The Russian language is the most common of the Slavic and seventh in total number of speakers in the world. Therefore, many people seek to learn Russian for work and to improve their career prospects, for education, or just to know more about the unique Russian culture.
But how can you effectively teach the Russian language when almost everyone says that it is extremely difficult? Without hesitation, professionals will say that any language, especially the native one, must be taught first and foremost with love! You can easily recognise a great teacher by the level of enthusiasm they manage to instil in their students and the passion they have for teaching.
But, in addition to sheer love and motivation, there are also specific features of teaching Russian you should have in your arsenal, especially if you’re teaching foreigners.
Here are some tips for those who work with foreign students of Russian:
1. Goals and motivation
It’s important to know that, for your student, it is exhausting to learn such a challenging language. Set your goals clearly (it’s always a good idea to include your student in this process) and base your methodology on them, to reach the goals step by step.
There are no two similar students and no two similar methods of teaching, so always take their interests into account. Find their main motivation. If the student doesn’t know why they need Russian, he or she will give up their lessons very soon. That’s why you should look at their interests and help them remember why they started learning in the first place. To read Dostoyevsky in the original Russian? To travel around the whole of Russia on their own? Watch TV shows and understand the Russian mentality? Or maybe to find their love in Russia?
Look for personal motivation for your student, and make sure that they follow their goals step by step!
Yes, Russian is a hard language; we all know it and have heard it a thousand times. However, it’s not necessary to remind your students this every minute of every lesson. You don’t need to scare them more than they already are! Encouragement, encouragement, and more encouragement – even if their results don’t look significant. Never forget to show your respect to your student’s hard efforts.
Another good thing is that native Russian speakers are perfectly informed of how troublesome their language is and most of them are sincerely amazed and adore foreigners who can say even couple of words in Russian. Musicians, who say simple “спасибо” when they perform in Russia, make the crowd go crazy. Foreigners who can correctly use three or four phrases are treated as “brothers”. Therefore, contact with native speakers can be an inspiring experience for your student, not to mention that the language exposure will improve your student further.
3. It’s easier done than said!
The system of cases in Russian is a foundation stone for understanding and mastering the language but, at the same time, it is considered to be one the most problematic aspects for foreigners to comprehend.
Keeping that in mind, don’t start your teaching with cases, which have an intimidating amount of grammar rules. For example, the genitive case is important and the most common of all. But it’s also one of the more complicated cases, with lots of exceptions and nuances. It would be much more reasonable to start with an easier case, for instance the prepositional or instrumental.
Prepositional is commonly used to show locations (в городе, на улице, в Англии) and instrumental you can easily find in restaurant menus (с сахаром, с курицей, c овощами). Knowing these cases will let the student build a couple of simple, but useful and common phrases like «Кофе с молоком, пожалуйста» or «Я живу в Киеве». Your student will feel that he or she has had some satisfying progress already, which can be used in everyday life. Make them think “It’s easier than I thought it would be!”.
4. Speak more
There’s no sense in studying a language if you don’t speak in it. Practise spoken language and retelling as much as possible. Use new words and expressions not only during the lessons, but also in your everyday speech and out-of-class communications with students. The intermediary language prevents you from concentrating on the language you are studying and, accordingly, slows down the process of mastering the Russian language. Greet and say goodbye only in Russian. If you use texting or other means for your communication, send texts with words and phrases you have already studied and just common wording.
For more advanced students arrange “Speak Only Russian Days” – lessons when you communicate only in Russian and their native language is forbidden. Choose a topic that will be of interest to students and try to provoke them into a dialogue. Remember that the more they communicate in the language that you are teaching, the better they will learn it.
5. Know your student
Of course, it’s not obligatory for a teacher to be a master of all languages in the world. But knowing a little bit about your students’ native language will be truly helpful and will build a better connection between you and your students. It’s an era of globalisation and if you find some similarities in your students’ native language and Russian, it will make him or her feel more comfortable about learning.
For example, the German language, like Russian, has cases. There is an array of French words that Russians still use daily from the times it was fashionable to speak French in the 19th century. And the Japanese language borrows English words as well as those of modern Russian.
You can always find some connection, even between cultures seemingly far away from each other. It is necessary to take into account the specifics of the native culture and mindset of students and, at the same time, give them an idea of the history, culture, way of life, and traditions of Russian speaking countries and people.
Conclusion – Inspire your students to want to learn
Learning a language is a complex process. It requires that both the teacher and student fully immerse themselves in the process of mastering Russian. You as a teacher need to figure out a way to teach each student individually and introduce them to learning through their own interests. However, some principles are the same for everyone and there are some techniques that help anyone looking to become fluent in Russian. Try to focus the student’s attention on the easier parts of the language, keep them motivated, and praise them often. It’s also a great idea to put a lot of focus on speaking and try to draw parallels with the student’s native culture, to make Russian seem more accessible.
This article was written by Nina Z – our Russian and Ukrainian teacher in Kiev.