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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10,000 hours of English

Being a teacher of English, I deal with piles of course books on a daily basis. The course books are really engaging these days (hats off to the authors!) and I inevitably draw a lot of inspiration from them. Sometimes a single sentence can start a long train of thought. In this post, I want to give you an example of one such train.

Lesson 9A in English File Intermediate (Third Edition) centers around the topic of luck. In this lesson the students read a text called ‘A question of luck?’ which explains why certain people become extraordinarily successful and what factors contribute to their success. Have a look at the final paragraph of the text:

I don’t know about the specific number – 10,000 hours – but the theory makes a lot of sense for language learning.

When deciding to embark on a wonderful journey of learning English, many students pin their hopes on the teacher (after all, it’s a qualified and experienced professional) and the course book (after all, it was written by a team of qualified and experienced professionals). Unfortunately, just going to classes and following a course book is not enough. You do need to put in a lot of extra hours to become a successful language learner.

(Oh, don’t give me the old excuse of having very little free time. It’s lame. And you know it.)

I now want to talk about how you can (and should) effortlessly increase the amount of time you spend on English.

We’ll need to do a little math here. Let’s say you have English classes 2 times a week and each class is 1,5 hours long. That’s 3 hours of English a week. If you don’t do anything else – that’s just 3 for you. However, you can (and should) do the following:

  • Do your homework. That’s at least 1 hour per week. I love giving my students ‘enormous’ (in their words) homework. That’s at least 1-2 hours more. Add: 3 hours.

When I say 1 hour, I mean doing the bare minimum – your workbook exercises. The ‘enormous’ homework I give usually involves learning things by heart, retelling, preparing talks and/or writing.

  • Start your day with a TED talk. These are short – 15 minutes on average, which gives you around 2 hours more per week if you start every day from listening to a TED talk. Add: 2 hours. 

TED talks are great, I love them. They are short, professional and there are a myriad of them on any topic. All of them are downloadable and are accompanied by an interactive transcript. I share links to my favorite talks on my social media profiles: facebookgoogle+ and vk

  • Read or listen to something in English on your way to work / school. Read a book if you go by metro or listen to an audio book if you go by car. Optimistically speaking, your way to work takes 30 minutes, multiply it by 2 and then by 5. Add: 5 hours. 

At this point you might be itching to say that reading books in English is hard. But you are in luck – it doesn’t have to be! There are literary hundreds of abridged books for all levels – from Beginner to Advanced. All major publishers of educational materials for ELT have such series – MacmillanOxford, Longman. All of these books are accompanied by CDs. You see, reading in English can be easy and enjoyable. 

  • Watch a series and/or a film in English. Most episodes of most series are only 20 minutes long, but let’s say you pause from time to time to check vocabulary, so it’s 30 minutes. One episode each day multiplied by 5 working days gives you 2,5 hours. At the weekend, watch a film. Add: 4,5 hours. 

Again, if you are itching to say that watching films in the original is challenging, I have a couple of counter-arguments at hand. First off, most films and series show everyday life and are therefore quite simple. If they are not, start from watching them with subtitles (English, of course) and move on to switching them off later. Or, watch something you’ve already seen in your own language. This way you won’t have to focus on understanding what’s happening and will be able to concentrate on the language. 

  • Do a little extra speaking. Find an English-speaking partner online, speak to your friends, join a Speaking Club. Add:1,5 hours.

There are plenty of websites that give you an opportunity to find teachers and learners of English from all over the world. Some of my students allocate time to speaking English with their friends just for extra practice. As for Speaking Clubs, finding one to join won’t be a problem as most language schools have them nowadays. 

  • Let’s throw in an additional hour for times when you check some vocabulary and/or make notes. Add: 1 hour.

Let’s add all the hours now, shall we? 17 additional hours of English! Plus 3 hours of classes with a teacher. Combined, they total 20 hours of English a week!

It is overwhelmingly obvious that students who put in 20 hours of English a week will be more successful than those who put in just 3. The extra hours – tens turning into hundreds, hundreds turning into thousands – work wonders!

This concludes my train of thought. I hope you inevitably drew some inspiration from it!

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