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.