What kind of students do you find difficult?

A student once asked me, “What kind of students do you find difficult?” I couldn’t reply immediately, but this question lingered in my mind for months. In this post, I want to answer my student's question.

First, I’ll give some context. I don’t teach at a state school or a university. I do in-company training and prepare students for international exams. My students take classes voluntarily because they use English at work or because they want to enrol in university programs taught in English.

For me, difficult students are people who: don't know what they want. Some students come and say they want IELTS preparation. They don’t know anything about the test, but they think it’s a good idea to have the certificate. Sooner or later they realize they don’t really need it, so they decide they want to work with TED talks because they are sick and tired of coursebooks. But working with TED talks turns out to be harder than working with coursebooks, so they change their mind. They dec…

The common comma: rules and recommendations

This post was written on demand. Students ask me to teach English punctuation on a regular basis. It is usually neglected in EFL course books because (I’m guessing) students are supposed to learn it intuitively through reading (which works, to some degree). But when they start writing a lot, especially in business or academic contexts, they realize that they don’t know how to punctuate in English. This is when they ask me. Explaining punctuation in class would be time-consuming because there are so many different rules. In this post, I want to narrow my focus and talk about the most common cases of comma use.
1. Use a comma before the conjunctions and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet if they link two main clauses.    The book was boring, but I decided to finish reading it anyway.
   The test was difficult, so the teacher gave us more time.

If you link two main clauses with a coordinating conjunction, you need to use a comma. But you don’t need to use a comma if you link two parts of the sen…

How to choose an IELTS school

Since I am an IELTS trainer myself, I sometimes make internet searches related to IELTS. As a result, I end up being bombarded with advertisements of IELTS schools, which I sometimes click out of curiosity. There are so many schools offering test preparation that potential test takers may find themselves at a loss as to which school to choose. In this post, I want to talk about what to pay attention to when browsing IELTS schools’ websites.

My recommendations are based on the analysis of IELTS schools in St Petersburg, Russia. I am not going to reveal the names of the schools.
1. Look for teachers’ profiles  Some websites have a lot of text about how good their school is, but no photos, names or bios of teachers. If I don’t see any profiles, I immediately get suspicious and can only come up with two explanations why: 1) The school doesn’t employ any teachers full-time and starts desperately looking for teachers as the clients come along; 2) The teachers the school employs have no bra…

8 more mistakes Russian learners of English often make

I didn’t initially plan to write a sequel to my post about common mistakes that Russian learners of English actually make, but the post proved extremely useful. Instead of explaining the mistakes over and over again, I simply gave my students the link and the number of the mistake they kept making. Seeing how well it worked, I’ve decided to put together one more list of common mistakes Russian learners make.

The root of all the mistakes below is the direct translation from Russian. Again, the list is based on my personal teaching experience. The order is almost random.

#1 Feel yourself good Feel good. If you think about it, isn't ‘yourself’ redundant anyway? Of course, it’s yourself you are talking about, so you don’t need to say it. On top of that, ‘feel yourself’ actually means something you probably don’t want to say. Google it. Seriously, do.

#2 Weekends Weekend, just one. If you are talking about your last or next weekend, a combination of two days Saturday and Sunday, it’s s…

Top 8 mistakes Russian learners of English actually make

Due to the nature of my job, every once in a while I stumble upon an article about N most common mistakes that learners of English make. I look at them and go, “Who makes these mistakes? Russians certainly don’t.” (For example, Russians don’t confuse your and you’re.) In this post, I want to talk about 8 common mistakes Russian learners actually make. These mistakes persist on different levels, but are not usually addressed in EFL course books.

The list is based on my personal teaching experience. The order is random.
1. I with
I often ask students “What did you do at the weekend?” and what I hear is “I with my friends went to the cinema.” The right way to say something like this is “My friends and I went to the cinema,” or “Iwent to the cinemawithmy friends.” In English, the word order is “subject+verb” and prepositional phrases can’t go in the middle.

2. How to say
When students don’t know how to say something, they ask me or murmur to themselves “How to say this?” The right ways …

How to choose a freelance language teacher

This is the time of year when many of you might be considering hiring language teachers for yourself or your children. It makes a lot of sense to cut out the middleman (a language school) and hire a freelance or a self-employed teacher directly. But if you decide to do that, you might find yourself browsing through tens of profiles a day and still unable to make a choice. In this post, I want to outline several aspects you might want to pay attention to when looking for a freelance language teacher.

Degree A degree in teaching is not a 100% guarantee of good quality teaching, but it definitely helps. People who get a degree in language teaching do not only study the language in-depth, they also study teaching principles and methods. It is, of course, possible but less likely that a person with a degree in engineering will make a great language teacher. They might be a proficient or a native language speaker, but they simply might not know how to help you learn the language.

Fulbright FLTA memories. Part 2. Translating Dovlatov back into Russian with my American students.

What I want to share in this post was probably my favorite part of my teaching Russian as a foreign language experience, which was teaching language with the help of literature (or is it literature with the help of language?).
In the second semester, the Russian teacher at UNH, Daria Kirjanov, taught a course called, “Stories of Displaced Lives: Russian and Eastern European Memoirs of Exile.” As part of this course, the students of Russian were supposed to attend a language lab class, the purpose of which was reading some of the course materials in the original. I got my own language lab class with three beginner level students. The beauty part was I didn’t have a rigid program to follow and had the freedom to create my own materials.

Talking about Dovlatov in this kind of course was absolutely inevitable. But his works came later in the semester. What we started from was Silver Age poetry. Since my students had only been learning Russian for 5 months, we started from the easiest a…