When I was planning my trip to Russia, I knew immediately that I wanted to teach English in some way or another. A treasure was mine to give, that is English. Regardless of me and my background, I could correct and share. Touching young lives through language is very rewarding. The decision was a no brainer. Read about my journey through my difficulties and successes.
I taught English to high school students twice a week after school hours for the entire Fall semester of 2018. I stayed in the heartwarming town Svetlograd. My experience was wonderful. I loved the kids and the town. Each session was a delight. I was humbled and privileged to be apart of their lives for one semester.
The difficulties I faced were those universally felt in Russia and the world at large. Firstly, the teachers spoke too much in Russian. The students feel they know English, but they really understand the immediate translation into Russian. When I came, most could not follow my speech or reply back to questions. They giggled and looked to the nearest translator — another student or Google Translate. Even for the younger children everything is related back to Russian. This is very counterproductive.
Secondly, as is true everywhere, the students did not have enough time. I would ask them to write something or prepare for a small quiz, but very few were ready. They had all the desire in the world, but time was not enough.
Lastly, the number one difficulty I faced was that the students could not feel the language. I would sternly ask them to stand up, but they would remain seated. Dramatic displays of happiness or anger did not make sense to them, aside from my facial expressions. In Svetlograd, I was living with relations. If she said in Russian, “The tea is very hot!” or “Come here, Masha!” I reacted because I felt the words.
I wanted my students to also feel the words. One day we pretended to be a train. We all lined up. I was the leader and said, “We are going straight… Now we are turning left… Then we cross the book… Right again…” As I did the action, everyone followed in a snake motion. Then the next person behind me would reenact the whole thing. This proved very effective and helped awaken them to how English felt inside the body itself.
Successes from my point of view were innumerable because I was so pleased to be with them. Here I will note just three. First, at the beginning of the year, I visited many English classes of every age. I would tell them about myself and then take questions. Of course, most of the questions were about life in America and everyone always asks, “Which do you like better? America or Russia?” That said, I loved the questions from the youngest of students, such as “are there kittens in America too?” So many tried to ask me in English, even employing Google Translate occasionally. I was thrilled to hear everyone trying. These interviews in the classroom were one of my favorite parts of my trip on the whole.
Secondly, when grammar explanations became overwhelming, music proved the best way to communicate with my young students. We listened to songs and then went over the lyrics. My favorite was when they said they understand it all, then I asked one question….well, that popped that balloon. We chose only songs they loved so it really helped them to open up and start working to understand better.
Thirdly, by far the most success…and laughter…I had came from games! I got into the rut where I did all the talking. Then the potato arrived, well the potato in the form of a plush pumpkin. We all remember the game «hot potato», growing up. Well, I played with my students. I did it in different ways. We started off nice and slow, passing the “potato” to one another and saying in turn, “1…2…3..” Then the number would change and then next student would have to say the next number, “23…24…87…88…” Lastly, we tried some math, “1+1=2, 35+2=37.” When they loosened up, I would let them use both English and Russian numbers to help the English ones feel more real. There was always the one student that gave me: “563(Russian)-8(English)=?” It was a laugh. After numbers we focused on names of food and animals in the same game pattern. This helped the students relax and it helped them to talk. Hot potato along with other games were a huge success. We truly had fun.
I am so grateful to have met these students and to have had this opportunity to teach English in Russia. At the end of the day, English is a living language that should be enlivened for the student. I hope my students will love English more now and will use it from the heart and not just out of necessity.
I have a passion for helping students learn, getting closer to their own dreams. I am a tutor and proofreader. On my blog, I discuss my experience as a teacher and tutor online. I delve into the writing process, highlighting tips and advice along the way. Reading comprehension and Latin are also discussed.