October is here and teachers of English are under a lot of pressure – demand for private English classes and various courses exceeds all expectations! It seems everybody in Kostroma is somehow connected with language learning. Kostroma is a provincial town, and all your associations with the word ‘provincial’ – from ‘a pleasant quiet place with interesting history and traditions’ to ‘dull and boring’ – are more or less true. The 300 km from here to Moscow is a very short distance, and many young people want to move to the capital and find a job there or study there. Speaking a foreign language is a valuable asset for job seekers and a must for those who want to enter a good university.
You shouldn’t think, though, that all the brightest and smartest and cleverest people in Kostroma either have moved to a big city or emigrated or are planning to do so. More and more local businesses (timber, jewellery, textile) attract young people and knowledge of English (or German) is essential, which brings us back to the process of learning.
This week my private students, Andrey and Ruslan, have finished Unit 2 of Global Beginner. Everything goes smoothly, and the activity on page 17 (about stamps) even made Andrey find extra information about Kennedy and the Queen! There was an argument about the Watch section of the eWorkbook, though. Andrey finds the ‘empty’, black background absolutely brilliant. He says it makes him pay more attention to the actors, the way they speak, the way they convey the message to the viewer. I agree with him 100% and remember my own English classes at University when I was a first-year student. Our teacher encouraged us not only to make up dialogues but act them out, think of natural gestures, face expression, movements – a method first employed by Stanislavsky in the theatre.
Ruslan, however, was annoyed with the absence of visuals helping to understand the video. The body language seemed to him far less important than grammar. I was so interested in this point of view that I took my laptop to work (the Department of Foreign Languages at University) and invited colleagues and some Methodology students to express their opinions. Almost everybody said the black background was stimulating. Even more so when the subtitles are switched off. Just the ideal thing for beginners.
So, I asked Ruslan to make a short dialogue (Hi!-Hi! How are you? etc) with his seven-year-old daughter who has just started English at school. When he next came to our class, he said he now understood what I meant. He said: ‘Do I also roll my eyes to the ceiling when I speak? And do I also say Hi! with this frozen expression? Time to pay more attention to that eWorkbook video!’