Monthly Archives: February 2012

Languages and me – a story of no-wins (but still harbouring hopes=))

Brad Patterson is incredible at throwing in challenges. When I saw a link to his fresh blog challenge “How and why you learned a foreign language” in my FB feed, I was in two minds really. First, the urge to share my experiences. Followed by a bump on the head – sharing stories with no good end to brag about?..Seriously, share these nothing-to-be-proud-of stories ALL OVER my PLN?!


Yes, I will share. Because I’ve learnt from my baby-aged blogging practice that writing a post about something that is difficult to think/talk about is the best way to reflect on it, put up with it and happily let go of it=)


The crucial point underlying my failures in learning any other foreign languages than English is my “dream and speak about it a lot, do little about it” nature (too long a statement to hyphonate it, sorry). This actually is the attitude which prevents me from doing many of the things I plan to and  write in my to-do lists. I’ve recently started to be learning to take my own self as it is and not to be too hard on myself. One step at a time, a reflective lookback, acceptance of little progress/failure – that’s my way and it seems to be working I think. So this is not going to be a post of bitter regrets. It’s just an account of my language learning experiences!

 The languages I’ve seriously (and semi-seriously) ever considered learning are German, Italian and French (very lately). Spanish has always been on my mind (I know only a set of common touristy phrases that I can do with) and Greek (which seems a most unusual and mysterious language to me and I hope I will one day learnt a bit of it!), but there were never given a shot, so they don’t officially count. I don’t take into account Dutch and Danish as well, though I think I can read Dutch and when I stayed in Holland at my friend’s I picked up a little of it. As for Danish, I printed out pages of phrases to use in Copenhagen (which is the BEST city I”ve ever been to), and a set of phonetic rules, I tried reading and pronouncing these, but the language is extremely hard, so it didn’t work out really=).

Which leaves me with German, Italian and French.


I had 2.5 years (5 terms) of learning German (formal) as a second foreign language at university. That was exciting experience, I loved it very VERY much. We had an awesome teacher, about 3-4 years older than us, strict, with clearly set rules, a person of principles. I can say that I picked up my passion for discussing news in the classroom from her – that was really challenging to prepare a piece of news in German for me at that time, I should say! Still, even though I studied hard (not too hard, ok) and got EXC for my exam in the end, I know it and knew it then that my German was..invalid. One class a week is definitely not even close to enough to master a language from scratch. For the next 3 years I tried to devote a couple of hours a week to continue studying it all by myself. I’ve got plenty of textbooks, graded readers, grammar reference and practice books, audio CDs, dictionaries, phrase books and my own notebooks. I haven’t got back to German for more than a year now. Though I have a book intentionally put on the table in front of me several months ago to remind me of my desire to speak German.


I know it for sure I will improve my German and return to it, but I know I”ll be doing it sporadically, because I don’t need it badly. Here it is – the true reason..English is quite enough in the modern world. It seems to be enough at least. Is it too bald? Is it too bad? Is it true?..

I will not be visiting courses I think, I’m afraid to get disappointed.. (vain! very bad(( but honest).

 (*read about Ken Wilson taking his German classes! Follow his series of posts – amazing chapters, fantastic story-telling! Not connected with disappointment))

The ways to study for me are still to be decided upon.

 One last thing about German – I love the way I sound when I speak/read it!=) Not typical, I know, as many people have this idea of German as being a rough language, but I love the way it sounds, especially from my own lips=))) (now, that must sound bald and bad, really!))


Italian and French have similar stories – BBC 12 week courses.

I started with Italian 3 years ago, was very diligent and made through the 8 weeks of it, then dropped it for no explicable reason I can give you now.

I started with French less then 2 months ago, am not very diligent as the BBC notification letters getting insistently lost in my mailbox  can prove and I have a lot of PD plans which seem to have put French into the shade (until summer, that’s the new plan). The funny thing is – I’d never really liked French as thought it too sweet and glossy)) BUT my trip to Paris in November for TESOL conference turned my world upside down))) Hearing French everywhere around me, trying to read it and getting the chills when getting it right – looked so lovely and inspiring all of a sudden! So I bought a book, set the goal going to linger to reach it)) I know myself, and so be it. Nothing to boast of, sure. Throw your stones at me.


Now that I”m finished, what about English?..I”m well aware of the fact that I”m still a learner of it. I have to say that maybe being a teacher of English is the best thing I could do in my life to be a successful learner of it!=)

This seems to be it, my story of no-wins.

Regrets? I’ve got a few (and envies of those who can say they’re polyglotes and passionate language nerds, which apparently as life shows I am not).

Hopes? I”ve got loads.=)





What does it feel like to be… Part 2. British!

It’s only so natural that the more the people – the more the ideas! Isn’t it what brainstorming can be all about? And crowd-sourcing?

I’m going to do PLN-sourcing, then, and again!

Like I did once, here – and it got me incredibly inspired (and 3rd time published on an exctremely local scale))!


Fantastic shares, contributions from all over the world, thoughtful, sincere, differing, controversial – JUST like people themselves (diversity, huh?=))

Finally, the education can get personal. The pages of our course units can spring to life and speak different voices – authentic voices. YOUR voices!

Seriously, I have this feeling more and more often, I realize how lucky I am and most importantly – my students are. Since we have the chance, not so often offered in our context, to learn from PEOPLE, not from paper and ink. I feel it very acutely when I start sharing some phrases I”ve learnt thanks to you (caught smth here or there in a blog, lurking through my Twitter stream, etc). By learning myself all the time, I can literally feel it I”m giving them better quality teaching. And then we’re learning together, which is the key idea of my perspective on my own teaching style.

So much for contemplation)

I promoted the idea to use real native speakers’ response in our Country Studies Culture units, and luckily it was positively welcomed.

 So here I am, addressing you once again!


What does it feel like to be British? What does it mean to you?


Share your views, whatever they are, spread the word, and this can help Russian students (and maybe many others as well – since this is an open blog!)) get to know the sense of “Britishness” first-hand! What a good thing to do, isn’t it?!=)


Thank you!


Into the new term…avec plaisir!

Today saved me from the slow unproductive procrastination *bog* bordering burn-out which I”ve been recently experiencing in the downtime after winter holidays, with tiny bits of teaching, huge amounts of time spent asleep, all in all, being totally not the best of me)

Finally, here they come, helping hands to drag me out.


Three groups of first year students to teach this term, one of these I worked with last term.

I’m very well aware of course of the importance of the very first teacher-group meeting – producing impressions, setting the rules, meaningful ice-breakers, sparking interests, establishing firm/friendly teacher “status”. I’ve been giving first classes quite a lot of times already, yet each time I get nervous. When I get nervous I talk a lot=)

 I don’t think (at least I don’t feel) today’s first lessons were particularly successful. Maybe they were, from students’ viewpoint (looked like they enjoyed), but I keep getting this feeling I could’ve done way better! and I”m normally no perfectionist…What was it? The worst thing about first lessons is that they’ll never repeat. What’s done is done.

 What was done?


The activities that I can positively relate to:

* Describing groupmates (for the sake of introduction AND most importantly for me to remember them, on a more personal level than register’s name-surname style supposes)

Aim – to introduce a student to me, giving some special kind of information about him/her, something I could associate this person with and thus remember. Sitting in a circle facing each other (got to be this way only with one group because of unfortunate desks arrangement in a tiny room for the rest), the first student gives a description of the person sitting next but one. Continue this way until a certain point (basically when I get bored and feel we need a change). Then the system changes – now the task remains the same, but the form – now every student in the circle has to express one idea about the student of attention, points cannot repeat one another, ofc. I admit: it becomes much more difficult for a teacher to process and digest the info, BUT the winning side of it is that it gets really active. Everybody’s attentive, involved, corrects others’ points, supplies extra info or own examples of situations to illustrate the stated qualities, for example. This way a simple get-to-know-me activity has become (in my experience at least) a great collaboration story.

In the end I tried (and managed to) remember all names&connections (with their help and hints). I”ve got FULL picture of the class atmosphere, of relationships as well.

 Problem faced – in one of the groups the activity lasted hour I guess..?! Because it was a most heated discussion. Level of the group appeared to be high and enthusiasm didn’t have to be fuelled by anything more than my comments on their stories.

I’ve got the key – genuine interest of a teacher, as simple as that! Feedback, support. Sense of humour=)

We’ve come up with several vocabulary items as well during the activity – CRUCIAL, ASPIRE, DAYDREAMING, FAITHFUL and some others. All of these emergent language, as you may guess. Crucial turned out to become everybody’s favourite, it was many times suitably used in descriptions and comments.


* A personal star.

This one I should give credit for to Ania Musielak, whose wonderful workshop I attended during TESOL France in Paris last November and went out of it with 3 pages of ideas to try out (which I did))


One piece of info for each point of a star refers in this or that way to you. Work in groups (3-4), ask questions to find out connections. That worked well, we had some very creative and totally unguessable points (like 133 for Pentium133, the first computer of a st., and more amazing ones))

Speaking, interactivity, question forms practiced and peer-corrected.


Why do I feel a tiny bit frustrated? I sense I could pepper the lessons with more diversity, maybe more challenge.

Anyway those were the first lessons, and I’m planning lots and lots and LOADS more to do.

Online part of the course will include work in our group in (Russian Facebook), Moscow-Grenoble wiki, for showcase. And Google Docs probably.

 I hope for no indifference from their part.