“A kind word is like a spring day.” – Russian Proverb
When teachers go back to school at the end of the summer holidays, there are feelings of excitement, stress, apprehension, and passion for teaching. Teaching Russian without being a native speaker could be a source of stress for some.
But can you teach Russian without being a native speaker? Can you teach your second language to students?
In this article, we’re going to look at learning a language and whether or not the teacher needs to be a native speaker of this new language, linguistic insecurity, and how to teach Russian effectively.
Those who grew up speaking Russian won’t necessarily be better teachers than us Brits who’ve taken Russian grammar classes, read Russian literature, and studied Russian phonetics.
Think about a language teacher that made you want to learn. (Source: werner22brigitte)
Of course, a Russian native speaker will know more about Russian culture and will definitely have a better accent when speaking Russian. However, that doesn’t mean they’re excellent teachers.
British and Russian culture are quite different from one another. When you learn a new language, you’ll see that the learning process will involve both the language and culture.
To teach a foreign language, you need to understand both cultures, especially the culture of the learners so that you can help them when they encounter certain problems. By having been a student in a Russian language course, you’ll be able to understand what aspects of the language are difficult for native English speakers including the pronunciation and the alphabet.
A lot of students prefer a non-native speaker when it comes to learning how to speak a foreign language:
“I think the right teacher isn’t one who speaks the best but one who uses the best teaching approaches. A native mightn’t always understand the difficulties a student encounters. The best approach is to have a non-native teacher working with a native assistant who can help with pronunciation and vocabulary. This assistant shouldn’t be much older than the students themselves so that they can encourage them to learn more about the culture and the language.” – Muriel
A Russian teacher will have probably travelled to Russia and have visited places such as Saint Petersburg, Moscow, or even Siberia. Russian teachers need to travel and be in contact with natives so that they’re up-to-date with modern Russian terms and cultural changes. However, only a native can really master the accent.
Charline echoes Muriel’s ideas: “I had a German tutor who wasn’t a native speaker and they made interested in German for 40 years. I read German, I listened to German music, and I spent all my holidays in Germany. My sister shared my passion for the language and we even spoke in German!”
First of all, it’s the teaching approaches that affect how well a language can be taught.
Speaking Russian as a non-native speaker can leave tutors feeling insecure linguistically. However, learning a foreign language is all about making mistakes and even teachers are always listening and improving their language skills.
Make sure your lessons are clear! (Source: StarzySpringer)
Michel Francard defined linguistic insecurity as an unfulfilled quest for legitimacy. In the case of a Russian tutor, they may have a complex where they’re concerned their imperfections will be heard and they won’t have the same legitimacy as a native speaker.
This can knock their confidence in their ability to teach the language. Linguistic security comes about from the idea of strict educational establishments that demand perfection.
These feeling can arise when the teacher has to communicate with a native speaker. They’ll have to come face-to-face with their fears if they’re in a class with a native language assistant. This can make the teacher scared, ashamed, uncomfortable, and even unable to speak.
But being a language teacher isn’t about knowing absolutely everything about English, Spanish, German, or Russian.
Your goal is to transfer your knowledge and help students to learn more about the language. You’ve got to help them to improve their own knowledge and give them the tools to learn.
The teacher doesn’t need to be scared of not knowing the answer to a question or not knowing the right word. You don’t need to be ashamed…
Don’t forget to think about where you can teach.
There are many strategies for getting over a perceived “lack of knowledge”.
In short, your goal is to remain immersed in the Russian language. Of course, you can’t prepare for everything when you’re teaching.
Experience will help you deal with difficult moments when it comes to questions on grammar, which can sometimes be quite prickly. Again, you’ll need to find a strategy for dealing with them. However, a teacher doesn’t have to know everything.
Just like anyone else, there is always more you can learn. It’s time to stop seeing teachers as being all-powerful in terms of their language abilities and see them more as a guide to help you on your path to learning the Russian language and more about Russian culture.
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This will help teachers to be surer of themselves. Nobody knows everything when it comes to a language.
Russian language classes should be about horizontal learning rather than vertical learning from the teacher to the student.
A tutor’s worst nightmare is to not know the answer to a student’s question. (Source: Pexels)
The important thing is to teach students to love the language and want to learn more about it. However, there are techniques for improving how you teach a language.
So how can you teach Russian as a non-native speaker?
The most important thing is that the lessons take place in the target language as much as possible. Even if you have to say a few words in English, especially with beginners and intermediates, you’ll want Russian to be the main language used in class. The students’ confidence will improve and they’ll start assimilating more and more Russian vocabulary.
Invite native speakers into your class to speak with your students. Language assistants are also a great way to improve your students’ levels in Russian. Speaking with the teacher and the language assistant is a great way to make lessons more dynamic and spontaneous.
Finally, make good use of audio and video resources. Allow your to be active in class.
Your teaching needs to include cultural aspects. (Source: MariaShvedova)
Sitting for 8 hours on a chair isn’t a great way to concentrate actively. Do quizzes and other competitive activities to encourage your students to progress. Any activity can turn into a competition: word association, looking for hidden words, etc. Students can get really excited about competitions.
We think better when we’re active! Running dictations are far more exciting than just reading: One student reads a text before runs to the other side of the room to repeat it to their partner who has to write it down without making mistakes.
You can also play games like “Who am I?” where students have to guess the famous person (with Russians, ideally) whose name is stuck to their forehead. Students can only ask yes/no questions in Russian.
Teach them phonetics. Pronunciation is an important part of Russian if you want to speak like a native or become bilingual. When it comes to the Russian language, there’s also the Cyrillic alphabet to tackle.
Whether you’re teaching a group class or a private tutorial, grammar is also important. You need to make grammar fun so that students aren’t put off learning the language. Whether you’re a native speaker or not, the approaches you use are the most important part of your classes!
As a private tutor, students will expect you to help them learn a language in a way that works for them. Different languages require different approaches. If you learn Italian or Latin in a class, for example, you’re going to have a completely different experience to someone learning Mandarin on Duolingo or with Rosetta Stone.
Language learning needs to adapt to each language learner. Being a polyglot won’t necessarily make you a good teacher and reciting words and phrases isn’t the only way to learn to speak a new language, though repetition does have its place. Students will need to study their new words while also using their language lessons as opportunities for immersion.
If you’re ready to start tutoring Russian, make your profile on Superprof today!