Can you write about your language learning routine?

“Can you write about your language learning routine?” This is a question I got from my student Nina. My answer is, “Sure, but I don't really have a routine. It's more of a way of life.” In this post, I want to share my language learning lifestyle.
InputFirst and foremost, I pretty much live my life in English. 99% of my environment (my devices, software, apps, subscriptions, books, videos et cetera et cetera) is in English. I make sure I expose myself to copious amounts of English.

Exposure is king. So is noticing. I am always on the lookout for new vocabulary and familiar vocabulary used in new ways. Most of the time I read or watch something I take vocabulary notes. I have a paper notebook and digital notes for that. If I don’t have them on me when I hear a great expression, I jot it down on an old receipt or whatever I can find.

My main criterion for choosing what language to take notes of is a very honest answer to these questions, "Would I ever say it this way? Have …

How to write a great [Fulbright FLTA] application

The Fulbright FLTA competition is now open. As the program alumna, I’ve decided to put together some tips that can help you write a great application. I think the tips will work for many other programs and scholarships.

Participating in the program was a truly eye-opening and life-changing experience for me, which you can find out more about by reading my other Fulbright posts (see the links at the bottom of this one). Check the requirements on the official websiteand go for it if you are eligible.

My top tips on writing great application essays#1
Don't Google how to write applications and don’t look at other people’s essays. Everything you find online will also be found by other potential participants who google and find the same thing. Just don't. Tap into your own inner resources. Make your application unique and memorable. The decision makers read hundreds of applications. It will play in your favor to stand out.

Start brainstorming and writing your first draft very earl…

The "IELTS or C2 Proficiency" dilemma resolved

Lyudmila Snezhanova is on the horns of a dilemma which test of English to take IELTS or C2 Proficiency. Having taken both, I’ve decided to summarize some practical information about the exams, hopefully making her choice easier (and your choice if you are facing the same dilemma).

In this post, I will outline the exam structures briefly and comment on what seemed easy or difficult to me personally. I will be talking about IELTS Academic only. I will be using the old abbreviation CPE for C2 Proficiency because it's shorter and more familiar to most people in the EFL world. The post is a long read, but I've organized it into sections so it should be easy to navigate. 
First, some words about my exam history. I've taken paper-based IELTS Academic (three times, getting 8.5 in 2011 and 2013, before finally getting 9 in 2016) and paper-based C2 Proficiency (just once, getting an A in 2018). Now off to describing the two exams.

1 ListeningIELTS
You see the questions beforehand, so…

Storytelling with IELTS Writing Task 1

Last year I read a book called "Storytelling with data: a data visualization guide for business professionals,” which might seem like a bizarre choice for an English teacher. Seduced by the word storytelling, I ended up reading a book for people whose job is to visualize information in the form of line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, and tables, so basically IELTS Writing Task 1 tasks but for real life situations.

In IELTS preparation we always describe data. But this book gave me an opportunity to change sides and look at those charts from the perspective of those who create them. In this post, I want to share one important insight I got that can make a huge difference to the way you approach IELTS Academic Writing Task 1.

The author of the book emphasizes that to visualize data effectively you need to think about two key questions - who you are describing the data to and what you want them to know or do.

Even though these questions are technically not part of the exam, this …

An interview with a teacher-turned-translator

This post is an interview with my friend Olga Kolesnikova. Olga and I went to university together, where we were both trained to be teachers of English. I am now a teacher, as trained. However, Olga decided to pursue a career as a translator and an interpreter. I’ve always been curious to pick Olga's brain about her career path as it is very different from mine despite the same background. In this post, I am asking her my burning questions about her choice and her experience.

1 Tell my readers a bit about yourself. Just like you, I graduated from Pskov Pedagogical University. I worked as a teacher of English there for three years, and I always had a nagging idea that I didn’t have enough life experience to broadcast my ideas and my personality to students. So, I took a step to change it all and leave Pskov for St. Petersburg to become something different.
2 We went to the university together, where we were both trained to become teachers. But you decided to pursue a career as a …

My C2 Proficiency book review: "The Elements of Eloquence"

My colleague Lyudmila Snezhanova asked me to share a book review I wrote when I was preparing for C2 Proficiency (fka CPE). And I thought, “Why don’t I share it with everyone then?”

I wrote this review about a year ago about “The Elements of Eloquence” by Mark Forsyth, which I was reading at the time. There is no task for it. I wrote it to practise.

When I was preparing for CPE, I practised writing in two modes: exam mode and growth mode. In exam mode, my goal was to answer the question meeting the time limit. In growth mode, my goal was to work on my language. In this mode, I prepared a list of phrases and/or structures I wanted to use and tried to use as many of them as possible in my writing. This review is the second version of the original review written in growth mode.

Given that the title of the book is “The elements of eloquence,” it is no surprise that I bought it and read it from cover to cover, scrutinizing every single line. What self-respecting language teacher woul…

Confessions of self-employed English teachers

My fellow Fulbrighter and a wonderful English teacher Maria Merziapova, when she moved to Moscow was so appalled by the mess that is going on in language schools that she is thinking of going freelance. I’ve been self-employed for several years now, so Maria kept interrogating me about this career path. I decided to take it two steps further: to address her questions and fears in a public post and to invite my amazing colleague Sandra Slivinskaya to join me. Sandra and I wrote our answers completely independently to provide two perspectives.

Part 1. My questions.1. How did you make the decision to leave a steady job and work on your own? Irina
I didn't really make this decision. It was a series of small decisions. It always made more sense financially to have my own students rather than work for someone else. At one point I had a full schedule as a self-employed teacher and didn’t need a school.

Well, first of all, after my graduation as a linguist-interpreter, I have nev…