google it. Seriously, do.

#2 Weekends

Weekend, just one. If you are talking about your last or next weekend, a combination of two days Saturday and Sunday, it’s singular. For example, “My last weekend was entirely devoted to editing this post.”

#3 Nearest future

Near future. Just accept it. And I hope I won’t hear this mistake again in the near future. I actually hope I won’t hear it in the distant future either.

#4 In the street

Outside, outdoors. This is what ‘in the street’ means in Russian. In English, ‘in the street’ means ‘on the road in a city with building along it.’ So if you go jogging in parks or play football on open-air pitches, you do it outside / outdoors, not in the street.

#5 Variant

Option, choice, alternative. A variant is a different form of the same thing. For example, “Other variants of the game are known in other parts of Europe,” or “This is the American variant of this word.” But those 3 different things you are choosing from are options, choices or alternatives.

#6 Understood

Realized. You understand rules and people. But when you tell stories and share epiphanies, you realize things. For example, “… and then I realized I had left my phone in the office,” or “This was when I realized that something was wrong.”

#7 (In the) last time

Lately, recently. You haven’t talked to your best friend a lot lately. You’ve been chainwatching “The Big Bang Theory” recently. ‘Last time’ has a meaning of its own, which is ‘an occasion when you last did something.’ For example, “The last time I went to the cinema was in August,” or “When was the last time you watched a movie in English?”

#8 Do mistakes

Make mistakes. Yes, make mistakes. But do homework and do exercises. Certain words that are used together are called collocations. Collocations have to be memorized. There is no way around it. Make an effort and do your best to memorize them.

Mistake #8 is my student’s suggestion. He messaged me because he noticed somebody making mistake #5 in my previous post. He then noticed a mistake that he did made in his message, corrected it, and suggested adding it to my list. I thought it was a great idea. It is also a great conclusion to my post.

PS: It really and truly is OK to make mistakes, but it’s not OK to keep repeating them.

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Top 8 mistakes Russian learners of English actually make

In this post, I am correcting the most common mistakes Russian learners of English actually make.

Due to the nature of my job, every once in a while I stumble upon an article about N most common mistakes that learners of English make. I look at them and go, “Who makes these mistakes? Russians certainly don’t.” (For example, Russians don’t confuse your and you’re.) In this post, I want to talk about 8 common mistakes Russian learners actually make. These mistakes persist on different levels, but are not usually addressed in EFL course books.

The list is based on my personal teaching experience. The order is random.

#1 I with

I often ask students “What did you do at the weekend?” and what I hear is “I with my friends went to the cinema.” The right way to say something like this is “My friends and I went to the cinema,” or “I went to the cinema with my friends.” In English, the word order is “subject+verb” and prepositional phrases can’t go in the middle.

#2 How to say

When students don’t know how to say something, they ask me or murmur to themselves “How to say this?” The right ways to say this include, but are not limited to phrases like, “How do I say this? / How do I put this? / What’s the word for this? / What do you call this?” (“How do you call this?” is another common mistake, by the way.) ‘How to’ can be used in positive sentences like “I don’t know how to say this,” or “I will show you how to do it,” but not as a question.

#3 Meet this word

My students do a lot of independent work. They watch movies and read articles in English. When they want to share something new they learned, they say something like, “I met an interesting expression yesterday.” In English you meet people, not words. The right ways are “I came across / saw heard / learned an interesting expression.

#4 Deal 

When students didn’t their homework, they sometimes say they were busy and had a lot of deals. Business people make deals. The right way to say you were busy is “I had a lot of things to do,” or “I had to run some errands.” (“To run errands” is used to speak about small everyday jobs, like going grocery shopping or dropping by the bank to sort out some documents.)

#5 Look forward to

Yes, “I look forward to hear from you.” is wrong. Yes, you have to use the ‘-ing’ form after ‘to’ and say “I look forward to hearing from you.” No, it’s not an exception. The thing is, ‘to’ can be a particle before a verb (I want to go) or a preposition (go to Moscow). When ‘to’ is a particle, you have to use the infinitive, but when it is a preposition, you have to use the ‘-ing’ form. More examples of phrases with ‘to’ as a preposition: “I am used to getting up early”; “I devote a lot of time to writing my blog”; “We must commit to working hard.”

#6 I think no

When I ask questions like, “Do you think he’ll come to class?” or “Do you think paper books will disappear?” students often reply, “I think, no.” The right way to reply is “I don’t think so,” or “I don’t think he will.

#7 I am late. Late for 10 minutes.

There are two common mistakes that students make in text messages that they send me 10 minutes before class.

a) If you send a message “Irina, I’m sorry I am late,” 10 minutes before class, it’s wrong because you are technically not late yet. What you want to write is “I am going to be late,” or “I am running late.

b) Sometimes the message goes, “I am going to be late for 10 minutes.” Any preposition is wrong here and the right way is “I am going to be 10 minutes late.

Hm… something tells me that it was only Part 1. Stay tuned?

P.S. The poster “Ready to spring” used to hang in one of the offices I work in. I love it. What it says is so true. 

Photo credit: https://www.printcollection.com/products/ready-to-spring#.We4OieNuKUk

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How to choose a freelance language teacher

In this post, I am outlining the aspects you might want to pay attention to when looking for a freelance language teacher.

This is the time of year when many of you might be considering hiring language teachers for yourself or your children. It makes a lot of sense to cut out the middleman (a language school) and hire a freelance or a self-employed teacher directly. But if you decide to do that, you might find yourself browsing through tens of profiles a day and still unable to make a choice. In this post, I want to outline several aspects you might want to pay attention to when looking for a freelance language teacher.

Degree

A degree in teaching is not a 100% guarantee of good quality teaching, but it definitely helps. People who get a degree in language teaching do not only study the language in-depth, they also study teaching principles and methods. It is, of course, possible but less likely that a person with a degree in engineering will make a great language teacher. They might be a proficient or a native language speaker, but they simply might not know how to help you learn the language.

Experience

The more, the better. However, the experience must be relevant. The teacher who has worked in state schools for 10 years might not be the best match for a project manager who wants to be able to make presentations or negotiate in a foreign language. And vice a versa. The person might be an excellent teacher in their sphere, but might not be able to meet your needs.

Growth and development

This aspect boils down to questions like,

  • Has the teacher done anything related to language learning or teaching since they graduated?
  • Have they attended any teacher development courses?
  • Have they taken any international tests? When? What scores did they get?
  • Have they taken part in any teaching contests, projects, programs?

The more “yes” you get, the better.

Social media

It sounds like a cliché but social media profiles speak volumes. Do check them out. I can’t give any guidelines as to what constitutes an appropriate profile, so you have to go with your gut. Personally, I wouldn’t hire a teacher whose profile had countless shares of cooking recipes and nothing related to languages or teaching.

More

This aspect boils down to questions like,

  • Does the teacher produce anything related to teaching or languages (in any form)?
  • Does the teacher create their own handouts or exercises?
  • Does the teacher use videos, podcasts, newspapers articles to supplement the material in the book?
  • Does the teacher make videos? Does the teacher write a blog?

If the teacher doesn’t do any of the things above, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad teacher. But if I was going to hire a language teacher, I would definitely look for one who does and wants to do more than just follow the coursebook.

Finally, after you’ve done your research, call, message or meet the teacher. The way the person interacts with you will help you make the final decision. 

I teach. That’s it from me.

Disclaimer 1. None of the aspects above guarantees anything, but some of them combined will give you an idea of what the teacher is like. 
Disclaimer 2. Sometimes, in rare cases, even if the teacher’s profile is perfect, things might not work out anyway. Because of a personality mismatch, because of the position of the stars or just because.

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Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 2. Translating Dovlatov back into Russian with my American students.

In this post, I am talking about using Dovlatov’s book to teach my American students.

What I want to share in this post was probably my favorite part of my teaching Russian as a foreign language experience, which was teaching language with the help of literature (or is it literature with the help of language?).

In the second semester, the Russian teacher at UNH, Daria Kirjanov, taught a course called, “Stories of Displaced Lives: Russian and Eastern European Memoirs of Exile.” As part of this course, the students of Russian were supposed to attend a language lab class, the purpose of which was reading some of the course materials in the original. I got my own language lab class with three beginner level students. The beauty part was I didn’t have a rigid program to follow and had the freedom to create my own materials.

Talking about Dovlatov in this kind of course was absolutely inevitable. But his works came later in the semester.

What we started from was Silver Age poetry. Since my students had only been learning Russian for 5 months, we started from the easiest and most obvious thing to do – reading and translating the poetry into English.

It went well, but at some point I got this nagging feeling that “variety is the spice of life.” I needed and wanted to vary my tasks. I thought long and hard. When we got to Dovlatov, it hit me, “Why don’t we reverse what we’ve been doing and translate literature from English back into Russian?”

I decided to work with Dovlatov’s “The Suitcase.” Firstly, because it suits the topic perfectly; secondly, because I found it online in both English and Russian; thirdly, because it is written in the past tense.

The past tense might be the single simple aspect of the overall complicated Russian grammar. There is only one past tense and all you have to do is change the ending of the infinitive. For example, жить – жил, работать – работал, ответить – ответил (masculine)It’s beautifully straightforward.

We only worked with the foreword as we didn’t have time for the whole piece. I cherry picked the portions I knew the students could handle and provided a glossary of the words they didn’t know. We then compared their translations with the original. You will find an example below and you are very welcome to give translating Dovlatov a shot too. (I have included the beginning to give you some context.)

Чемодан. The suitcase.
Foreword

So this bitch at OVIR says to me, “Everyone who leaves is allowed three suitcases. That’s the quota. A special regulation of the ministry.”
No point in arguing. But of course I argued. “Only three suitcases? What am I supposed to do with all my things?”
“Like what?”
“Like my collection of race cars.”
“Sell them,” the clerk said, without lifting her head.
Then, knitting her brows slightly, she added, “If you’re dissatisfied with something, write a complaint.”
“I’m satisfied,” I said.
After prison, everything satisfied me.
“Well, then, don’t make trouble…”
A week later I was packing. As it turned out, I needed just a single suitcase.
I almost wept with self-pity. After all, I was thirty-six years old. Had worked eighteen of them. I earned money, bought things with it. I owned a certain amount, it seemed to me. And still I only needed one suitcase – and of rather modest dimensions at that. Was I poor, then? How had that happened?
Books? Well, basically, I had banned books, which were not allowed through customs anyway. I had to give them out to my friends, along with my so-called archives.
Manuscripts? I had clandestinely sent them to the West a long time before.
Furniture? I had taken my desk to the second-hand store. The chairs were taken by the artist Chegin, who had been making do with crates. The rest I threw out.
And so I left the Soviet Union with one suitcase. It was plywood, covered with fabric and, had chrome reinforcements at the corners. The lock didn’t work; I had to wind clothes line around it.
Once I had taken it to Pioneer camp. It said in ink on the lid: “Junior group. Seryozha Dovlatov.” Next to it someone had amiably scratched: “Shithead”. The fabric was torn in several places. Inside, the lid was plastered with photographs: Rocky Marciano, Louis Armstrong, Joseph Brodsky, Gina Lollobrigida in a transparent outfit. The customs agent tried to tear Lollobrigida off with his nails. He succeeded only in scratching her. (1) But he didn’t touch Brodsky. He merely asked, “Who’s that?” I said he was a distant relative…
On May 16 I found myself in Italy. I stayed in the Hotel Dina in Rome. I shoved the suitcase under the bed.
I soon received fees from Russian journals. I bought blue sandals, flannel slacks and four linen shirts. I never opened the suitcase.
(2) Three months later I moved to the United States, to New York. First, I lived in the Hotel Rio. Then we stayed with friends in Flushing. Finally, I rented an apartment in a decent neighborhood. I put the suitcase in the back of the closet. I never undid the clothes line.

 

Glossary
(1)
Бродский, m., adj., Accusative, animate, the ending is –ого.
to touch = тронуть
to ask = спросить
merely = всего лишь
to reply = ответить
distant relative = дальний родственник
(2)
later = через (is written at the beginning of the sentence)
to move = перебраться
with friends = у друзей
finally = наконец
decent = приличный
to put (in a vertical position) = поставить
in the back = в дальний угол
The original
(1)
А Бродского не тронул. Всего лишь спросил — кто это? Я ответил, что дальний родственник…
(2)    

Через три месяца перебрался в Соединенные Штаты. В Нью-Йорк. Сначала жил в отеле “Рио”. Затем у друзей во Флашинге. Наконец, снял квартиру в приличном районе. Чемодан поставил в дальний угол стенного шкафа.


 

The students did a great job. Curiously, they made two types mistakes: writing everything in direct word order (subject+verb) and including every single pronoun in the sentence. For example, they wrote “Он не тронул Бродского.” for “А Бродского не тронул.” (At this point, I would like to remind you that these students had only started learning the language 5 months before.)

Thanks to this perfect combination of Daria’s course on immigrant writers, “The Suitcase” and the simplicity of the past tense in Russian, my beginner students could have a go at translating Dovlatov. How cool is that?! 

Special thanks:
I would like to thank Daria Kirjanov for giving me the language lab class and the freedom to teach it the way I saw fit.
I would also like to thank Alma Classics for the foreword in English and multiple resources for the whole book in Russian.  
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Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 1. Teaching Russian from scratch: my proudest achievement.

In this post, I am sharing my experience of teaching Russian as a foreign language.

I am a teacher of English as a foreign language, but last year, thanks to the Fulbright FLTA program, I got an incredible opportunity to teach Russian as a foreign language at the University of New Haven (CT, USA). In this post, I want to share a tiny portion of this experience.

When you win a Fulbright FLTA grant, you don’t get to choose your host institution or your duties there. The only thing you can do is accept or decline the grant offer (but why on earth would you do that?). I got an offer from the University of New Haven and happily accepted. According to my terms of appointment, I was going to be a primary teacher for beginner level students.

Truth be told, teaching beginners was the last thing I wanted to do. In my defense, I just didn’t know how rewarding it would be because I had never taught beginners in my entire life. Anyway, I went through with it and I don’t regret it for a minute.

When I say beginners, I mean absolute beginners – people who literally knew zero Russian. In the first semester, we worked on the basics, like the Cyrillic alphabet, pronunciation, noun cases and verb conjugation. The second semester was when I started doing what I enjoy most – develop my students’ speaking skills.

 We actually started working on speaking several weeks into the semester, but speaking basically went like this, “What is it? – It’s a cat.” or “Where do you live? – I live in West Haven.” These and similar questions were introduced in the course book we followed. Answering these questions, while admittedly necessary, wasn’t particularly exciting because the answers were so obvious and predictable. My aim was to engage the students in more natural, relevant, and meaningful conversations. In pursuing this aim, I discovered that Russian is an incredibly difficult language to learn. Just kidding. … I discovered that I could get by with very little grammar or vocabulary. And I didn’t need a lot of time either. My class started at 8 am. The time slot between 7:55 and 8:05 was enough.

Achieving my aim was simple. All I did was ask questions, consistently and relentlessly, five minutes before and after the beginning of every single class. That’s it. No more, no less.

We started from “Как дела?” (How are you?) which, fortunately, is a very simple question in Russian. The students already knew two ways to answer this question, “Хорошо.” (Good / Fine.) and “Отлично.” (Excellent.) because I had been using these words to comment on their performance since the very beginning of the school year.

Little by little, I added more questions and answers basing them on the material covered in the book but making them more relevant. For example, the book introduced the conjugation of “хотеть” (to want) and used such examples as “I want to study Russian. / I want to live in Moscow.” I thought to myself, “How relevant are these sentences if they are already studying Russian and have never been to Moscow?” and added the following to my morning QA session, “Do you want to sleep?” – “Yes, I want to sleep,” which sounds very relevant in the morning, doesn’t it?

As a result, my students could have a conversation that went something like this:

 1 Some phrases might sound awkward in English because I am giving direct translation. 
2 Some phrases might look complicated in English but aren’t in Russian due to differences in grammar. 

If you think about it, this is a conversation you might actually have with your friend at the beginning of the day. I went through these questions at the beginning of every class, so the students got used to them and answered effortlessly. And the beauty part is the students enjoyed the freedom to vary their answers depending on the circumstances of the day, which made the conversations truly meaningful.

I consider these short conversations to be my proudest achievement in teaching Russian in one year. Helping students get there from scratch gave me the satisfaction that advanced groups don’t.

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Verbs worth spreading or how I work with TED talks

In this post, I am showing how I bring powerful verbs to my students’ attention with the help of TED talks. The post includes an exercise you can try doing here and now.

I have inexplicably taken a special liking to verbs recently. What’s inexplicable is why recently. Verbs are a powerful part of speech and deserve special attention.

Verbs are one of the reasons why English is so easy to start speaking. I am talking about basic verbs, like do / get / have / make. You can often substitute any verb with one of these and construct a correct, meaningful sentence. However, as you move along in mastering the language, these verbs turn into an obstacle. Because you can express almost anything using the basic ones, your brain resists using any others. These are, after all, correct. As a result, you get trapped – you want to progress to the next level, but your language lacks any verbal variety whatsoever and sounds disappointingly simple.

But enough chit-chat. Let’s see some powerful verbs in action.

I work with TED talks a lot. I work with advanced students a lot. Here is what I started doing with both recently.

I choose a TED talk for my students, we watch and do the usual listening for gist / listening for detail stuff. But then I give them a portion of the talk with gaps and say, “Try to fill in the gaps from memory. All the missing words are verbs, by the way.” They remember the ideas so what happens is they come up with verbs that suit the sentences, but the verbs are ‘bland’, like do / get / have / make / give / say. We then listen to check and our jaw drops at the diverse verb choices the speakers go for. To make sure the verbs remain engraved on my students’ minds, I ask them to give me the main idea of the passage using the verbal phrases* from the talk. After a couple of such jaw-dropping exercises, my students are on the constant lookout for powerful verbs and even engineer them into their speech.

 Now you try. Here is a ted talk by Ben Cameron “Why the live arts matter.” He is talking about the changes that live arts are undergoing due to technological progress. First, listen to the talk to get some context. Then read the two portions of the text and think of verbs you would use in the gaps. (Alternatively, you can try to fill in the gaps without listening first). Then listen to compare.

Portion 1 6:23-7:18

This double impact is occasioning a massive redefinition of the cultural market, a time when anyone is a potential author. Frankly, what we’re seeing now in this environment is a massive time, when the entire world is changing as we move from a time when audience numbers are ____________. But the number of arts participants, people who write poetry, who sing songs, who perform in church choirs, is ____________ beyond our wildest imaginations. This group, others have called the “pro ams,” amateur artists doing work at a professional level. You see them on YouTube, in dance competitions, film festivals and more. They are radically ___________ our notions of the potential of an aesthetic vocabulary, while they are challenging and ___________ the cultural autonomy of our traditional institutions. Ultimately, we now live in a world defined not by consumption, but by participation.

Portion 2 10:37-12:15 

Especially now, as we all must confront the fallacy of a market-only orientation, uninformed by social conscience; we must seize and celebrate the power of the arts to ___________ our individual and national characters, and especially characters of the young people, who all too often, are subjected to bombardment of sensation, rather than digested experience. Ultimately, especially now in this world, where we live in a context of regressive and onerous immigration laws, in reality TV that ___________ on humiliation, and in a context of analysis, where the thing we hear most repeatedly, day-in, day-out in the United States, in every train station, every bus station, every plane station is, “Ladies and gentlemen, please ___________ any suspicious behavior or suspicious individuals to the authorities nearest you,” when all of these ways we are encouraged to __________ our fellow human being with hostility and fear and contempt and suspicion.

The arts, whatever they do, whenever they call us together, invite us to look at our fellow human being with generosity and curiosity. God knows, if we ever needed that capacity in human history, we need it now. You know, we’re bound together, not, I think by technology, entertainment and design, but by common cause. We work to _____________ healthy vibrant societies, to ____________ human suffering, to ____________ a more thoughtful, substantive, empathic world order.

How many verbs did you get right? Did you come up with some powerful verbs? Was your verb use diverse?

*I am focusing on verbs in this post, but verbs should be memorized as part of a phrase, in combination with a noun. I have highlighted the examples of such phrases in Ben Cameron’s talk.

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The phone that transformed the way I work

In this post, I am giving insights into how Blackberry PRIV has transformed the way I work.

I used to be very old-school. I used to own phones that could only make calls and send messages. I used to think that smartphones were just toys. That was until January 2017, when I got a new phone – a smartphone, which has completely transformed the way I work. Please give it up for my current phone – BlackBerry PRIV!

What has changed?

First and foremost, PRIV comes with a physical keyboard, thanks to which I have started writing consistently. The physical keyboard is so convenient that I can easily type long texts. I have never written so much in my entire life, even though I have a blog which dates back to May 2013. Writing used to to require a lot of discipline because I had to sit in front of the computer and focus. I now enjoy the freedom of writing in any place and at any time – on the metro (sitting at off-peak times or standing in the rush hour), at an airport (killing time waiting for my flight), on the plane (when there is absolutely nothing to do without internet connection), you name it.

Second, PRIV comes with Android OS, which means that all Google services are pre-installed and ready to use. As a result, I have started writing on Google Docs, which means everything I write on my phone is available on all my other devices and vice versa. Additionally, I collaborate with students on their writing on Google Docs. More often than not, I do it on my phone. I encourage my students to write a lot and they do. Collaborating with them on Google Docs saves me masses of time.

Third, PRIV and Google Docs allow me to create beautifully-formatted documents with portions of texts underlined, put in italics, highlighted, or changed in any way I need. Text formatting is of paramount importance for me because I create my own handouts for class on a regular basis. Let me give you an example of how I do it on my new phone. Say, I have a Ted talk in mind for my students. On the way to the office, I go to ted.com, copy the script, paste it into a Google Doc, type several listening-for-gist questions at the beginning, create a gap-fill exercise, type a wordlist, type several discussion questions at the end, and by the time I get to the office, I have a handout that is completely ready to be printed out.

Last but not least, PRIV is helping me to go paperless. I used to print out a ‘teacher’s copy’ of every handout I was using (a copy with all the answers, for my own use). I don’t any more. Most of ‘teacher’s copies’ are on my phone and I don’t have to carry around or store piles of paper.

I didn’t expect a smartphone to revolutionize the way I work. But there is no denying that it did. I absolutely love my Blackberry PRIV. It allows me to do more and be more.

 

Photos by Irina Lutsenko

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Proudly presenting my student’s essay

In this post, I am presenting an IELTS essay my student wrote in response to an article we discussed. He did such a great job that I couldn’t help sharing.

 

Remember last week I wrote a post about how I tried walking in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework? Well, the student did his homework (which I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt he would). In this post, I want to share it with you.

First, let me introduce the student. His name is Nikita Videnkov, he is a 21-year old engineering student, who has been having one-to-one classes with me for about 3-4 years. His primary purpose is to improve his language skills, but he is also thinking of taking IELTS, so we do IELTS-format tasks on a regular basis.

Second, to those of you who aren’t my students I have to explain that my homework worded “write an essay” is usually followed by homework worded “rewrite your essay.” I believe that writing is 90% rewriting and make my students rewrite their work.

Third, let me give you some context. We were discussing the article called “Phoney war” (New Scientist, 25 January 2017), which deals with end-to-end encryption and its importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with the following essay topic for Nikita: “Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

Finally, I am proudly presenting two versions of Nikita’s essay in this post:

1) Version 1 – ‘as is,’ completely intact; I have highlighted the parts I wanted him to edit.

2) Version 2 – revised based on my comments; I have highlighted the edited parts.

You are now all set to read the essays.

Version 1

Some people claim that total privacy of communications must be provided for every user, while others believe that such freedom compromises public security and private data should be accessible for authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their secrets safe. It results in people’s desire to use services with encryption, which keep data safe during transmission. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net where others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases, when terrorists used messengers with end-to-end encryption which resulted in many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent it since they didn’t have back-doors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks provoked reasonable discussion between authorities on mandating companies to lessen the encryption level and to give the government the access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, I believe that every person has a right to keep their personal information secured. To fulfill that right government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, the government has to provide public safety, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to crack data of any suspicious person to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

266 words

Version 2

Some people claim that every user must be guaranteed total privacy of communications, while others believe that such guarantee compromises public security and private data should be accessible to authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their personal information safe, which results in people’s desire to use services with encryption that keep data hidden from third party. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net because others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases of terrorists using messengers with end-to-end encryption to organize attacks, which caused many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent those since they did not have backdoors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks initiated the discussion between authorities and software companies about mandating the latter to lessen the encryption level and to give the government access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, every person has the right to keep their personal information secured. To protect that right, the government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, I believe that public safety is more important, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to circumvent the encryption to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

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Nikita did a great job on both versions, didn’t he? If you have any questions for him, you can contact him on Facebook or Vkontakte.

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I try walking in my student’s shoes and write an IELTS essay

In this post, I am sharing an essay I wrote in IELTS format. I make my students write a lot of essays, but I myself don’t often practice what I preach. So I decided to walk in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework.

I have a question to all the teachers out there – how often do you write essays in English? I mean essays in IELTS / TOEFL / GRE or any similar format. (Please message me – I’d love some kind of statistics). I have to confess, I don’t*. But I make my students write a lot. Which might be a little unfair, don’t you think?

That’s what I thought when I was on a bus from my home town back to St Petersburg yesterday (a 4-hour journey). I had nothing to do, so my mind began to wander until suddenly it stumbled upon the essay topic I gave my student on Thursday.

We were discussing the article called Phoney war (New Scientist, 25 January 2017). The articles deals with the questions of end-to-end encryption and it’s importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with an essay topic for my student (a very diligent, Advanced level student who is going to take IELTS in the future).

Anyway, my mind stumbled upon this topic and started working frantically. Since I had nothing to do on the bus, not only did I decide to write this essay, I actually went through with it. The result is just a couple of lines below.

The essay is in ‘as is’ condition, which means I haven’t edited it since I got off the bus. Neither did I use dictionaries, Google or other resource outside my brain when writing it. Honestly.

“Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

It is commonly believed that people must have the right to unlimited privacy of communications. However, it can also be argued that exercising this right can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of public safety and officials must therefore be granted access to all online communications. In this essay, I shall discuss both these views and give my own opinion.

On the one hand, expectation of privacy is intrinsic to different spheres of people’s life, including online communication. Whenever people send private messages, they expect them to be read by the recipient only. Private messages are a safe environment, in which people feel free to express the views that they might not feel comfortable expressing publicly for reasons such as fear of discrimination or political oppression. If people do not resort to means of public communication, they must be granted the right to keep their communications secret.

On the other hand, authorities take a dim view of not being able to read private communications as it prevents them from ensuring public safety. The reasoning behind this view is compelling since end-to-end encrypted messages open up a range of opportunities for terrorists to plan and execute terrorist attacks. Having access to messages of terrorists or crime suspects would enable law enforcement to prevent crime and save people’s lives. Privacy can therefore be sacrificed for the sake of security.

To conclude, both approaches in the ‘privacy versus security’ debate are valid. While granting the authorities keys to open any communications would violate people’s rights, not doing so might result in deaths of innocent people. In my opinion, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the responsibility of evaluating each case lying with the court.

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Disclaimer: This essay was written as a response to a task and does not fully represent my personal opinion.

I now have two questions:

How did I do?

How often do you think teachers should write essays?

*In my defense, I write a blog in English and I actually wrote a lot of essays one week before each IELTS / TOEFL test I took.

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What I do on Sunday mornings or Dasha’s Speaking Club

In this post, I am talking about how I prevent my speaking skills from going rusty.

With language, it’s use it or lose it. Language skills, speaking in particular, go rusty in a flash. Teachers are not an exception here; let’s face it, teachers’ speaking skills deteriorate too (for a variety reasons that I won’t go into now). Sitting around and complaining is a tempting, but counterproductive approach to solving this problem. In this post, I am going to talk about the solution my colleague and I came up with to stop our speaking skills from going rusty.

… It all started on a gloomy, hopeless, rainy November afternoon from Dasha’s message. The message went like this, “How about starting our very own speaking club? We could meet once a week (Skype, of course) and just talk about stuff. What do you say?” I jumped in excitement and immediately replied, “I’m in!” We discussed the possible time and scheduled a session for Sunday 10 am.

You are now probably wondering who the hell Dasha is. Dasha, officially known as Daria Maslovskaya, is this top-notch English teacher, author of the blog and website Anglofeel. We went to university together.

So, the speaking club…

Being experienced teachers, we knew full well that we needed a foundation and ‘just speaking’ wasn’t going to work. We went for Ted talks as these are topical and can easily spark lengthy discussions. Other materials will work too. (We are trying New Scientist today. We’ll see how that goes.)

We have gradually arrived at the following procedure, which has proven effective.

First, 2-3 days before the session, we give each other links to talks we find thought-provoking or insightful. As we watch the talks, we take notes of useful vocabulary or ideas we want to discuss. We then put our notes in a collaborative online doc. (I try to create topic word lists, which I write by hand first. I’m going to let you take a peek at one at the end of the post). As we discuss the talks, we do our best to use the words from our word lists. Vocabulary use is pretty much inevitable if you have the words right in front of your eyes and try to use them really hard. Each session lasts 1,5 hours, which is long enough to discuss 2 talks. At first, it was only two of us, Dasha and I, but we are occasionally joined by other people we went to university with.

And that’s it. It’s that simple. Granted, what I am describing now sounds old-school and unoriginal. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – the simplest methods that you put a lot of effort into work better than complicated methods that involve zero effort from you.

The initial purpose of the Speaking Club was to keep up our English level. Surprisingly, it turned into something more. It became a kind of support group. We discuss how to set and achieve goals, be more productive, develop new habits and things like that. We didn’t intend to at first, but these are the topics Ted talks deal with, we have no choice :). More importantly, we support each other in doing those things and hold each other to our intentions.

Can you do it, too? Absolutely! Contact your English-speaking friends, set the time (be strong, no cancellations!), decide on the resources and Godspeed!

Here is what my notes look like. This word list is based on the talk by Steven Johnson “Where good ideas come from” and deals with the topic of ideas.

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