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Sunday, August 29, 2010

A novel approach to learning languages.

In 2001 the NY Times published a lengthy article in the Travel section by the former Moscow bureau correspondent, Francis X. Clines. I like people who have X as a middle initial. I assume the X stands for Xavier, which is a really neat name. How many people call their kids Xavier these days?

The article was entitled, "An archipelago called Russian."

It described the author's experience learning Russian with his teacher, Boris Shekhtman. Boris, a native speaker of Russian, created a very unique method of teaching languages. He immediately gets students speaking at a native level by having them learn custom prepared pieces of conversational Russian. One such piece might serve as an introduction. I am Harold, I am an American. I am x years old. I live in y place which is not too far from z. Z, as you know, is....

What you have is a few minutes of a monologue spoken with native-level proficiency. The purpose of these islands, as Boris calls them, is to get the student speaking with native speakers.

Often learners find it difficult to have conversations with native-speakers. The student has a very limited vocabulary, understanding of grammar and poor conversational skills in the foreign language. Most native-speakers sense that the student is floundering and this makes them uncomfortable. And, frankly, how long can one speak about such topics as one's age or name?

What Shekhtman has done is to create a way to allow a beginning student to immediately engage a native-speaker in a dialogue of mutual interest.

I have been studying with Boris now for a few weeks and the results are very encouraging.

He is a truly remarkable teacher; one of a kind.

I hope to write more about my experiences with Boris Shekhtman in future posts.

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