Yet despite his ability, he and I still share the same problem - we cannot seem to use our Russian out in the “real world.” Sure, we can order food at restaurants, make acquaintances with people, read books and understand movies, but… we still don’t actually do much in Russian. It seems shocking, I know, but in we both find ourselves in a bizarre situation - we are able to have deep conversation in this language between the two of us, but with strangers, the conversation just dies after about five minutes - not because we are unable to communicate, but for some other unknown reason which we can’t seem to figure out.
The funny thing is, after talking about this problem with my students, many of them agreed - they have the exact same situation in English!
Help! I'm intermediate Level but can't speak!
One of my students, a Russian guy working for Amazon and living in Seattle, has fantastic English. His comprehension is extremely high and can communicate any idea he has. Yet he still feels like he needs to improve his skills in order to better understand his co-workers and people on the street. He talks about awkward situations in restaurants when I missed a word that someone says and gets embarrassed. Ultimately, he doesn’t feel very close to his colleagues and feels isolated from the society around him, even though his ability to speak is quite sufficient to talk to folks.
Most of my students feel the same way - they complain that they have a “language barrier” with English despite being able to sit and talk to me for an hour about a variety of subjects. However, when they are in groups or are talking to people who are not teachers, they are very shy and uncomfortable, and can’t seem to get the conversation “flowing.” They are simply too scared to make mistakes, or are worried that they will be interpreted wrongly because they don’t sound natural or can’t relate to the person they are talking to.
So what the heck is going on here? How come we are all intermediate or advanced learners, but can’t seem to break this barrier? Do we just need to study more, take more classes and learn more words, or is there a greater problem here?
They were all sorely disappointed. The reason? They couldn’t understand most of the presentations because they were almost entirely in Ukrainian (or Russian)!
Now I don’t want to argue about whether it is the duty of Ukrainians to make presentations in English in order to reach as big of an audience as possible, but I would like to be a bit pragmatic and point out the problem here - these foreigners came to Lviv in order to do one of two things -
- Think about hiring an IT company in Lviv for a project they wanted to build.
- Look for talent to hire into their own IT companies located in the West.
In both cases, Ukrainian IT specialists and companies missed out on a great opportunity to make connections with these potentially valuable future clients because they failed to present their ideas or abilities in English during this conference.
So naturally, after I met these guys and the conference finished, I asked my students whether they’d be interested in trying to give a presentation about their own pet projects in English. And of course, they were terrified at the thought! People expressed their fears of standing in front of a crowd and making mistakes, being unable to answer questions asked by the audience, or simply not being understood by the people listening to their pitch.
And then I had an idea!
Making Something Useful Out of English
All of my students have an idea that they’d like to express to an audience in English, but feel they are inadequate to the task. Perhaps you have a project you want to suggest to potential clients or coworkers. Maybe you want to prepare yourself for an interview in English in front of a board of managers. Or you simply want to describe a hobby or an event in English clearly to a random stranger you meet on the street.
All of these situations are moments where you are presenting an idea in clear and concise language, so you need to feel confident in what you are saying and know that you are understood, as well as be prepared for any questions that might pop up during the course of your explanation.
To solve this problem, I’m designing a series of workshops for my students to take part in, where we come together to brainstorm ways to communicate our ideas to an audience, practice giving presentations, and give each other valuable feedback which we can use for future presentations. Instead of doing the same old traditional exercises you find in language courses, these workshops will give you the chance to really produce something useful to you which you can use immediately after completing them.
However, you don’t even need to take part in my workshops to prepare a proper presentation! If you have access to a dependable English teacher,you can propose creating your own presentation and have them review and critique your work just as easily. If you don’t have a teacher, you can contact me and I’ll do my best to find you a suitable instructor, or you can use sites like italki.com to find a dependable teacher via Skype.
In either case, it is up to you to take initiative and create a project which will force you to utilize your English in a new and useful way - this requires stepping out of your comfort zone, taking time and putting some effort into your studies, but I am absolutely sure the results will be worth it.