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.

269 words

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.

286 words

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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Give editing the attention it deserves

I decided to strike while the iron was hot and wrote a post based on my student’s guest post. In my post, I am talking about the editing part of writing.

Give editing the attention it deserves or the joy of collaborating with Nadya Borisova

This post is inspired by the guest post Nadya Borisova wrote for me “Academic IELTS without a degree in linguistics” (Part 1 and Part 2). She wrote the whole thing, while I got to comment and edit. Editing is a critical, yet underestimated part of writing. In this post, I want to give this part the attention it deserves and talk about how Nadya and I collaborated on editing her post.

The guest post idea.

Being a teacher, I write about exams and language learning from a teacher perspective (naturally). I claim to know the right thing to do and demand that my students do what I say. But my students don’t always do what I demand or recommend. One reason could be that, as a teacher, I am not always able to put myself in my students’ shoes and adequately assess their needs. Additionally, to be brutally honest, IELTS 9 (my score) is out of reach for most students, so my success story might not be particularly inspiring. At the same time, most test takers or potential test takers will relate to my students’ success stories. So I thought, “Why don’t I share them on my blog?” and offered my IELTS 8 student to describe her success story (in English, naturally).

She did!

The mere fact of a student writing 5(!) pages of original and meaningful material in English was already enough to make me go ecstatic. But I actually derived even more pleasure out of it – the pleasure of editing.

The editing procedure.

Stage 1. 

I read the whole piece to get the main idea. As I was reading it, I paid attention to the title, the sections, the way the informations was organized, and the length. I commented on those aspects and Nadezhda replied.

Stage 2.

I gave the piece a second read, paying attention to the content this time. I wanted to cut the piece by about 1 page and looked for things that could be sacrificed or expressed more concisely. I also tried to figure out whether the information was clear to the potential reader (people who have never taken IELTS or those who have but didn’t get the required score). I made some suggestions, which we discussed.

Stage 3.

When I was completely satisfied with the content and the organization, I turned my attention to the language. I tried to keep Nadya’’s piece as “hers” as possible and did not correct all of the mistakes or inappropriacies. In terms of grammar, I mostly corrected articles, prepositions, and tense use a couple of times. We fixed some sentence structures. The vocabulary is mostly untouched, I didn’t want to mess it up. Here are some examples of Nadya’s vocabulary use that I liked:

  • You have to keep in mind that you cannot achieve overnight success in learning a language.
  • But hey, IELTS is a language test after all!
  • Remember, you’re on a tight schedule.
  • All teachers always say: planning is a must.

By the way, these examples show that Nadya learned English from authentic resources and didn’t use a Russian-English dictionary when writing her post. How? Well, this fascinating topic actually deserves a post of its own. Let’s continue with our story now.

Stage 4.

Nadya and I each gave the document a final read, resolving any final comments and edits.

The time it all took.

The work was thorough on both sides and therefore time-consuming. I first messaged Nadezhda on 28 December, I received the first draft on 9 January and we finished editing on 22 January. Choosing the title took the longest and looked like this:

The title that we decided to stick to with was the version that Nadezhda came up with 1 day before we published the post, completely out of the blue.

The joy and power of collaboration.

Here is why I enjoyed working with Nadya immensely.

First and foremost, she met the challenge fearlessly and responsibly.

Additionally, Nadya was open to my suggestions and didn’t take offence at my edits. Nor she didn’t expect me to just correct or rewrite her sentences (which many students do, but no, I don’t rewrite students’ works). I actually wrote all of my suggestions in the comment boxes and she corrected everything herself.

Finally, we were both invested in this post and both worked consistently to improve it. The end result is more concise, understandable, and relatable.

The takeaway.

I know there are a lot of you out there who face writing university or grant applications every once in a while. My advice to you is:

If you write something long and important, give it a month, have somebody else read it, take their suggestions into account and be ready to rewrite your piece multiple times. Give editing the attention it deserves!

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Academic IELTS 8 without a degree in linguistics. Part 2.

This is the second part of the guest post by my student Nadya Borisova. This time she is going to talk about Writing and Speaking, as well as share online IELTS preparation resources.

Part 2. Writing and Speaking. Resources.

In Part 1, I talked about my background, preparation time, reading and listening skills. Now I want to talk about the active sections, Writing and Speaking.

Writing

Here comes the tough one. Last time I got 7.0 for Writing. I used Irina’s help, and I can’t stress it enough, you need a look from another person to tell you what you do right and wrong.

In Task 1 the hardest thing for me was to decide what’s important and what’s not. I practiced a lot with Irina, and now I feel more comfortable with distinguishing meaningful information from the less important on the graph or pie chart.

The best tip I got for Task 2 is the way you brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I got a topic and I was stuck as I didn’t know what to say. IELTS essay questions are in a formal style, so I tried to think about my arguments and reasons academically, which is, of course, not easy. But then I read about “the cafe technique”. The point is, imagine yourself in a cafe with a friend talking about this topic. What are you going to tell them? I’m pretty sure, you’ll come up with a couple of ideas fast enough. Now the only thing left is to structure your ideas and write them down.

And here goes the most important part: planning. All teachers always say planning is a must. If you’ve made a plan, you’ve made the whole essay, and all you have to do is to write down your sentences. Some are afraid that if they waste five minutes on planning, they will not be able to finish the actual writing in the given time. You don’t need to worry about being late. Let’s count:

You are supposed to spend 40 minutes on Task 2 and write 250+ words. You also need to check your writing in the end. Say, you spend ten minutes on planning and five on checking. This leaves you with 25 minutes to write 250 words, which means you have one minute to write ten words, six seconds for each one. That’s a lot of time, really. Don’t take my word for it, just try to see how much time you need to write a sentence.

Speaking

I didn’t do very well in the first exam, I panicked and really couldn’t say a word, even though I practiced hard. The second time was easier, I got 7.5 for Speaking in 2016. Actually I think I could have got 8.0, but in the middle of Part 2, when I was talking about Andy Weir’s The Martian, I forgot the English word for “эксперименты”. Happens :).

The examiners are not your enemies, nor do they want to give you a lower score. Their job is to evaluate your performance, nothing more. So look at them as friends or neighbors you’re talking to on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Speaking’s all about you, your passion and emotions. One of my friends got a topic about travelling. In Part 2 he was asked to talk about an auto or moto trip he had been on. And in real life he’s a hopeless motorcycle lover. Guess what? He got 8.0 for Speaking. I know that his grammar is not quite perfect, but I can imagine the passion he talked with.

And TED Talks again. You know, many times you get a topic like “climate change” and you have absolutely no idea what to say. Now, with TED Talks you can learn something new on topics that are common in IELTS in an easy way, because the info in talks is easy to digest, compared to reading an encyclopedia. For example, here is an inspiring talk by Al Gore on climate change.

Do you need to insert a phrasal verb, proverb or a fancy expression into every sentence you say? No. Definitely no. Your speech would sound unnatural, meaning you’re not actually able to command the language properly. If you want proof, go talk to your friend in a cafe and try to saturate your speech in your native language with proverbs and fancy expressions. The look on your friend’s face will tell you everything.

To sum up

Practice. Practice. And practice a little bit more. You can do tremendous work on your own. You probably don’t need help to prepare for Listening and Reading, but in Writing and Speaking you do. I suggest you have a teacher to help you with these two sections.

Top 5 free resources to prepare for IELTS

BBC radio — several online radio stations. And yes, they speak proper British English.

engvid.com — about 1,000 videos on how to take IELTS, how to master grammar and enlarge your vocabulary. My favorite teacher is Adam.

eslpod — podcasts brought to you from beautiful Los Angeles, California. The host explains new vocab as well as tells stories about american history and famous people.

TED Talks — short inspiring talks on various topics: culture, climate, equal rights, arts and everything else.

IELTS Advantage with Chris Pell — free lessons and paid classes from an experienced teacher.

That’s my IELTS journey. Please feel free to ask questions, if you have any, as I love sharing IELTS tips and can talk about the test for ages. You can contact me on VK or Facebook

This was a guest post from my student Nadya Borisova, which I think she did a tremendous job on! Kudos and thanks, Nadya!

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Academic IELTS 8 without a degree in linguistics. Part 1.

I am thrilled to present a guest post by my student Nadezhda Borisova, in which she shares her IELTS journey to Band Score 8 (Academic). In the first part, she is going to talk about her background, preparation time, listening and reading skills.

Part 1. Background and Preparation time. Listening and Reading.

Hi there, my name is Nadya Borisova, and I’d like to share my experience in getting 8.0 in IELTS Academic as well as my list of top-5 resources for preparation. My first attempt was in 2014, with the second one following two years later.

My background

Two years ago I worked as an IT recruiter, now I’m a copywriter. I don’t have a university degree in languages, nor did I go to the school focused on English language. I went to an ordinary school with two hours of English a week. Most of the learning after that, I did on my own.

I took my first exam not because I needed a certain band score to enrol to a university. I just wanted a clear understanding of my level. I wanted to know exactly where I was. So I tried a mock IELTS test with no preparation at all, got Overall 5.0, and decided to get better results in a real one.

Preparation time

I think setting a clear deadline is crucial. You can prepare for an exam forever, but you need the result by some point in time, right?

I personally gave myself three months to prepare both times. For me it’s ideal timing. More makes me lazy, every day I think, “I still have a lot of time, I’ll start tomorrow”. Less, I may not have enough time to actually improve my scores significantly. For you timing might work differently, but still, I suggest you give yourself enough time and set the exact test date. Booking your place in advance might be a good idea.

You have to keep in mind that you cannot achieve overnight success in learning a language. Like in a gym, you have to grow your language muscles by working out every day. The process is not easy, nor is it quick. There’s no magic, only hard work… and a little bit of luck at the test. A significant part of your score is how familiar you are with the test, how well you know the techniques and approaches. But hey, IELTS is a language test after all!

Listening

I got 9.0 for Listening last time, and to be honest, I was surprised. I knew I was good at listening, but I thought I actually made a couple of mistakes.

There are lots of online radio stations and podcasts available that are helpful in IELTS prep. I listened to BBC Radio. Tried CNN, but didn’t really like it. I also listened to TED Talks, and I must say that gave me a huge improvement. Not only did I learn to understand different accents from all over the world, but I also got lots of valuable information for speaking topics.

One more tip is to learn to move on if you missed some answer. This is a must. You missed an answer — go ahead.

Lastly, don’t be surprised or distracted if you’ve answered the last question in the section and the recording still goes on. Such situations are common, so nothing to worry about. Focus on the next task instead of trying to find where you’ve done something wrong. Remember, you’re on a tight schedule.

Reading

One more 9.0, which was not a surprise for me. I like to read, and by the time of the exam I was reading in English just as easily as in Russian. So I can advise reading books you like, no matter what genre. Every time I needed to learn something, say, related to my work, I opened Wikipedia and — yes! — read this article in English.

A good idea is to learn how to scan a text for dates, names and other keywords, which makes some questions really easy to answer and gives you more time to focus on harder ones.

Finally, a small thing which is not related to the language knowledge at all, but which improved my scores in Listening and Reading significantly. I often made mistakes while transferring answers from the question booklet to the answer sheet. Even when I circled answer B in the booklet, somehow in my answer sheet I put C or D. So I started not only to circle the right answer, but actually write down the letter in the booklet near the question. Believe it or not, this improved my mark at least by 0.5.

To sum up

You can prepare for Listening and Reading on your own. Truth is, you need to work hard. You need to surround yourself with English, which will help you to get high marks in Listening and Reading sections. You can prepare for free as there are lots of online resources.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where Nadya is going to talk about Speaking and Writing.

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All my applications or the value of failure

In this post, I am looking at my successes and failures. The failures have taught me valuable lessons though, which I am also sharing.

If you are one of my students, you probably have heard me say, “There are lot of grants and competitions out there. Apply for everything you see. Apply, apply, apply.”  Well, do I practice what I preach?

In this post, I want you to take a look at my applications/ submissions / competitions and analyze the success to failure ratio. I also want to tell you what I learned from my failures. I certainly hope that my story serves as an inspiration to persist and try, try, try again.

Here is my application history over the last years:

2013 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Communicative Assessment course by British Council – failed

2014 Russian Language Assistant program in the UK – failed

2014 Cambridge English Teacher Scholarship – failed

2014 IELTS Morgan Terry Memorial Scholarship – failed

2014 Essay Contest “Inspiring Teachers” – partly succeeded (Didn’t win, but was shortlisted as a finalist, got a certificate, a book, and my essay was published in a serous journal.)

2015 Guest blog post submission on OUP ELT Global Blog – succeeded (My post was published.)

2015 Essay Contest “My Inspiring Summer” – failed

2014-2015 Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program – succeeded!

Here is what learned from my failures:

Lesson 1: Creating a relevant, powerful, and unique piece of writing takes me 2-4 weeks. The next time I decide to apply for something important, I will start well in advance.

Lesson 2: Producing a linguistically excellent, but purely informational 500-word essay takes me 1-2 hours. I can write fast in order to meet a deadline. What I write fast might have little value. 

Lesson 3: The more applications I write, the easier it is for me to write them. Having written a lot of applications in the sphere of teaching, I have a lot of ready-to-use ideas, which makes writing each new application easier. (That said, I don’t write the same thing in all my applications. But before I write each new one, I do a lot of brainstorming, which is where I have all my ideas from.)

Lesson 4: Failing at one thing doesn’t mean failing at all things. Failing one time doesn’t mean failing all the time. Having failed so often, I am not discouraged by the possibility of failure. In the end, I have not only failed, I have succeeded as well.

Lesson 5: Failure is a sign that I didn’t do my utmost or my utmost is not what the world needs. So I learned and am still learning not to focus on myself and the way I see the world. I learned and am still learning to be open to new ideas, to explore, to move forward, to look at other people’s points of view, to look at my points of views from a different angle. I learned and am still learning to think outside the box.

 

When I won the Fulbright grant, my friends and students supported me, saying “This is a remarkable achievement! You have been selected out of hundreds of participants!” It’s true. Participating in Fulbright FLTA program really is a remarkable achievement and my proudest success story. But behind this success story, there are numerous failures that people don’t know about. What these failures have taught me is not to give up, but to try, try, try again.

I am going to persist and keep applying, submitting, competing. So should you. Don’t give up, but apply, apply, apply!

P.S. Here is a quote about success and failure I like by Michael Jordan. I have no connection to basketball whatsoever, by the way, I just like the quote =).

FailureQuoteMJordan

http://quotesgram.com/img/michael-jordan-famous-failure-quotes/9437344/ 

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Living in an English-speaking country and your English level

In this post, I am explaining why living in an English-speaking country might not lead to fluency in English and what to do so that it does.

Why living in an English-speaking country doesn’t automatically improve your English level and how to make sure it does

First, I want to clarify a couple of things.

  • This post is about non-native speakers who go abroad for a longer period than an ordinary tourist trip, for example, to work or study.
  • This post serves to bust the myth that “Learning English in your home country isn’t effective anyway. As soon as I get to an English-speaking country, my English level will skyrocket in the blink of an eye.”
  • This post is based on personal experience of living in the USA for a year, so I am going to use English and Russian but the ideas are probably true for other languages and countries too.

So why doesn’t it?

– You are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of language you are exposed to. When you arrive, you are instantaneously immersed in English. You speak English to your colleagues, bus drivers, cashiers, and bankers. You read pages of contracts and manuals. You come across massive amounts of new language and familiar language used in unfamiliar ways. And you aren’t able to absorb all of it fast just because it’s too much. In the end, the more you learn in your home country, the less overwhelmed you are and the more new language you can absorb.

– Learning English is not your priority. Before you worry about the improvement of your English level, you worry about everyday things like, renting an apartment, getting settled at your job, setting up a bank account, buying health insurance etc. You are happy that you found an apartment, there is furniture in it and everything works. You sigh with relief and forget about learning all the new words you came across along the way. When you learn a language in your home country, on the other hand, you focus on it. Teachers and course books make you practice certain language material, which makes learning more effective.

– You keep using your native language regularly. Voluntarily. You speak Russian with your friends and family on Skype; you probably keep reading Russian news and watch Russian television; you find Russian speakers in your area and spend time with them. People underestimate how hard it is to speak a foreign language 24/7 and how stressful it is not to speak your native language. But now it’s possible – and very tempting – to be completely immersed in Russian even while living in an English-speaking country. I’d say this point is by far the largest obstacle on your way to significant improvement of your English level!

– Native speakers you are communicating with don’t correct your mistakes. Of course, they don’t. Error correction breaks the flow of the conversation and exchange of ideas. Your mistakes might remain mistakes.

– Language, just like everything else, doesn’t improve magically. You have to put effort into improving it regardless of whether you are in Russia or in the USA. You have to put effort into learning new vocabulary, you have to pay attention to the phrases people use in different social situations, you have to look after your grammar.

So how do you make sure it does?

– Keep your ears open and pay special attention to the way people speak. Otherwise you will keep speaking the way you have spoken before, which might not have been perfect.

– Take notes. Take notes of any new language you come across on your phone, laptop, and on paper. “I will remember this” is an illusion.

– If you find yourself being exposed to more Russian than English, go out and do stuff. Go to public lectures, workshops, on guided tours; join a club, join a group class at the gym; volunteer.

– If you find yourself spending all your time with Russians and speaking Russian, one thing you can do is make sure there is always at least one person with you who doesn’t speak Russian. It’ll stop you from speaking Russian even with Russians (speaking your native language in front of people who don’t speak it is extremely impolite). At the same time, it’s not weird (while speaking English with Russians for no other purpose than ‘for practice’ often is).

Be active and get out of your comfort zone. For example, if you are lost, ask a police office or a passer-by for directions rather than use a map on your phone. Using a map on your phone feels more comfortable, but is less beneficial to your speaking skills.

To conclude, of course living in an English-speaking country does help you to improve your English level. But it won’t work unless you do.

nothingwillwork2

http://www.designlovefest.com/2015/01/dress-your-tech-78/

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The benefits of being a Fulbrighter

In this post, I am elaborating on what makes participating in Fulbright FLTA program an experience of a lifetime.

The benefits of being a Fulbrighter (based on personal experience)

The benefits of participating in Fulbright FLTA program are numerous and I am only giving a small portion here. (If you need some background on my participation in the program, read this and this.) Here goes:

– You meet lots of great people.

Before you even leave for the USA, you meet your fellow FLTAs from your own country. Applicants go through a rigorous selection process, so the ones that do get selected are intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and a lot of fun. Then you meet your fellow FLTAs from all over the world. Again, you meet intelligent, creative, enthusiastic, and fun people, but this time there is an added benefit of meeting people from other cultures (around 50 countries all told). You get a chance to see these people dance national dances, wear national clothes, and try authentic home-cooked national foods. The experience just opens your eyes to how fascinating and diverse the world is.

– You get first-hand experience of American education from two perspectives: as a teacher and as a student.

I did all the mundane things students do – I took notes in classes, did homework, wrote quizzes, sat exams, worried about my grades, checking blackboard 3 times a day, just like an average American student.

At the same time, I did all the mundane things teachers do – I graded homework, assessed exams, filled in online attendance after every class and so on. Fortunately, I got a lot of guidance and support from Professor Daria Kirjanov, who not only shared all her materials with me, but also gave me insights into what to expect from students and how to deal with any issues that arose.

– You get first-hand experience of American life.

Let me give you just some examples of things I got first-hand experience of. In the USA, everything is well-organized and made convenient for people. Everything starts and finishes exactly on time. Mass transit is not very well-developed (at least compared to Russia) because people don’t need it because they go everywhere by cars. When you get on the bus, you have to have exact change because tickets machines or drivers don’t give change. You get a grocery store discount even if you don’t have the store card. People hold doors and give up their places in lines for you. Everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities, is included and respected.

– You improve your English skills significantly.

First and foremost, living in an English-speaking country for a year definitely boosts your fluency and breaks down the speaking barrier that most learners of English have even if they have been learning English for 10 years. Additionally, you learn real-life and natural language that you don’t always find in books. I don’t think any book I’ve ever used to learn or teach English introduced the phrase Have a good one! (which means “Have a nice day” or simply “Bye”). Or, Are you all set? (which means something like “Do you need anything?” or “Can I help you?”). Or, I’m good. (which means, “I don’t need anything, thank you.”). All these phrases are ubiquitous in the USA, yet they aren’t usually taught in books.

– You develop professionally in the direction you like without the pressure of completing a degree or graduating.

 Since I write a blog, I wanted to improve my writing skills and took “Speaking and Writing for Professionals” and “Introduction to Creative Writing”. Since I was not very confident about my speaking skills, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take “Introduction to Public Speaking and Group Discussion”. And I did it just for me, just because I wanted to.


– You can travel the country more cheaply and effectively.

Fulbrighters are scattered all over the country. So when you travel, you can stay at their places saving money on hotels and time on researching what to see in the area. I might never have visited Oregon, if it wasn’t for an FLTA there.

– This is just my personal benefit: I did everything I had on my bucket list during my Fulbright year!

There were only two things though: 1. See whales (which I did on both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean!); 2. See Mayan pyramids (which I did because a fellow FLTA suggested going to Mexico during the winter break!).

To cut a long story short, there are myriads of benefits of being a Fulbright FLTA on many levels, definitely more than I’ve described. Feel free to expand my list in the comments!

Lutsenko_benefits

Some of my Fulbright memories. 
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My Fulbright year: what, where, when

In this post, I am going into detail about my participation in Fulbright FLTA program.

And now I’m back, with a backpack of new experiences, inspiration, knowledge, and ready to write, write, write!

I went to the USA for my Fulbright FLTA experience on 8 August 2015 and returned on 4 June 2016. The experience was great, fantastic, eye-opening, mind-blowing, developmental and many other positive adjectives. But first, some facts: where exactly did I go and what exactly did I do?

Good news: On 30 April 2015, I got an email, which made me jump and yell triumphantly. It started,“Congratulations! You have been selected for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) Program.” In August, I went to teach Russian and study at University of New Haven (West haven, Connecticut, USA). (More about my Fulbright application).

University: University of New Haven (UNH for short) has a student body of 5,000-10,000 students. Most of the people taking Russian at UNH have one of (or both of) these two majors: criminal justice and national security.

Location: UNH is located in a small town of West Haven, which is very conveniently located and has good transport links. New York City is only a 2-hour train ride away and Yale is only a 10-minute bus ride away.

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Housing: I lived in university housing, in a two-floor shared house. My roommate* had some kind of office job at the university. The house was a 30-minute walking distance from the university or a 10-minute bus/car ride. There was a university shuttle service and I was also provided with a free local bus pass. (Although I didn’t have to walk, I often did.)

*(In the USA, they use the word “roommate” to mean someone who shares accommodation with you, not necessarily a room. Me and my roommate had our own separate bedrooms).

Teaching: I was a primary teacher at beginner level, teaching 3 times a week at 8 am. Additionally, I had office hours (6 hours a week), Russian tables (2 hours a week) and in spring semester I taught a “language lab” on Russian émigré writers and poets of the 20th century (which I absolutely loved!). I also took part in and / or helped organize film and culture festivals as a representative of Russian culture.

Studying:  As part of the program, we were required to take at least 2 courses per semester, one of which had to be in US Studies and the other three had to be related to our professional development as teachers of English. I took all 4 courses on credit basis, which means I did all coursework, took exams and was assessed on the same basis as every other student enrolled in the course. The courses I took and the grades I got: Speaking and Writing for Professionals (A+), Public Speaking and Group Discussion (A -), Introduction to Creative Writing (A+), American History since 1607 (A).

Finances: The grant covered everything: housing, meals, university tuition, travel to and from host institution, and a medical insurance. I also got a monthly stipend, which wasn’t large, but given that everything else was provided, I could save up for traveling.

I think that pretty much covers the everyday specifics of my Fulbright year. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. The next post will be on the benefits of being a Fulbrighter, stay tuned!

Disclaimer: Every Fulbrighter has a different story to tell. This is just my personal experience and the details of my participation in the program. 

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