City’s Language Schools Look to Innovation
About 15 percent of Russians evaluate their knowledge of foreign languages as high, according to statistics.
Published: September 26, 2012 (Issue # 1728)
Language clubs such as Inter Tempora organize conversation groups in cafes, where students can communicate in a more informal and relaxed environment.
As more and more job vacancies require the knowledge of a foreign language, the city’s ever-multiplying language schools are finding innovative ways to improve their students’ language skills.
According to the JobsMarket website, there are now 60 language schools in St. Petersburg, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Among the language schools in the city, there are several that stand out for their alternative approach and progressive teaching methods.
Lessons at Inter Tempora foreign language club take place in a room where there are no desks, only a round table and a wide windowsill.
“We try to create as natural an environment as possible; we want our students to be physically relaxed, we don’t want them to perceive classes as something academic,” said Veronika Maslova, the club’s head.
“We teach English in small groups, with five people maximum,” she said. “Our students make themselves tea or coffee here. If they come for class early, they can sit on a sofa and relax, have something to eat, watch a movie in English or read a book. Then, for 2 hours and 15 minutes we practice the language. The communicative methodology that is very popular today and promoted by almost every club is presented here fully,” she added.
Beside intensive and extensive English courses, to which it is planned to add Spanish, Swedish and Japanese, the school also offers free participation in its conversation club, which takes place in a café. Groups of young people meet to speak English in an informal environment in which they can discuss different topics, the latest news, or watch and discuss films.
Inter Tempora has been operating for almost a year and is currently working on the development of courses for young children and individual Russian lessons for foreign businessmen.
A similar principle of practicing language in a natural, informal and relaxed atmosphere has been adopted by World Language Café, a network of mobile language clubs that arranges coffee and lunch meetings with native speakers for those wanting to learn English, German, French and other languages.
A combination of communicative methodology and the so-called structural approach (in which the focus is on the systematic teaching of structures) is offered by the Advance training club for a course titled “English language in 3 months with guaranteed results.”
“We test all the teaching methods that appear in the world and combine them, for example in our classes we use mind cards and mind maps created by [educational consultant] Tony Buzan, the grammar structuring technology of Stanford University and others,” said Nikolai Yagodkin, the center’s director.
“We only study things that students will need in practice, in real life: When we practice reading, we read texts from real life, in speaking we practice different speech templates. Our aim is to make our students speak,” said Darya Timoshina, one of the course teachers.
The teachers at Advance guarantee that within three months students will be able to pass two levels at once — from Beginner to Pre-Intermediate or from Elementary to Intermediate. “If you start from point zero, six months is the maximum period that you can spend with us,” said Yagodkin.
If by the end of the course students are not satisfied with the results, the school is willing to refund the full price of the course. According to Advance, which also plans to offer German courses in the future, it is currently the only teaching center to offer this guarantee.
New approaches to study are being introduced by bigger companies too. English First — an international educational network — opened an innovative education center in St. Petersburg last Thursday. The center contains an area for interactive themed events and an iLab zone for independent work in English First’s online school.
“The new center can be compared with a modern fitness club: Students buy a membership card for a year, receive a schedule of classes and have a personal coach and 24-hour access to the online platform,” said Carl Cronstedt, EF English First country manager for Russia.
English First’s new system of education, known as Efekta, contains four major steps: Learn, try, apply, certify. In Efekta, the study process begins online, includes lessons with native speakers, practice in real situations during events and finally, testing and receiving a certificate.
“This is a school for adults,” said Crondstedt. “We want to meet the needs of the adult population, who, according to our surveys, don’t have a lot of time for English; they need a flexible schedule, new technologies and native speakers as teachers.”
EF divides the six standard levels of English into 16, which prolongs the educational process, so that a year at a new EF school gives students the opportunity to cover 4 out of 16 levels.
About 15 percent of Russians evaluate their knowledge of foreign languages as high, according to research carried out in 2008 by the Levada Center research organization.
Most of those 15 percent are Russians with a higher education aged from 18-39, and are typically businessmen, managers and students. Eighty percent of that 15 percent said they spoke English, 16 said they knew German, and four – French.
Russia currently ranks 32nd out of 44 countries assessed in the EF English Proficiency Index, with an overall classification of “low.”