Sunday, June 11, 2017

Another Success Story: Preparing For Russian Certification Exams

The best news a teacher can hear from her student is that the student has successfully passed important exams. That is exactly what happened to me last Friday: I woke up, grabbed my smartphone and found an email from one of my students with the good news inside. My student worked hard and received a well-deserved certificate, and I'm extremely proud of her. I realize that my contribution to her success was quite modest - the student was truly committed to passing those exams. However, I decided to shed some light on the methods and techniques I practiced to help her to get prepared for the exams. These are my language learning and teaching tips.

Shift the focus from learning to using the language

Most language students are extremely shy to speak their target language. The very first challenge any teacher faces is helping students to gain more confidence. The fear to sound stupid verbally chokes students - they seem to be unable to produce an intelligible sentence, even if they know quite a lot of words and remember all the necessary grammar rules.

What I usually do - and the case I discuss in this article is no exception - is shifting the focus from learning a language to using it. I virtually take a student out of the classroom and involve him or her in a conversation. Once a student forgets about speaking correctly and focuses on delivering his or her thoughts, ideas and emotions in a new language, the fear disappears. Or, at the very least, the panic shrinks to a manageable stress.

Make it personal

In the case I'm describing in this article, we already had a list of topics provided by the educational institution for the exams, so we were not free to choose what to talk about. To make those way too common, boring topics more engaging and lively, I suggested that my student bring her personality into the text, and to build her stories on what resonates with her in this or that topic.

I learned from my experience that it is nearly impossible to demonstrate good language skills by talking about something dull and unengaging. I took IELTS exams twice, and when the topics for essays and short speech were interesting, I performed much better than when I had to desperately figure out what to say about things I would never discuss in my mother-tongue. "Make it more personal!" proved to be the right strategy for language exams.

Surrounding yourself with language

Because there are often too many students in a classroom, and a teacher is preoccupied with the curriculum, language learners don't access enough relevant authentic materials. In other words, while learning a language and going through all those endless grammar drills, students may forget why they started learning a new language in the first place.

During our one-on-one sessions, I tried to think of something written or said in Russian that would pick my student's curiosity. High-quality content is what keeps students learning a language outside of the classroom, and this is the most important part of the language acquisition. Books, blogs, movies, radio stations - all a teacher needs to do is to help students to find relevant content. My student said that she surrounded herself with movies and books in Russian during the few last days before the exams. I believe that worked much better for her than just reviewing grammar lessons.

Exams always put a lot of stress onto students. Changing the student's mindset from a classroom type of activities to real life actions helps to overcome the stress and switch them from learning to acquiring the language. As you might have noticed, my strategy is basically to turn Russian from being a school subject to something meaningful and relevant. That worked for me in the past and proved to work for my student.

If you need help in getting prepared for your tests and exams, book your lessons here - together we'll develop the best strategy that will work for you.

Monday, March 27, 2017

18 Meanings Of the Nominative Case. Really?

Photo by David Kessler

What can be easier than the Nominative case? It is the basic, the original form of a noun, and its major role in a sentence is to be a subject.

This is what I thought until I opened a Russian as Foreign language test guide (Требования по русскому языку как иностранному). Surprisingly, the authors of the guide come up with 18 (eighteen) different meanings of the Nominative case. Wow.

The guide is in Russian, so I’ve translated those eighteen points into English, and, for some of the points, I have to cite the original examples, because otherwise they would be too confusing. So here is what the Nominative case is for (nouns in the Nominative are bold):
  1. The subject in active voice clause; the example was somewhat questionable: Нина смотрит телевизор. Nina is watching TV. Okay, watching TV could be active.
  2. The subject of condition; another questionable example: Мальчик спит. The boy is sleeping; How watching TV is more active than sleeping?
  3. A person/ an object identified by some characteristics: День тёплый. The day is warm.
  4. General identification of a person or a thing: Это Нина. This is Nina. Это торт. This is a cake.
  5. Specific identification of a person or a thing: Её зовут Нина. Her name is Nina.
  6. Addressing somebody by one’s name: Нина, смотри! Nina, look!
  7. Characteristics of a person or a thing (somewhat overlapping with number 3, but slightly different type of constructions in Russian): Пётр - скрипач, Peter is a violinist.
  8. Characteristics of an event: Сегодня концерт. The concert is today.
  9. The presence or availability of something in a place, an equivalent of ‘there is/ are’: В доме есть подвал. There is a basement in the house.
  10. Having something: У меня есть кот. I have a cat.
  11. Dates; the example in the guide is a question: Какое сегодня число? What date is it today?
  12. The object one needs/ desires: Нине нужен торт. Nina needs a cake.
  13. The object of comparison: Кот умнее собаки. The cat is smarter than the dog.
  14. Events, actions in some specific phase: Концерт начинается в шесть часов. The concert starts at six.
  15. Day of the week, month, season etc. (I think, it overlaps with numbers 8 and 11): Сегодня понедельник. Today is Monday.
  16. A thing or a person in a passive voice: Концерт сыгран в главном зале страны. The concert was played in the country’s main concert hall.
  17. Physical or emotional conditions: У Нины ветрянка. Nina has chickenpox.
  18. The object of one’s evaluation: Нине нравится торт. Nina likes the cake.
After reading this list I thought, if I were studying Russian, I would panic and quit. If you are about to panic - please don’t, not yet! The good news is that you don’t have to memorize all these “meanings”. Instead, you can simply understand what the Nominative case does.

As usual, etymology helps a lot. The word “Nominative” is from Latin nominativus ‘relating to naming”. And the Russian name for this case is Именительный, from имя, name. This case names or, if you wish, labels things (people, events, conditions, abstract ideas etc). Nominative is for naming. That’s it. If you look through the list one more time, you’ll see that in most examples above the Nominative case simply names something or someone. The list is unnecessary long and confusing.

There are, however, some tricky expressions, that are completely different in English, and so English speakers often make mistakes there. You have to learn those constructions one by one, but there are not so many. I’ve come up with only five of them, and here they are:
  • Stating that a place has something (the equivalent of ‘there is’/ ‘there are’ in English):
    В + N in Prepositional + есть + N in Nominative.
    В нашем доме есть гараж. There is a garage in our house.
  • Having something:
    У + PRO/N in Genitive + есть + N in Nominative.
    У Нины есть торт. Nina has a cake.
  • Speaking about physical and emotional conditions:
    У + PRO/N in Genitive+ N in Nominative.
    У брата - счастье. My brother is happy.
  • Expressing needs:
    PRO/N in Dative + нужен (m)/ нужна (f)/ нужно (n) + N in Nominative
    Мне нужна твоя поддержка. I need your support.
  • Expressing likes and dislikes:
    PRO/N in Dative + нравится + N in Nominative
    Всем нравится торт. Everybody likes the cake.
And the last thing for today. You can understand cases, but memorizing their endings is a real pain. These Grammar Table Bookmarks may help you to learn Russian cases a bit faster and easier. Good luck!