ENGLISH BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
Simon Green and John Harrison
It’s quite rare for me to be found in a jacket and tie on a Sunday, but this wasn’t any old Sunday, it was September 3rd and I was participating in an English language festival called: “English Beyond the Classroom.” The Chevening committee members had got together two months or so before and decided this would be a great way to attract people to a conference about English, and it was led by the indefatigable, highly energetic and enthusiastic Lyubov Zolotova, who together with her co-pilots, Olga Diachenko and Maria Petrenko, a formidable triumvirate, soon had the British Embassy and British Council voicing support for such a project. The British Council has large numbers of followers on their social networks, and the Embassy UK in Russia also has a faithful following, so when this project was formally announced to the public, the numbers started escalating out of all control.
Fortunately the versatile Lyubov had some senior contacts at the ZIl Cultural Centre who were only too happy to offer a couple of conference rooms, but it was quickly identified to be insufficient as over 1,000 people signed up for it, at which point she approached the Director and managed to secure the main auditorium which can accommodate 800 people. Another reason the numbers had climbed so rapidly was because the ZIl Centre has a following of 34,000 via their social networks, as do other partners, including LLC ONARA (exclusive distributor of National Geographic Learning). They are affiliated with Cambridge University Press who offered to throw in a speaker to boot. As a quid pro quo, they were offered stands at the event where they gave away magazines (including the illustrious National Geographic) and other useful educational material, which had people flocking to them like bees to honey! They also did a very successful workshop showing how to integrate ‘TED’ into the teaching and learning process which some 200 grateful people attended.
The first speaker was Natalia Jafar-Biglou, a theatre practitioner cum English language facilitator as well as a British Council project manager. She propagated the various emotions that assist English language learning via a London-based arts charity called ‘Rewrite.’ Although she spoke impressive Russian, she made her presentation in her native English assisted by Lyubov doing some consecutive translating, but in truth, this audience consisted of many English teachers so no more than a few sentences here and there were required. Natalia showed us a video by ‘Rewrite’ which explained how students, many of whom are refugees and immigrants, are integrated into a programme to accelerate English learning.
Next up was Anna Stogova, co-founder of The Native Speakers Club, and Native Speakers Café, who spoke in Russian with the aid of slides, and explained about living the language. She produced an inadvertent faux-pas demonstrating how two words like ‘circumstances’ and ‘circumcision’ can be muddled up to the great amusement of the audience before her.
Philippe Martin followed and discussed ‘Business Builder English’ and his lesson structure, as well as promoting his book on pricing strategies. He reminded us constantly how little time he had, and with that in mind he went through his repertoire hardly pausing for breath at the speed of an unrelenting Kalashnikov, unleashing various pearls of wisdom. Lyubov actually interrupted him to ask the audience if they needed some translating done but they seemed to understand his message loud and clear.
Alexander from The British Council followed hard on Philippe’s heels and launched into the proficiency of English levels with different approaches, eliciting much mirth with his different tense examples. He covered the British Council’s role, offering various study options as well as British/Russian events one can attend, along with the many resources for learning available to all and sundry.
Amor Elboghdadi started proceedings with a video evoking Positive Mental Attitude which grabbed people’s attention except for one problem: where was the man himself?
Suddenly, as if in answer to our prayers, he strode onto the stage, a vision in bright white from head to toe that would have had Persil proud to hire him as part of washing powder advert! “Russians never give up” he resonated, which produced instant applause and a positive connection with the audience. He then expanded on a theme about positive and negative emotions, focusing to a large degree about positive vibrations one’s body gives off. The power of positive thinking has a massive influence on your destiny and you should never under-estimate yourself and what you can do. At this point a rather rude man interrupted his narrative vehemently refuting what he was saying which Amor handled with great dexterity, but even then he wouldn’t shut up- quite dreadful behaviour in my opinion. Despite this, and also overunning on time, he finished by saying you must chase your goals and dreams and they’ll become a reality.
Maria Staroverova gave the audience a fascinating insight into the way things are going in English language training. Describing current trends and what is happening now in the world of online language learning, Maria listed the main providers of language training, such as LuiguaLeo, Puzzle English, Skyeng, memrise, and showed us on a slide some of the 90+ ed tech companies writing the future of education. Maria brought us deeper into the online world by explaining that online education is all about personalisation, with each student having his or her personal space. This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and important aspects of online education, as one thinks the opposite about internet education.
Anna Potapova, a specialist of the ‘ОNАRА’ English language learning system, and representative of the ‘TED’ learning programme (TED has signed an exclusive deal with National Geographic Learning) spoke next. As part of her lecture she explained the specifics of each of the XYZ generations, and how teaching methods need to be adapted accordingly. Somebody of Z generation, for example, may see little point in using traditional language learning methods when everything is on Google. A new approach is needed, and this is exactly what people involved in online learning systems are creating.
There were no fewer than six workshops in the second part of the festival to choose from, far too many for your humble scribe to review. Natalia Jafar-Biglou’s workshop was well attended and very well executed. She had a hundred or so teachers of English and some students, moving freely around the workshop, making friends and inventing short skits. Not a single word of Russian was spoken by anyone for a whole hour, as people learned to relate to complete strangers, in English. This workshop showed that learning English can, and should be fun; furthermore, we learn more when we are able to use the language actively. The speed at which she was able to enthuse her students to relax and turn on their creative selves was astonishing. This spoke a lot about Russians’ natural openness and creativity but it also showed Natalia’s tremendous skill and unassuming professionalism.
Philippe Martin’s workshop on business English, in particular on pricing mechanisms was very specific, and could have been useful for procurement managers or marketing. Students learnt additional meanings of code words like: decoys,’ options, and charm pricing.
Simon Green gave a highly entertaining and informative workshop to a packed hall of about 250 people: ‘What is Oxford English.’ He made the simple but profound point that what English native speakers say is not always the same as what they mean and sadly quite often this is different from what foreigners think native speakers mean. The audience highly appreciated Simon’s humour as he explained the meanings of such idioms as ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, to ‘burning the midnight oil’ to ‘it’s gone tits up.’
The interactive part of the lecture contained some highly complex questions which perhaps elucidated learners’ attempts to understand such idioms logically, when Simon maintained that the language is almost impossible to grasp using cognitive processes alone.
To finish the day off, the tremendous Lyubov Zolotova gave a beautiful lecture of the temporal aspect of English; how it has changed, and is still evolving. Together with and the Minne Singers, she explained, through songs and music some of the transformations in lexicon and grammatical usage that the language has undergone to an enthralled audience.
In all, the event was a tremendous success; it was indeed a day of experience – of English Beyond the Classroom. All the organizers and speakers should be congratulated. The event also showed that the world of English is alive and kicking in Russia. This English, in Russia, is a force of people who are quietly absorbed in teaching and of learning. One has to ask the question – what are they teaching and learning? A language which by its cosmopolitan nature continues to be a tremendously useful gateway into understanding culture and ways of thinking and doing things of over half of the world in which we live in. We wait impatiently for the next such event.