Being a teacher is a hard work but also very exciting. And what could be more exciting than teaching foreign languages. Hilarious situations, inside jokes and awkward mistakes are guaranteed.
I have been teaching English to Russian children for six years and it has been quite a journey. The main perk of my job is that I teach them individually so that everyone gets their own approach. It helps to build trusting relationships with kids and, consequently, the more time we spend together, the more open and relaxed they are. And the funnier my teaching practice gets. So I decided to share with you what it's like to teach English as a foreign language in Russia.
English has been taking the leading position in international communication for hundreds of years that's why I'm convinced that it should be taught obligatory in every school. To my knowledge most of schools in Russia provide English classes, although sometimes the quality of teaching or the discipline might be the obstacles which prevent children from studying properly. That's when tutors are needed. Nowadays, it's one of the most popular ways to prepare kids for important tests, exams or just improve their level of English.
The first thing I need to mention is that I'm very lucky to have motivated students. Some of them are already they're going to need English in their future career while others just want to have a great relationship with me. Whatever is the source of their motivation, I'm glad it leads to visible results.
Naturally, along with success comes failure. The serious fails, which affect their studies, are usually connected with laziness and stubbornness and are not worth talking about. However, those connected with not paying attention, occasional slips of tongue or harmless lack of knowledge are the fun part of a tutor's job. Unfortunately, sometimes my memory lets me down and I don't remember every fun situation during my practice. I guess I should have written everything down.
Let's start off with such an important thing as grammar. One of the greatest struggles for Russian speakers is articles. Since we don't have them in Russian, most of my students don't understand their importance. And I don't blame them – I hated articles myself probably till high school. It's a difficult grammar topic which leads to suffering, torture and emotional pain so everyone deals with it in their own way. Some of my students sincerely try to implement articles in their speech but fail most of the time. Nevertheless, I encourage them to make more efforts. Others just ignore them. They simply neglect the presence and the necessity of articles in the language. That's when I have to teach them a life lesson that ignoring a problem never leads to positive results. I hope they don't hate me for that. The only annoying thing is a constantly repeated question: "Why do I need to use articles? People will understand me anyway". The last time I got quite annoyed and provided them with a potentially traumatizing example: "Look at two phrases. The first one is "A cat is dead", it means that any cat may be dead. Meanwhile, if a person says "The cat is dead", we definitely know this cat and it makes the situation more upsetting." Sorry, cats.
Another quite common thing in my practice is failing to learn and use Present Simple and Present Continuous. I honestly don't get why it happens. Why do you, people, effortlessly use the third conditional and Future Perfect Continuous but don't understand the easiest tenses? It will probably remain the biggest mystery of my teaching practice forever. In general, the number of tenses in the English language scares the hell out of students. Hopefully, eventually they manage to cope with them.
What concerns the lexical constituent, I also have some interesting observations. What excites me the most is that my students use the things they love to enrich their vocabulary and I always encourage them. It doesn't matter to me whether it's Californication they watch or some relatively psychedelic computer games they play as long as there is some profit to their studies. Recently one of my students has been retelling me the plot of her favourite computer game for like 45 minutes. In English. And she usually hates speaking practice. I think it's a win.
Another source of vocabulary, which I love with all my heart, is songs. That's actually how I learned an immense amount of words myself. The only downside is that the majority of words is kinda philosophical and depressing. Obviously, it's connected with the things a lot of teens listen to at this age. Anyway, all words are useful and for some reason such kind of vocabulary is very beautiful to pronounce. Or there's something wrong with me.
To conclude this paragraph I present you a few fun dialogues:
Student: I've forgotten the word "креветки" (shrimps in Russian).
Me: What is the name of a roll with креветки in McDonald's?
Student: Shrimp roll… Oh, right!
Thank you, fast food.
Student: Why do I need to learn the word "hilarious" if I can use "fun" instead? I don't write any essays.
Me: You've just dug your own grave. Write down your homework.
That's how they learned to think before saying something.
I also can tell when a student is hungry. It's when they use "meat" instead of "meet". To be honest, I made this mistake myself once. Hungry university days.
And my favourite: people, mind your spelling or instead of writing "Where is my Liza?" (it's a dog) you'll end up with "Whore my Liza" (and no verb, yep). Poor Liza.
As for pronunciation, I should say it's the funniest part. Mistakes happen mostly due to the lack of attention, though sometimes students really don't know how to pronounce the word correctly. The most common problem is, as I call it, "throwing up with words". Sometimes, a certain combination of letters might be difficult for a child's articulatory system so it honestly sounds like they puke. And, of course, I don't hesitate to tell them about it. For some reason they find it hilarious. According to my observations, most difficulties arise when it's a vowel followed by "r". They try to pronounce it, they fail and I have nothing left to do but to teach them a little trick, if I can call it like that. As we all know, the pronunciation of "r" after a vowel differs in the British and the American accents. I never force my students to speak in a British manner (though I try to do it myself) but I usually recommend them to do it in the "throwing up" situation. To be fair, it usually works.
I can't leave out my favourite mistakes in pronunciation. My absolute favourite (and it's a hit story among my students!) is this. There was a part of a dialogue:
- Why do you need hot soapy water?
- To wash a car.
Somehow my student managed to read "water" as "waiter". I couldn't help laughing and in a minute she understood her mistake and joined me in that hysteria. Thank God she's adult enough for such jokes.
There're also a lot of mispronounced words like "bear" as "beer", "shirt" as "shit", "blood" with a "u"-sound (what makes it sound like the Russian word for fornication) and they're all hilarious in the context. For example, "Mother is shouting at her kids" with "shout" pronounced as "shoot" or "He likes to cook" with "cook" as you know what (a little John Barrowman in my head never misses a dirty joke), etc.
When I want to have fun on purpose, I usually make my students read tongue twisters. It's so damn funny I can't even. My favourite torture is "The thirty-three thieves thought they thrilled the throne throughout Thursday".
Another thing I need to talk about is students' quotes. They are various and depend on a child's personality. Unfortunately, I can't remember them all but my favourite are the following: "Don't make me laugh, I'm supposed to be depressed", "Do you often go for a walk? (me) – No, I don't go for a walk, I'm an introvert" or "My friends and I play charades at parties, and you? (me) – We play "spin the bottle" (13 y.o.). Ok, then.
As a bonus to my job (apart from free food sometimes, various kinds of presents and animals they have at home) I get an opportunity to implement my favourite videos and shows into teaching process. Buzzfeed's "How Your Dog Sees The World" is a hit among my students and youtubers always come in handy. Once I tried to find something by Jenna Marbles because she's rather popular but she lost her chance to become educational due to swearing too much. So I switched to the British youtubers. Thanks for pronouncing words clearly (most of the time), Marcus.
I'm also very excited to use things from Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, Game of Thrones, Sherlock, The Vampire Diaries, Lion King etc. And Doctor Who, of course. If I love it, you have to watch it. Sorry not sorry. The side effect is that I unintentionally learn so many parts by heart that I could replace the actual actors. "I'm not sorry that I've met you. I'm not sorry that knowing you has made me question everything. That in death you are the one that made me feel most alive. You've been a terrible person. You've made all the wrong choices. And of all the choices that I've made this would prove to be the worst one. But I'm not sorry that I'm in love with you. I love you, Damon" is forever in my memory.
All in all, there are many more perks of my job and I love it a lot. But the main one is the satisfaction I get feeling needed.
Student: Will you move abroad?
Me: I don't know, why not?
Student: No, you won't.
Me: Excuse me?
Student: I will miss you.