Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 1. Teaching Russian from scratch: my proudest achievement.

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 Russ…

Verbs worth spreading or how I work with TED talks

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. In this post, I want to show how I bring powerful verbs to my students’ attention with the help of TED talks.

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 advance…

The phone that 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, which is a full QWERTY 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 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 …

Proudly presenting my student’s essay

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 i…

I try walking in my student’s shoes and write 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 article deals with the questions of 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 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 workin…

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

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 a top-notch English teacher, author…

Give editing the attention it deserves

This post is inspired by the guest post Nadya Borisova wrote for me “Academic IELTS without a degree in linguistics” (go to Part 1 or 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. Most test takers or potential test takers are probably more likel…