Showing posts from 2018

To err is human or my thoughts on error correction

In June, I went to a great seminar on error correction in ELT conducted by Eva Kartchava, who is doing research in this area. As a warm-up, she gave us 5 questions she was going to cover and asked us to discuss them in pairs. My discussion partner turned out to be a “personal broadcaster”- she turned to me and started talking with total disregard to what the questions were, what I had to say, and whether I was even listening. Since I didn’t get a chance to speak then, I want to speak now. In this post, I want to finally answer Eva’s questions and talk about the way I deal with error correction.
1 Should errors be corrected? Yes. Uncorrected mistakes grow into fossilized errors which are virtually impossible to weed out. That said, not all errors and not always. Which brings me to questions 2 and 3.
2 When should learners’ errors be corrected? Errors can be corrected either immediately or after the speaking activity. The downside of the former is that the teacher has to break the flo…

C2 Proficiency. Writing Task 2. Review (of a film I haven’t seen).

I keep writing like crazy because I am preparing for the C2 Proficiency test (fka CPE). In my previous post, I shared my Writing Part 2 article. In this post, I want to share a review I wrote about a movie I haven't seen and give some insights into handling an unfortunate task.
TaskA film magazine has invited readers to submit reviews of films which are set in the future, but deal with themes relevant to today’s world, such as our relationship with technology or environmental problems. You decide to submit a review briefly describing such a film and explaining why its themes are relevant today. You should also consider how important it is for films set in the future to say something about contemporary society.(Cambridge English Proficiency 2, Test 2, Question 4).
This is a really unfortunate task for me because I watch very few movies, maybe 3 a year. But as I read it, I imagined myself sitting in the exam room not wanting to fail, so I had to come up with something.
How I dealt wi…

C2 Proficiency. Writing Part 2. Article. Ireland.

I am now preparing for the C2 Proficiency test (fka CPE) and writing like crazy. I know most people get the lowest score for the writing component of English exams (find out why here), which is not something I want to happen to me, so I write. In this post, I want to share my Writing Part 2 article about being close to nature.

A magazine is running a series of articles on people’s experiences of being close to nature, for example, visits to beautiful lakes and mountains, or encounters with wildlife. You decide to write an article in which you briefly describe an experience you have had when you were close to nature, and explain what you learned from this. You should also evaluate the role that contact with nature plays in people’s lives. (Cambridge English Proficiency 2, Test 1, Question 4).
My answer: Out of all the countries I have visited, Ireland stands out. Nowhere have I seen such scenic and serene places so close to city life. The country is literally lined with spectacula…

8 more common mistakes Russian learners make. Third post is the charm.

This is now my third post about common mistakes Russian learners make in English, so I’ll get straight to the point.

1 Actual problem
All these mistakes are actually a serious problem. They travel from generation to generation of learners and are rooted so deeply in their minds that they are almost impossible to weed out. ‘Actual’ means real, not imaginary, existing in fact; it does not mean актуальный (=currently important). The adjectives you can use with problem include but are not limited to: serious, growing, major, pressing, and urgent.

2 Big number
A large number of mistakes have their roots in translation. Sadly, a large number of people keep learning English through translation even at high levels, so the mistakes persist. A large number of learners pin their hopes on explanations. However, a large number of times explanations are of little help. A large number of repetitions of the correct version is what really helps.

(More about the intricacies of number in this great Lo…

The challenges of teaching software developers

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love teaching software developers. They are smart, kind, and have a great sense of humor. But there are certain challenges to teaching them. In this post, I want to talk about these challenges and provide some ways of dealing with them.
1. Their English level is a mess. Level placement is a challenge. There is usually a huge discrepancy between their productive (e.g. speaking) and receptive (e.g. reading) skills. If you choose an Intermediate coursebook, you may soon start doubting your choice because even though the grammar is a perfect match, the reading/listening materials are too simple and uninspiring.

This issue can be fixed by substituting or supplementing the materials in the book with the articles/videos in the original.
2. They are extremely smart. I mean, extraordinarily smart, which can play both ways. On the one hand, you don’t need to explain things too much. All they need is a concise and precise explanation. On the other hand, due to…

An interview with a Russian software engineer working in Ireland

This post is an interview with my awesome friend Petr Filippov, who lives and works in Ireland. He talks about his experience of living in an English-speaking country and gives some tips on learning English.
1 Tell my readers a bit about yourself. I am software engineer. About two years ago I moved to Ireland from St Petersburg when got an offer from Microsoft.
2 Do you like living in Ireland? Yes, I do. It became better after I started to explore it - travel around my home area and to the other parts of Ireland, started to pay more attention to the things around me and enjoy the nature, like Dublin mountain which is just behind my house.

But there are a lot of things that might annoy you first time. Left side driving, housing problems and long term rent contracts. The rent prices itself - I was really surprised when realized that it will cost about half of my monthly salary to rent an apartment here.
3 Tell my readers about your background in learning English. I studied English in sc…

Assess my C2 Proficiency essay. Please.

I’ve always been curious to find out one thing. If a person has excellent English, can they write an excellent exam essay based on the instructions only, without any preparation? They should be able to, right?

I’ve decided to do an experiment on myself. My IELTS score is 9. I am toying with the idea of taking C2 Proficiency (formerly known as CPE). I have written a Part 1 essay based on the instructions only, without reading any tips, explanations, or model answers. In this post, I want to share my essay, and I am inviting everyone to assess it.

Here is the task (taken from the official website):

Part 1 Read the two texts below.
Write an essay summarising and evaluating the key points from both texts. Use your own words
throughout as far as possible, and include your own ideas in your answers.
Write your answer in 240 – 280 words.

The Excitement of Advertising Outdoor advertising has to attract, engage and persuade potential customers; it is the most important way of grabbing custom…

8 professional growth ideas for English teachers

In June, I attended and was a speaker at a summer school in St Pete organized by Живой Английский. I talked about professional growth ideas for English teachers. In this post, I want to summarize my speech and give some useful links. If you are a learner, don’t stop reading - some ideas suit you too!
1. Language exams: IELTS, TOEFL, C1 Advanced / C2 Proficiency I am one of those teachers who take international exams on a regular basis. Taking international exams is a great way to grow for several reasons.

First, you get an objective assessment of your language level. Sadly, our level is not always as high as we think it is, and some skills might be lacking. Language exams paint a clear picture. If you are aware of your weaknesses, exams are a good improvement tool because they force you to work towards a measurable, time-bound goal. Even if your English is impeccable, exam preparation is still useful because it never hurts to brush up on your skills.

Last but not least, you can expa…

“Introduction to public speaking” I designed and taught

Always do what you are afraid to do. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like most people, I am afraid of public speaking. I don’t know about most people, but my fear caused me to take public speaking courses. I took one online at and two at University of New Haven as part of my Fulbright FLTA program. Inspired by the courses I have taken, I designed and taught my own "Introduction to public speaking" course. In this post, I want to describe my course and share three incredible speeches made by my students.

The participants of the course were nine brave advanced learners of English. The course consisted of 6 classes meeting weekly from 17 March to 21 April. The participants had to make a speech each class. All the speeches had to be prepared at home.
Class 1. Introductory speech. This speech was self-explanatory - people had to introduce themselves. My main goal was to let people get the taste of speaking in front of an audience. I also wanted them to meet each other. The particip…

A step-by-step guide to IELTS line graphs

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 poses the biggest difficulty to everyone, including those who have excellent English skills. The reason might be that most people don’t often describe graphs in English or even in their native language. I know all the test takers want a simple model to follow. More often than not, they go online and end up trying to follow questionable models. I want to put a stop to this. In this post, I want to share my sample answer and my six-step guide to describing IELTS line graphs.


While I believe my guide is a good model to follow, you have to keep in mind that:
1) This is one possible approach, not the only one possible approach;
2) Each line graph is different, so the approach might have to be modified for some line graphs;
3) My overall IELTS score is 9, but my writing score is only 8.5, so my sample answer might not be perfect.

Here is the task and the line graph I will be describing:

The graph below shows the consumption of fish and some different…

Do you really need grit?

I am thrilled to present a guest post by my student Alisa Chernikova. In this post, she talks about determination to succeed and recommends three great books that will help you get started on your success journey. The post was inspired by the TED talk we watched in class "Grit: The power of passion and perseverance." You, in turn, will be inspired by the post.

Macmillan dictionary defines grit as ‘determination to succeed, even in very difficult situations’. Before we dive deeper into how and why, let me ask you this question: Do people really need grit?Personally, I would go with yes. Still, some might say: “Just find your passion in life, and you won’t ever need to bother yourself with such things as grit in the first place!” But in my experience, it’s not that simple. No matter how much you like what you do, you need to be able to do it well. You need to be passionate, perseverant, strong. You need to be gritty!

So how does one become gritty? I assume there’s no universal…

Why you will get your lowest IELTS score for writing and how not to

Most people get the lowest score for the writing component of the IELTS test. My experience as an IELTS trainer and the official statistics completely agree on this. In this post, I want to look at the reasons why and at the ways how not to.

Here is why you might get your lowest score for writing too: 1 You don’t write enough. Tell me if that sounds familiar. The teacher gives you task after task, but you just can’t muster the willpower to write them. Finally, you become overcome with guilt, write one or two tasks, pat yourself on the shoulder and stop writing until the next fit of guilt occurs in a week or two. That’s not enough and you know it.

I usually give my students two writing tasks 1 and two writing tasks 2 per week if the test is 3 months away. Two W1 and two W2 over 12 weeks add up to 24 of each. This is about the number I think is necessary to get the score you will be happy with. Now think about your last IELTS test - how many tasks did you write? 2 You don’t write consi…

What kind of students do you find difficult?

A student once asked me, “What kind of students do you find difficult?” I couldn’t reply immediately, but this question lingered in my mind for months. In this post, I want to answer my student's question.

First, I’ll give some context. I don’t teach at a state school or a university. I do in-company training and prepare students for international exams. My students take classes voluntarily because they use English at work or because they want to enrol in university programs taught in English.

For me, difficult students are people who: don't know what they want. Some students come and say they want IELTS preparation. They don’t know anything about the test, but they think it’s a good idea to have the certificate. Sooner or later they realize they don’t really need it, so they decide they want to work with TED talks because they are sick and tired of coursebooks. But working with TED talks turns out to be harder than working with coursebooks, so they change their mind. They dec…

The common comma: rules and recommendations

This post was written on demand. Students ask me to teach English punctuation on a regular basis. It is usually neglected in EFL course books because (I’m guessing) students are supposed to learn it intuitively through reading (which works, to some degree). But when they start writing a lot, especially in business or academic contexts, they realize that they don’t know how to punctuate in English. This is when they ask me. Explaining punctuation in class would be time-consuming because there are so many different rules. In this post, I want to narrow my focus and talk about the most common cases of comma use.
1. Use a comma before the conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet if they link two main clauses.    The book was boring, but I decided to finish reading it anyway.
   The test was difficult, so the teacher gave us more time.

If you link two main clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you need to use a comma. But you don’t need to use a comma if you link two parts of the sen…

How to choose an IELTS school

Since I am an IELTS trainer myself, I sometimes make internet searches related to IELTS. As a result, I end up being bombarded with advertisements of IELTS schools, which I sometimes click out of curiosity. There are so many schools offering test preparation that potential test takers may find themselves at a loss as to which school to choose. In this post, I want to talk about what to pay attention to when browsing IELTS schools’ websites.

My recommendations are based on the analysis of IELTS schools in St Petersburg, Russia. I am not going to reveal the names of the schools.
1. Look for teachers’ profiles  Some websites have a lot of text about how good their school is, but no photos, names or bios of teachers. If I don’t see any profiles, I immediately get suspicious and can only come up with two explanations why: 1) The school doesn’t employ any teachers full-time and starts desperately looking for teachers as the clients come along; 2) The teachers the school employs have no bra…