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Ivanova D.N. et al. "LANGUAGE TEACHING IN RUSSIA (THE CASE OF SOUTHERN FEDERAL UNIVERSITY)". Meždunarodnyj naučno-issledovatel’skij žurnal (International Research Journal) № 10 (64) Part 1, (2017): 21. Wed. 01. Nov. 2017.
Ivanova D. N. LANGUAGE TEACHING IN RUSSIA (THE CASE OF SOUTHERN FEDERAL UNIVERSITY) / D. N. Ivanova, E. N. Donchenko // Mezhdunarodnyj nauchno-issledovatel'skij zhurnal. — 2017. — № 10 (64) Part 1. — С. 21—24. doi: 10.23670/IRJ.2017.64.006



Иванова Д.Н.1, Донченко Е.Н.2

1ORCID:0000-0003-3824-7300, кандидат социологических наук, доцент, 2доцент кафедры английского языка гуманитарных факультетов ЮФУ Южный федеральный университет



Цель настоящей статьи – осветить ряд проблем и преобразований в области преподавания иностранных языков в вузе, которые характерны для России сегодня. Также в ней изложены принципы преподавания  языка с учетом культурной специфики. Те виды учебной деятельности, которые описываются в статье, могут реализовываться на практике через преподавателя, а также через самих студентов, которые в сегодняшние дни  воспринимаются как  субъекты учебного процесса. В Южном федеральном университете, который находится в фокусе внимания авторов, организация самостоятельной работы студентов является одним из приоритетных направлений.  Методы и приемы работы, рассмотренные в статье, могут помочь формировать положительную мотивацию к изучению иностранного языка. Многие из них были разработаны и апробированы именно в Южном федеральном университете. Сочетание традиционных методов преподавания языка с  новейшими технологиями, по мнению авторов, составляет суть языкового образования в вузе.

Ключевые слова: методы изучения языка, продуктивные умения, рецептивные навыки, самостоятельное обучение, исследование языка.

Ivanova D.N.1, Donchenko E.N.2

1ORCID: 0000-0003-3824-7300 PhD, Associate Professor, 2Associate Professor of the English Department of Humanities, SFU



The purpose of the paper is to reveal a number of challenges and changes which language teaching and learning in the Russian Federation undergo these days. It also deals with some culturally specific techniques. The activities described in the paper demonstrate both the teacher-led introduction of a new language, and material designed to enable students to work things out for themselves. In the university which is the focus of the authors’ attention one of the main goals is the training of autonomous learners. Such learners can benefit from these techniques so that the longer-term aim of improving productive and receptive skills can be achieved. The techniques have been introduced and approved in the English course at Southern Federal University. One of the major challenges of the professors of any Russian university today, from the authors’ perspective, is  combination of the best of traditional approaches with the latest developments in language teaching methodology.

Keywords: language study techniques, productive skills, receptive skills, autonomous learner, language research.

Roger Dale wrote: “ National education systems are the major means by which societies seek to define, replicate, celebrate and ensure their national distinctiveness ” [1, P. 295] Beyond this, there is an ever-growing awareness that both language teaching and language learning are culturally-specific. As a matter of fact it is hardly surprising because most English teaching everywhere in the world is not carried out by people whose native language is English. And foreign language teaching methods must fit with the local educational culture. Our goal here is to present some language teaching experiences which have been tested and approved in the English course at Southern Federal University, relying on the work of many other professors from universities of Russia. We also intend to focus on the best of traditional approaches and the latest developments in language education applied in our country.

 One of the biggest challenges for classical university education is the Internet and communication technologies. They have evolved so far that some nations have almost wiped up their public education systems. This global trend stimulates us to develop a range of various techniques for self-study. This point is quite obvious for all national educational systems, and we do not want to focus on this issue. What we would like to highlight is that a good teacher should be flexible, as we always deal with changes and challenges in our profession. There have always been new areas of research and innovation, apart from the growth in computer use in teaching and learning. This paper is aimed at introducing some popular techniques from current teaching experience.

Higher education in the Russian Federation is in a constant state of flux, with new standards and requirements, new theories and practices which erupt on almost daily basis. As professors of higher school we are often challenged by new regulations which question our long-held beliefs. Despite the fact that some approaches and techniques in teaching foreign languages in university persist through time, the main fact about higher education in Russia in general and language education in particular is the creativity of all kinds of specialists involved in higher education. We have to work as materials designers, controllers, assessors, observers and performers. But this is as it should be, because when it comes to our profession, the more we can offer to our students, the better.

As we noted above, English teaching methodology is culturally-specific. Traditionally, in Russian educational environment there has been much discussion about accuracy versus fluency. We must admit that in the Soviet time accuracy prevailed. Students, who studied English at that time, were obliged to do it, some of them saw learning English as “an unpleasant but sadly necessary occupation” [2, P. 220]. But now attitudes to language study both in and outside the university have been modified, with serious attempts to focus on fluency as well. There are a few techniques we effectively use to teach both accuracy and fluency. In other words, we use them to ensure that students not only understand the meaning of a language form and how it works in texts and exchanges, but are also clear about its construction.

We also work with a diverse population of students coming from various cultural backgrounds and with almost all possible levels of English ranging from elementary  to advanced.

As we noted above, in our university we deal with students with different degrees of linguistic ability in English. In addition to that, students in Southern Federal  University like anywhere else learn at different speeds and in different ways. These two facts taken together can explain why the classes we normally give in our university can be described as “mixed ability”. As a consequence it is impossible to know exactly what language structures to teach and whether they are new or not for the students in the class.  Despite the fact that all our students have experienced the language before in secondary schools, it is very seldom the case that they all are good at using it. As we cannot be sure whether or not our students know the language, and the very first thing to do when they come to university is to find this information out. In order to make the right decision students are asked to do various tests at different stages of their education.

Basically we use in our language teaching practice two categories of such tests:

Placement test: we offer it to place new students in the right class when they start their university education. It is based on syllabuses the students will follow in the next two years. Our main purpose is to test grammar and vocabulary. We also decide on the level of the students and tell them this information. As a matter of fact we do not design the tests and deal with international tests that imported directly from British English teaching.

Progress test: these tests are used to measure students’ skill progress in relation to the syllabus and materials they have been following. As our university course is split into modules and semesters, the students are faced with a progress test at the end of each module. To fit our university educational tradition, we decided to split the English course into two modules per semester in different faculties. So it means that the students are tested two times per semester. We have to design this kind of tests ourselves for a number of reasons. Firstly, almost all learning materials are available on the Internet today. As most of our students are not interested in getting the real picture of their language and skill progress, but the professors are, we know full well, our students can easily get these tests done. Secondly, most of the materials we use do not contain any test files.

As a matter of fact, we are also constantly challenged by new regulations and administrative rules worked out by our government and our university administration. In the last few years we have had a students’ activity week in the education process in the middle of semester. This innovation implies that during this week students do not take regular classes and lectures, but participate in various activities designed to assess students’ progress and gain some practical experience.

One of the traditional things about those who teach anything is that they are ideally placed to give accurate assessment of students’ performance. But our long-lasting teaching experiences tell us that students can also be extremely effective at monitoring and judging language production. So, we decided to arrange a specific assessment activity within this students’ week. As a part of this activity students themselves perform as teachers. There is no denying that this approach implies a radical shift from a traditional teacher’s role as a controller. Involving students in assessment of their peers sounds as some kind of a revolutionary idea.  It was more informal and brand new for both professors and students. In many ways, that attempt was a risky one. But it went off without a hitch.  It was so thanks largely to the students themselves both assessors and those who were assessed. As for the professors there was no difficulty in arranging this event during the students’ activity week. But there were some obvious difficulties in designing language materials aimed at assessing students’ progress. Now we want to describe what we did to arrange the activity and how we did it.

The very best thing about this event is that only those students who wished and were able to assess their peers were involved as controllers or assessors. To perform these roles they had to take and pass some preliminary tests and trials and show their high level of the language to the teachers who worked with them. Of course all the students knew what language would be assessed. We chose vocabulary (a corpus of about 100 words made up of the texts they had studied), speaking (prepared answers to about 50 questions related to the content of the texts studied in the classroom and at home), and grammar (Verb Tenses; Participles).  We included only these item types the students were familiar with. Armed with that knowledge almost all the students could undergo the test. During the test the professors were performing as monitors and could also add their own assessment of the students’ progress (one point only). Students performing as assessors were also given qualimetric indicators to guide them in making their own judgments. We also asked them to give their peers points (max – 9, 3 for each one). At the end of the activity we asked them what they thought about it and asked all the assessors to write their comments describing their experience of performing this role.

In the light of this event it is obvious that the professors were supposed to provide a rich diet of learning experiences to prepare the students for the test. They had to work with some students individually (mostly with potential assessors).

When students come to university, it is very important to introduce some kind of code of conduct for both professors and new students. This code, in our opinion, must be based on our mutual expectations. As we perceive learning and teaching as some kind of contract between two parties, we do believe that as in any contract two parties need to agree the terms. There is no denying professors need to understand their students’ wants and expectations.

There are a number of productive actions that our professors use to explain clearly what is expected from our students. No one is in any doubt that those who teach expect their students to arrive on time with their assignments done. We also expect our students to stay engaged and turn in their assignments on time. We think that these instructions must be given in English.  Students should be aware of when English is essential. This approach can help create an English atmosphere, making English the classroom language as well as the language to be learned.

As for students, they also have their expectations and we are ready to meet them. During the first class any professor teaching in Southern Federal University is expected to introduce their course syllabus.  It implies that students should be aware of the course objectives, assignment description, due dates, and grading policy. It is vital to inform students about all these issues, because as C. Kyriacou puts it “the establishing code of conduct refers to pre-empting misbehavior” [3, P.17].

We should also remember that our success depends on the guidelines that were set, the agreement we made with our students during our first contacts. We should not forget about the friendly encouragement and persuasion we are supposed to use while all these instructions are being given.

All these study techniques tend to follow the PPP (Presentation, Practice, and Production) model. Yet, we have discovered that they can be entirely inappropriate for certain types of students and with certain areas of language. One approach used by those who work with students of intermediate level is to study language in a variety of ways, then explore a topic, and then use what they have learned to perform a task. While students perform a task the teacher monitors from a distance. The students also plan how they will tell the rest of the class what they did, and how it went. Anyway, we cannot always be acting as a controller if we want students to “manipulate, comprehend and interact” with a task.

Alternatively, the study of language forms and their meaning might happen during a task-based sequence. We may have our students study vocabulary to describe the weather in the middle of a sequence of holiday planning. Or we might focus on one or two past tenses forms in the middle of an extended narrative-writing task. Students can research language as part of a task as well.

Sometimes we study forms after the students have performed the task. This is likely to happen as a form of language repair when the task has shown up language problems. Studying language after the task has been completed is a feature of the Task-based model we have described above.

However, even when we have not planned to include language study in a particular lesson sequence we sometimes find opportunities presenting themselves which we find impossible to ignore, and, as a result, we get students to focus on language items which we have not anticipated including. Such “opportunistic “ study may happen because students want to understand why some language is constructed; it might suddenly become aware of the chance to offer students some language which they are not able to use but which will raise the level at which they are performing the task.

We are often faced to make decisions when and how to get students to study language form and use it on the basis of the syllabus and the course book. However, many of the sequences offered to us may not suit our cultural and university traditions, and may thus need adjusting or replacing in some way. That is why we do try out new activities. One of the basic principles we bear in mind while doing this is to avoid doing the same kind of activities again and again. We offer a rich diet of exercises when studying language forms to motivate our students and adjust to different learning styles. One more important decision to make is to assess how effective this activity will be if we take it into class. We are obliged to take this fact into consideration as we have one or two classes of English per week on average. Under these conditions we must justify the time we need to spend on the activity we want to use both before and during the class.

In order to make the right decision most of our teachers follow the recommendation of Scott Thornbury. He suggests measuring the activities according to “efficiency” and “appropriacy” factors.  The first category implies working out the economy and ease of the activity. In the terms of appropriacy we need to make a judgment if this activity is suitable for the particular group of students [4, P. 25]. As the authors of this text, we frequently use “Natural Grammar” by Scott Thornbury to follow these two principles. The book is organized around one hundred of the most common words in English. The common grammar of each word is displayed in the form of patterns. Surprisingly, these one hundred words cover all the most important grammar structures in English [5, P.1].

As for the techniques which persist through time and which we have promised to reveal above, we still use much teacher-led introduction of new language. These techniques are more popular with the professors who deal with students with elementary level or false-beginners. There are at least potential problems with this approach. First, it is not always easy to give a complete grammatical picture. Second, it is not necessarily the case that all the students grasp the grammar at the same speed. Once the professor has checked that the students have understood the grammar, the students may be asked to discover this grammar with any reading text, or get them to make sentences of their own.

However good a professor is, students will never learn a foreign language unless they learn it outside as well as during class time. It is because language is too complex and there will never be enough time for students what they need to in a classroom. In our university students have only three academic hours of English a week, with one academic hour amounting to 45 minutes. As D. Nunan assumes, and we agree, not everything can be taught in class [6, P. 3], but even if it could be a teacher will not always be around if and when students wish to use the language in the real life [7, P.220].

To compensate for the limits of classroom time, students need to develop their own study techniques to become autonomous learners. In our country this does not happen automatically. Traditional attitudes to self-directed learning were not very good and teacher-centered approach prevailed. Now the attitudes have changed, but professors sometimes encounter both active and passive resistance of students when they try to impose self-directed learning.

So our main challenge today is to counter the passivity which we regard as an enemy of true learning. And although autonomy of action is welcomed in the educational culture of our university today, there are still not so many facilities to encourage our students to become autonomous learners. What we would like to highlight is that students are more enthusiastic about self-learning when they get older. But foreign language is a core subject in our university only during the first three years. So we feel that it is necessary to inspire students to continue learning on their own after the course. In this context we agree with S. Cotteral who sees our main goal in helping students to get interested in the language and become autonomous learners  both during the language course at the university and then for continuing learning when this course has finished [8, P.223].

So far we have developed a rich diet of activities promoting autonomous learning.

At the very beginning of the English course we encourage students to reflect on the way they learn, give them techniques for dealing with different activities and problems. We attract students’ attention to the fact that study techniques in university are mostly different from those they used at school. They need either to develop their school techniques further or work out new ones which are best for their situation.

Reflection helps students think about their own strategies and weaknesses with a view to making a plan for a future action. For example, we might ask students to complete a questionnaire in which they profile their feeling about various aspects of language. For this purpose we apply questions developed by A Fortune [9, P.168]. Then we might probe the students’ self-analysis in more detail, discussing with them issues such as why, say, writing is difficult and what techniques they can apply to deal with it. All these activities should not go unnoticed for students. So they might be enhanced by frequent discussion of the learning experience. They may be encouraged to evaluate their own progress by answering questions about how well they think they have learned the material in the last few classes. At some stage, however, students can find themselves studying on their own. We would agree with  J. Caroll and S. Sapon,  who in the 1950s, noted that it must be regarded as our main objective [10, P. 45].  We need, therefore, to give them help and advice about how to continue with their learning when they have stopped attending our course. There is also a good time to remind ourselves that “it is no more than common sense for those who have invested a childhood, or adult time and money, in successfully acquiring the English language to maintain an active interest in the language progress” [11, P. 296].

The safest conclusion to draw from what we have written above is that all  professors, who teach a foreign language in higher school, should be armed with different methods and techniques, as it is hard to say which one is best and/or most appropriate for our teaching environment. As in our higher education professors and students come from the same cultural background to greater or lesser degree, we know which methods and techniques will be the best for the classes we teach. Some of them are language-specific. But there are also universal techniques which can be used for teaching any subject. There is one more thing which bridges the gap between language teaching techniques and other learning and teaching techniques. Tertiary school today implies active students’ involvement in educational process at all stages.  So our main conclusion is that all this amounts to a pragmatic eclecticism where decisions about what and how to teach are based, essentially, on what seems to work. However, pragmatic eclecticism does not mean that ”anything goes”. On the contrary, students have a right to expect that they are asked to do things for a reason, and those who teach, in their turn, have some aim in minds which they can articulate clearly.

Список литературы / References

  1. Dale R. Educating / edited by Matthewman S., West-Newman &Curtis B. //Being sociological. – New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. – 464 p.
  2. Banler R. & Grinder J. Frogs into Princess/ R. Banler, J. Grindler. – Lafayette, California: Real People Press, 1979. – 168 p.
  3. Kyriacou    Effective teaching in schools Simon and Schuster Education/ C. Kyriacou .– London : Stanley Thornes Ltd, 1992. – 176 p.
  4. Thornbury S. How to Teach Grammar/  S. Thornbury. – London :Pearson Education Ltd,  1999. –  189 p.
  5. Thornbury S. 2004. Natural Grammar/ S. Thornbury – Oxford : Oxford University Press , 2004. – 220 p.
  6. Nunan D. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom /  Nunan .– USA : Cambridge University Press, 1989.  222 p.
  7. Nunan D. Syllabus Design/ Nunan . – Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1988. 169 p.
  8. Cotterall S. Developing a course strategy for learner autonomy / S. Cotteral // ELT Journal. -1995. –  49/3.- P. 219-227.
  9. Fortune A. A Self-study grammar practice: learners’ views and preferences/ A. Fortune // ELT Journal. –  – Vol. 46/2. – P.153-170
  10. Carroll  ,  Sapon S. Modern Language Aptitude Test/ J. Carroll & S Sapon. – New York: The Psychological Corporation, 1959. – 118 p.
  11. Crystal D. The English Language / D. Crystal. – London: Penguin Books Ltd, – 2002. 312 p.

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