Yes! I want to learn English — or do you?

Joshua Levy
Oct 30, 2019 · 10 min read

It is common knowledge that English is THE PRIMARY global language of business, be it some small Russian regional city or megapolis such as Moscow, the demand for English has never been higher. Of course, you want to learn English, probably that’s why you’re reading this article 😊 my recommendations will also be mentioned; but a bit later…

As a British expat living in Russia, there very limited opportunities for foreigners to work here, it’s either one of four options available.

Option 1 — Become an English teacher

Option 2 — Start your own business

Option 3 — Work as an expat employee in a foreign / Russian company in Russia

Option 4 — Get a Russian wife (path of least resistance) 😉 — how will you survive?

Many expats choose either option 1 or 4, because that’s the most obvious choice to make, whilst other options are limited to visas and residence permits. Here comes the infamous ‘I want to learn English’ from several persons whom I’ve met here, however this itself becomes a paradox which has a never-ending vicious circle.

English Language Schools — Rise of the meat market

In my 4 years or so of living in several Russian cities, I see a language school propping up every week in some house, flat or building promising the “the world” to every single student who attempts to join their school. Don’t get me wrong I am not opposed to the school itself, but it’s the management and the student itself which are directly connected to the school. As I call it, the rise of the meat market.

Imagine yourself, in a situation, you go to meat market, lots of butchers selling their produce of the day, promising juiciest meats, be it beef, pork or lamb for the “the best” price, with every butcher howling at you to attract their attention. You go to a butcher’s shop, who is only too delighted to welcome you through their doors, you select the “finest cut” of the meat and pay the “best price” and come home.

Naturally, you are hungry and can’t wait to cook your “finest cut” meat, only to realize the volume and size of the meat has actually shrunk in size after it’s being cooked, you feel you’ve been cheated out of the price paid, and the butcher himself is a liar. The end result is 50% smaller volume and size of the cooked meat, which is not the “correct picture” of the meat you saw when you bought it; and here I equate this to the “language schools” themselves.

Putting things into perspective, all over Moscow and indeed across Russia every single language school is trying to attract students, of various ages, and levels of English, and yet less than 20% of them can effectively speak English, and almost all of these students end up either blaming the teacher or the school itself, with over 50% of them quitting during the courses anyway

Yes, I will hear many of you saying, “they are not their native environment” so it’s difficult for them. Whilst to some extent I do agree with this statement, but overall, I disagree, with my reasons given below;

Know what you do…

In most schools, I am not saying all! the management itself doesn’t speak English to full proficiency level, and yet advertise themselves, as language schools, and plastering Cambridge English signs all over the place, along with TOEFL and IELTS. It’s like blind driver aiming to drive a Ferrari. More often than not, there is no proper learning management system available, with “making money” being the sole driving factor.

Teachers like disposable cutlery (money for nothing chips for free)

Applies to both Russian and native speakers — In almost all occasions I have witnessed these “English language schools” paying next to nothing to the teacher, whilst requiring maximum effort and lesson material or plan preparation for the class. What is forgotten is that, preparing for the lesson and gathering materials is not a free time-pass exercise, its time spent for employment or business and should be compensated. So, if the school doesn’t respect the teacher financially and yet expects maximum result, this is a paradox. The net result will be poorly taught students, bad reputation for the school itself, loss of business and in the end, the teacher himself will be fired for lack of performance, it’s a no-win situation.

Motivation and respect is the key to get teacher’s performance, after all, they have families too, they have time taken their time out for teaching “your students” the least you can do it pay them properly and create the right working environment. Of course, not all teachers are great, some of them are genuinely poor, and quite rightly so, shouldn’t be allowed to teach in language schools anyway, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Beg the student / school

That’s right, not only the teacher has to teach the student, but also has to “beg” the student learn English, because he or she is worried that the student will complain to the school and they might lose their job. So, the student comes and sits like a king, and expects to be “spoon fed” the language with the “majority” of the work done by the teacher himself, whereas it should be vice versa. Putting it simply, if you the student wants to learn English then either come motivated to the school and do the homework as required and “have the desire and initiative” to learn, otherwise don’t learn at all. Not only you’ll be wasting your time but the teacher’s energy as well.

By creating this begging environment, it directly affects the teacher, as the student wasn’t “really in the room” fiddling with his mobile phone or whatever, didn’t properly understand what the teacher taught or the book printed, after the lesson goes to the school administration and complains the teacher is bad. The school in return either cancels the teacher’s class, cuts the pay or terminates the employment, given that hardly any “language school” signs a proper legal labor contract, the loser is always the teacher. The loser will always be the teacher. The school without warning cancels the teacher’s employment and quickly finds another teacher, again the example of the meat market comes into play here, for the school, the student is a cash cow, and they can’t afford to lose that revenue source, but what about the teacher who did the hard work?

In my own experience I have faced this issue, where I had to beg and remind the students to come and learn by Skype, because they were “too busy” to make a note in their diary for tuning up for lesson. I wasn’t going to be doing that, despite the time being arranged, it’s the student and teacher’s responsibility to come “online” or arrive on time. Given the late cancellation and not turning up policy, the school in return charged the client for no-show for lessons, the client then argued with the school, it’s the teacher’s responsibility to beg and remind them each time for lesson!

Similar stories can be heard from plenty of English teachers across, Moscow, their treatment is like a disposable throw away kitchen cutlery, given the variety of teachers to choose from, the supply is plentiful. However, one thing, these schools are forgetting, skills and quality can’t be bought, neither can teaching experience at any price.

Student is the king!

And this is a real problem, which directly affects the “quality of English” you’ll learn. Most students in particular the older 25+ students, again most if not all, have a tendency to be “spoon fed” the language, they rely on the teacher themselves, rather than taking the initiative to learn the language themselves, fail to do the homework or take self-initiative

Secondly, most these students would like to obtain “instant” or “high speed” result, which never worked not will ever work, because our brains are not computer chips to be programmed, it takes time to learn the vocabulary and apply it.

Thirdly, most of these students, learn the “grammar rules” like a rulebook, but have difficulty applying it, because the vocabulary is missing. Therefore, given the combination of the above factors, they quickly lose motivation, because they find it difficult, and give up and stop lessons, some of them just cancel lessons without informing. The net result is, the teacher who spent effort in teaching them loses the livelihood, time and opportunity including finances with no job security.

Lack of consistency

This is the biggest barrier which hinders students learning the language is — consistency. I have seen this happening a lot, most students are not consistent in their lessons, they give priority to other tasks, but fail to discipline themselves to the agreed learning time with their teacher and cancel lessons, citing excuses, and lack of time. To be honest, I find this bewildering. I often hear these students say, yes, I want to learn English and do it fast, nevertheless, after few weeks, this student cancels lessons and instead prioritizes party, social engagement or whatever excuse comes to mind.

In life, we all have choices to make, and no one ever really has the time to do everything one wants. However, we all have goals and priorities. If you really want to learn English, you will make time and show dedication for it. As we say in English “where there is a will, there is a way”


Effective learning method?

So, you might be thinking with all this doom and gloom and depressing picture I just painted, what is the most effective method of learning English? — the short answer is there is no correct way, but I can share how I teach my students, who are now at 8.5 IELTS score, one of them achieved 102 out of 120 in his TOEFL exam, and 2 students at B2 — Upper Intermediate level. What I do with them is as follows; the plan is mentioned on my website:

1. I create a teaching plan, alternating with student book, grammar, vocabulary, speaking, with writing set out as homework — Learning Plans only work if the student is consistent, otherwise it’s useless.

2. In each lesson we aim to learn 6 new words of English vocabulary, with a total of 12 new words each week

3. In each lesson, the student has to repeat each word 20 times! And write that word 30 times during their homework exercises

4. More emphasis is paid on “speaking the language” as that is the most difficult part for the student, and speaking is the sure shot way of understanding the language as you need to think of the word and apply the grammar correctly

5. Extensive internet materials are used — e.g. BBC 6 minutes English, TED, YouTube videos, BBC News, New York Times. The student has to read and understand them, and cross-examining questions are done to check comprehension.

For my students, they have:

1. Hardly ever missed English lessons, despite being on holiday they did it on Skype

2. Consistent throughout the teaching lessons

3. Were mentally present in class, yes, sometimes we all have hard days, during those days, lighter tasks are performed.

4. Everyone had a headache at the of each lesson and looked for the nearest fire escape exit to run from the lessons 😊 and this is expected, because your brain is working “over time” to understand and comprehend the information and make sense of it.

In each lesson the information is ‘drilled” into the student like a parrot. While you might argue this is not the best approach, and a more relaxed approach is needed, in my opinion this is not going to work simply because we are living in a non-native environment, therefore the information has to be drilled to the brain, more mental force and power is needed to compensate for the environment.

In a native environment, the student can have a more relaxed learning approach, because outside the classroom environment, English is being used daily in every aspect of their life, therefore, the drilling of information takes place automatically with minimal effort, with all 4 skills being used to understand the information, which doesn’t happen in a non-native environment.

Guidelines for learning English?

1. Be consistent and be disciplined in your learning, if you have committed for time during the week, stick to it, this will pay off in the longer run. Remember time never comes back! It’s a one-way street.

2. Use self-initiative to learn English, do not rely on the teacher to “make you learn” English. Teacher is there to guide you, but you need to understand it yourself, and for this self-initiative is required. As we say in English “you can take the horse to the well, but you can’t make him drink”

3. Speak each word 30 times in front of a mirror, speak to yourself or with someone, remember don’t think you’ll become an idiot; as we say in English “repetition is the mother of skill”

4. Be patient! It takes time to learn and understand information, your brain takes time to understand, allow time for this and don’t cram and “outsmart” your brain, it’s not going to work.

And finally, Good luck! and enjoy your learning experience, believe me it’s worth it and will pay of dividends in the long term

#LearningEnglish #EnglishInRussia #Россия #УчитьАнглийский #АнглийскийЯзвык

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