Natalia is not just a teacher. She is a lifelong student as we all should be. She speaks and keeps learning four languages: English, French, German, and Turkish. For 5 years now, she has lived in Istanbul. It doesn’t quite feel like her native city yet but there are reasons to love this sunny place where she has a family. Natalia has great experience in teaching English to students of various levels, ages and backgrounds. This interview is both a personal introduction and a collection of useful tips for language learners, so read on to find out more.
Natalia, why did you decide to become a teacher of English?
I studied in Minsk State Linguistic University, and before that, in a linguistic grammar school and a linguistic college. So for most of my life I’ve been studying languages. As a kid, I loved to play pretend being a teacher: explaining something to people, correcting them, checking notebooks, etc. I know I’ve chosen the right career path.
How was English taught to you back at school / university?
The approach was always pretty classic. We had grammar rules explained to us, we would get lists of words to learn. We wrote essays and read classic authors in English. On the one hand, I learned a lot, but on the other, I didn’t feel that I had really mastered the language. Now I know that memorizing a certain amount of information like vocabs and grammar rules is not the most important thing.
What is key to learning a foreign language?
A language is a skill. You can’t learn to ride a bike just from reading about it. Any skill is developed by practicing. You can spend an eternity making sense of grammar books but that won’t make you fluent in a language. You should read and listen more. Science confirms that comprehension skills develop after putting in 1000 hours of listening to speech in your target language!
Why do you think so many people still don’t speak English, even though most would readily admit it’s a useful skill to have?
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about it. There are so many free and affordable resources for studying languages now. In a few clicks, you can get a course, a book, a movie, a TV show, a YouTube channel to help you with it. I think most people cite lack of motivation as their excuse. Many teachers say the same thing. But I have a different perspective.
You don’t think motivation is the most important thing?
It’s definitely important but virtually useless if there is no clear learning goal. I think your first step should be understanding where exactly you are going to use the language that you want to learn. Who are you going to talk to? The choice of learning tools depends on your answer. If you know you need to read and write in a language, practice reading and writing. If you need to listen and speak, start doing that. Setting the right goal and choosing the right means of reaching it make for 90% of your success. At the same time, skills can and should be practiced together. A one-sided approach doesn’t work.
“A goal” sounds more specific than “motivation”.
Exactly. Another part of the equation is confidence. Both students and teachers should be optimistic about reaching the goals they’ve set. In case of language schools, it’s great when teachers are somehow incentivized for academic progress of their students.
What language learning methods would you say are the most efficient?
Reading is very useful but the books you read should be modern. Make sure to write down some new words and phrases you like. And not just completely new ones. You may recognize a phrase or understand it in the given context, but if you wouldn’t come up with it yourself, write it down! This is what I always do. Each foreign language has many collocations that have no word for word translation in your native tongue. You can learn them from authentic texts, videos and audio files. For example, most Russian speakers would say “fill a bath” in English but most native speakers would use the verb “run” in this context.
What movies or TV shows in English would you recommend watching?
I will name a few that I use in class and that I always recommend to my students: Modern Family, Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother. I use bits of TV shows, movies and music to try and create authentic English-speaking atmosphere in the classroom. If you are learning English for business, watch the Office. There are tons of useful expressions there. And again, write down the ones you think you should learn, at least a few words or phrases from an episode.
How do you maintain your own level of English?
Besides reading and watching TV shows, I speak English at home with my husband. I also take a lot of classes at Coursera. It’s a fantastic online resource with videos in English, covering a variety of interesting subjects. I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately as well. It’s so convenient!
How would you describe your teaching style?
For many years I’ve been using communicative teaching methods. I believe that even grammar should be taught by means of speech practice, not just rules and dozens of exercises. Especially if the student’s goals don’t include passing an English test. If they do, there are some grammar formalities to cover in more detail. But in any case, grammar is the bare skeleton of the language, while vocabulary and communicative goals make it a whole body.
Has your teaching style changed in any way over the years?
I stick to communicative methods in teaching English, but within that realm, there are always new ideas to try out! I can share one method I’ve found very recently. It helps you become more fluent in any language. Take an easy topic you are interested in, something you could speak about more or less freely. Start speaking about it in the language you are learning and do it for 4 minutes. Speak as fast as possible and try not to stop. After that, do the same thing for 3 minutes. Then for 2 minutes, and again, speak fast with no pauses. Keep doing this exercise for a week. After that, you can make a final video to send over to your teacher who will check your speech for mistakes. It’s a great way to develop fluency!
How do you cheer up the students who struggle with learning English?
I’ve been learning languages all my life, not just English, but also French, Turkish and German. So I know exactly what difficulties arise along the way. I have faced them myself! I tell my students that their problems are very common and there are tried and tested solutions to them. I remind them why they have started learning English and what their goals are.
Do you like teaching English online?
I take a lot of online classes myself, and I think that online education holds much promise for the future. You can study whatever you want wherever you are comfortable, and it saves you much time.
Why did you choose to work with Online Class?
I like the teaching philosophy here. I like the freedom the teachers have to use their experience and choose the program for each student individually, based on the student’s wishes and needs. It would probably be tricky for a newbie teacher to have so much freedom but all teachers here are great professionals who know what to do. I see that most people who come to study here have very specific learning goals. Many of them have tried other schools and standard programs but kept looking for a truly individual approach. There are one on one classes here, and a group has 2-3 students at most. That is a huge advantage over regular language schools where there can be 12 students in a group and it’s impossible to work with everyone as closely as Online Class does.
Don’t take our word for it — sign up for your first free English class with Online Class Director Irina Rogers. In your profile on the website, you can take a free language test to determine your current level of English. If you do that before your free class, we’ll be able to give you more specific recommendations and choose the best course and teacher for you. We are looking forward to meeting you!