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Teaching English in Russia: Insights From Two Generations of Teachers

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on Wordmaster: two more interviews with English teachers in Russia. I was there last month at the invitation of the English Language Office at the American Embassy in Moscow, to talk about VOA's Special English programs for English learners.

I met Mikhail Nokhov and Erdem Dugarov -- both of whom happen to be fans of Special English -- at conferences in Kursk and St. Petersburg.

Mikhail Nokhov, who calls himself Michael, teaches thirteen and fourteen year olds at Gymnasia Number One in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, in the northern Caucasus. Two years ago, he was named an Honored Teacher of Russia. He says there are thirty-eight languages in Dagestan. And when you get into the classroom, he says, you see there are members of thirteen or fourteen different ethnic groups sitting there.

MIKHAIL NOKHOV: "Laks, Dargins, Avars, Tabarsarans, Jews, Russians, Chechens, Ingush -- oh, God knows whom. It's very difficult to name all of them."

Internet access is a recent addition to their school -- and as a result, his students now regularly communicate with students at an American high school. I asked Michael Nokhov how the Internet has changed English teaching for him.

MIKHAIL NOKHOV: "Well, it changed greatly. Now the pupils can chat -- we are in a program, the Global Classroom, with a school from Maine, Belfast High School. And the pupils chat with them. They learn a lot of things without me, from their friends who are the same age, and I think it brings them closer to understand each other, to understand the problems of one nation and the problems of our republics. So I like taking part in this program."

AA: "What advice do you have for new English teachers, maybe teachers who have been teaching for some years -- what advice do you give teachers?"

MIKHAIL NOKHOV: "The only advice is that if you want to teach English, you should be a professional. The child mustn't be afraid of the textbook. He musn't be afraid of the lesson. My pupils, students, speak the lesson and I try to keep silent. I make them speak. That's why I use your programs, VOA programs, because there are a lot of idiomatic expressions, good expressions. Well, I make them make presentations, make them speak. The communicative approach to teaching of English -- just it's a very good one, I should say."

AA: "And finally, the advice you might give a teacher who's looking for ways to use the communicative approach, who maybe isn't comfortable with it, but wants some guidance."

MIKHAIL NOKHOV: "I advise them to use a lot of visual aids, to organize the lesson in such a way that the pupils should work -- not the teacher, but the pupils should work. There are lots of methods. If you want to teach, you can teach. You can be taught to teach."

Mikhail Nokhov has taught English for thirty-eight years. Erdem Dugarov has taught it for seven years -- he is a professor at Eastern Siberia State University in the city of Ulan-Ude. He makes a point of using American English to model for his students the differences between the American and British versions of the language.

ERDEM DUGAROV: "They ask me 'why do you pronounce this way' and I say 'guys, it is an American version and you have to pay attention to that.' But I do not say that you have to have this version -- you can say it just the way you were taught at school, for example."

AA: "And what's your biggest challenge in teaching English?"

ERDEM DUGAROV: "The biggest challenge, I believe it is to find some authentic material. If I teach, for example, American English, it sometimes is pretty complex to find an adequate book. And sometimes it's pretty complex to find much video materials, audio materials -- American, I mean -- because we live somewhere in Siberia, far from Vladivostok and far from the European part of Russia, that is why.

"And besides, sometimes it's pretty hard to motivate our students to learn English because they live in a small city. And I say, you should travel -- even [if] you go to Moscow, you bring your mind and perhaps you will communicate with foreigners. And no matter with whom you may use your English. That is really important."

That was Erdem Dugarov, an English professor in Ulan-Ude, Siberia. And you also heard from Mikhail Nokhov who teaches English in Dagestan.

And that's Wordmaster for this week. For more English teaching ideas, check out and our e-mail address is I'm Avi Arditti.