BIGGEST OBSTACLES AND DIFFERENT MENTALITY IN LEARNING RUSSIAN

Just over 6 months ago I started a new exciting job as a Language Training Account Manager for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is being organised via Language Services Direct, which is a fun organisation to work for and where I’ve recently been interviewed by one of my colleagues. We’ve discussed language learning related questions and I would like to share some of my views…

H: Welcome to LSD Elvira. How did you get into teaching Russian, and what fuelled your transition from teacher to account manager?
E: Thank you! Having lived in London for a number of years I started to realise that English had gradually taken over my usage of Russian in my day-to-day life. I was looking for ways to bring my slightly-abandoned Russian back, and that’s how the whole idea of teaching came about. The way we study Russian at schools is different from how English is taught here. For example, we cover the structure of the language and learn not only what to say, but why and how. It’s not much different from learning a foreign language – hence you get a very solid background in the specifics of the language even after studying it at school. If you are a good student, of course! In addition to this, I have a qualification in teaching English as a Foreign Language which has given me an excellent grounding for teaching.
I took on the role of Account Management to complement my teaching experience. I love working with people, project managing and organising – and this is what this role is about. Besides, it’s all directly related to the industry where I have experience and expertise. Equally, I consider the Account Manager’s role a step up in my professional development as it opens the door to so many other sides of the teaching business and trains your brain to multitask, problem solve and think critically.

H: Based on your experiences, what strategies have you found to promote student engagement in the classroom?
E: There are ample ways of keeping a student engaged in the class, and some more than others are applicable to every student and every language. What I find very important in my lessons, and it’s less of a strategy but more of a ‘people skill’, is setting the right mood at the start. It’s crucial that you walk into the classroom with a smile, full of energy and always aim to make the lesson a success. Of course, we all have our ‘bad days’, but the intention should always be there! Another key thing is acknowledging what your student does right – be it accurate case endings, improvements in pronunciation or dropping a colloquial phrase in the middle of a role play scenario. We tend to focus on error correction a lot but often forget to praise them for what they actually do well. It boosts students’ confidence and makes them even more interested and engaged in learning the language. Finally, students respond very well to personalised tasks – whether you’re teaching a group or an individual, always leave time to discuss things that interest them. It should certainly be in the context of the taught material, but give them some freedom to chat, be fluent, express their opinions; in other words, make it a freer and more natural practice.

H: What do you think are the biggest obstacles to teaching Russian as a foreign language?
E: I won’t be original if I say that verb aspects are stumbling blocks for every Russian learner with no exception. And the main focus for us, teachers, is to ensure that the context is always there and students don’t end up studying a grammar book solely. Repetition is a great technique when it comes to learning the correct forms/endings/prefixes. However, this should be done in conjunction with putting the right verb in the right context. Verbs of motion is another area where a lot of the learners struggle and mainly because they are looking for similarities with their native language, which most of the time aren’t there. Unless they speak another Slavic language, there’s very little they can relate to. When teaching verbs of motion, I find miming and story-telling very useful. The former is very visual and the latter encourages their imagination, which is always fun!

H: What do you think can be done differently in the way Russian is taught now?
E: Everybody has their own teaching style, but there’s one thing I’d tweak about the way it’s currently perceived. And that’s finding good balance between fluency and accuracy. Russian people on the whole are perfectionists; we are often critical of ourselves until we get it 100% right! This applies to a lot of aspects in life, including learning. This can also make an impact on the way we teach others. In my opinion, someone who can engage themselves in a conversation and demonstrate a good level of fluency, but makes occasional grammatical errors can still speak good Russian. In London there are so many foreigners who perform excellently in their jobs, have healthy social lives and are successful despite the fact that they don’t exactly speak perfect English. Incorrect endings, misplaced punctuation or speaking with an accent aren’t necessarily the symptoms of ‘unhealthy communication’. As some philosophers have rightly mentioned, ‘the only way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid trying to do anything’. And we don’t want to encourage that with our students. Leading my students all the way to perfection is in fact my ultimate goal, but for them knowing that they are good without being perfect can be far more rewarding.

H: What skills have you acquired through teaching and how have you applied those to your new account management role?
E: Patience is my absolute number one! Dealing with difficult situations, lessons and a range of students has taught me to become far more patient! There is no room for snapping, getting stressed or frustrated when it comes to teaching, and I believe this should be the attitude in any professional environment. I am applying this skill to my current position, and find that it helps when things don’t go according to plan.
Flexibility would be the other one. Working with different personalities makes you think in so many different ways and shapes your mind significantly. Whether I work with students and adapt to various learning styles or with my clients and teachers where you have to take into account everyone’s individual case, it’s essential to be able to adjust quite quickly.

H: Lastly, what do you hope to achieve as an account manager at Language Services Direct?
E: I really like the autonomy this job provides, I find that it really challenges me. I like challenges, they keep me going and make me feel good about what I do. I really like the teaching aspect of my role as it directly connects with my personal interests. I am happy with my working environment and all of this feeds into and builds long-term satisfaction, which is very important in any job. So, my goal really is to keep enjoying doing what I do!