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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Boris Shekhtman. The method ( continued)

As promised, I am continuing my account of my experiences studying Russian with Boris Shekhtman.

At this point I have been meeting once a week for three hours with him for one-on-one tutoring. The lessons are very focused on my specific needs and idiosyncrasies in learning.

As Michel Thomas explained to me, if a student is having any problem learning, it is the responsibility of the teacher to remedy this. There are no bad students, just poor teachers. Boris, who had never heard of Michel before I mentioned him to him, told me exactly the same thing on our first meeting.

What has amazed me is that he truly lives this philosophy when it comes to our lessons together. He is never in a hurry to get me to go beyond where I am holding in anything. If I have a problem then he stops everything and makes sure that I understand what is going on and how to proceed. He does this by first of all making sure that I am fully aware of what has happened. I often will notice that there is something that I don't understand. He wants me to recognize this. Then he helps me to figure out the solution which is really wonderful.

If I don't get his method of teaching something he will switch into another mode of teaching until he figures out how I learn in such a situation. Then he will emphasize this mode of learning until, at some point, he realizes that something different is needed. That's when he reanalyzes what is happening and changes course accordingly.

Boris is a really inspiring example of a master teacher.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Charles said...

I was wondering why the name "Boris Shekhtman" sounded familiar. Years ago, I read an essay by him in the book Developing Professional Level Language Proficiency. The article was entirely about "islands." I loved the idea and wondered why more teachers hadn't thought of it. I realized I had already created some islands of my own in Mandarin, but with his article in mind, I went on to improve them.

I've enjoyed reading your posts about learning Russian.

May 22, 2011 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Harold said...

Hi, Charles

Thanks for writing.

Boris has helped create courses in other languages using his method. I know that he has done this for Korean and Chinese. These were for specific clients who wanted to quickly learn to speak in these languages.

Islands are amazing when correctly created and used. They enable the student to immediately begin to speak on a fairly high level. This is very satisfying for all concerned and leads to the desire to improve one's grammar and vocabulary in order to communicate even more.

In addition, the native-speakers enjoy hanging out with us more since we are able to intelligently converse with them.

Best of luck in your learning!

May 23, 2011 at 3:23 AM  
Blogger Sterling said...

is there a way we can find out what his actual method is? or if there was one book in particular which outlined his method in detail what would that be? his books are not available in European libraries, at least not where i am.

could you say something more in depth about what his method consists of from your personal experience? how it compares to MT?

July 6, 2011 at 8:26 AM  
Blogger Harold said...

Hi, Sterling

I recommend reading the book, How to improve your foreign language immediately, by Boris Shekhtman. I bought mine via Amazon. He has written several books but this a very good place to start. When you finish the book allow a few months to go by and then reread it. It is a small, paperback volume and there is much more revealed in it than I ever realized before I studied with him. I keep on returning to it and always discover new learnings.

To date, I have studied 132 hours, one-on-one with him. We meet once a week for three hours each time. Most of the lesson is done in Russian. I speak for about 45 min. to an hour for the first part of the lesson and he takes meticulous notes. Then he teaches me for about 45 min. based on his notes. The feedback is invaluable and his method of teaching absolutely amazing. The rest of the lessons, which are planned in advance, include many of the approaches mentioned in the book I have suggested that you read.

The subject matter of your expression in the language is completely meaningless as far as learning the language. What matters is that you actively use the language and get immediate feedback from a native-speaker who has been trained to give and utilize such feedback in teaching you.

Even though he is in his late 70's he is still teaching one-on-one daily though he also has a number of teachers whom he has trained to fill in for him on a regular basis. Many of his students have been sent by their employers and must be able to communicate on a very high level of Russian in a few months to a year. Currently, a noted journalist from the NY Times is studying 8-hours a day, six days a week with him and his teachers for about one year. There are other students who have similarly intense schedules.

My major reason for working with him, which he accepts, is to be trained in his method. As such, much of our work is involved in pedagogical training and the intricacies of his approach. Of course, this is all done in Russian with occasional discussion in English where helpful. This is not an immersion approach.

His method has some similarities with that of MT, whom he never heard of prior to my telling him about him. The key thing they have in common is that the student's success is 100% dependent on the teacher and not vice versa.

This has made it much easier for me to learn. There is no homework unless I specifically request it. He also makes sure that I learn all the patterns of Russian grammar as quickly as possible so that we can begin to actively use the language for communication. The islands, mentioned in another post, facilitate this. The islands are meticulously constructed to include all necessary grammar patterns and useful vocabulary, vocabulary that is currently in use by native-speakers in 2011. I have many assignments to interview native-speakers by phone and in person. Then I provide reports to Boris on what I learned.

MT also wanted the student to learn all the necessary grammar for each language. However, MT was more indirect in the way he taught this. He did not refer to grammar per se. Boris does deal with grammar using rules and grammatical terms. He wants me to know the grammar very well and in great detail. He will ask me to give him a short talk on all the uses of certain grammatical patterns. I must not only know all of this but be able to use it in all its variations and in any context. After a while, the grammar drops away as the student simply communicates. However, at first ,for however long that may be, there is a conscious acquisition of grammar. He requires me to intelligently explain exactly why I express myself as I do and also why any native-speaker does so.

In order to give this method an honest chance, I have deliberately refrained for the past year from using any other approach including that of MT. So I believe that my accomplishments to date with Russian are solely due to the approach of Boris Shekhtman.

I hope that the above is useful.

July 6, 2011 at 3:32 PM  
Blogger Sterling said...

Thanks for your in-depth response, and your first-person accounts of Shekhtman's method. Very interesting and invaluable that someone with a unique approach is getting presented to a wider audience by...well, someone else with a unique approach (i.e. strange that my interest in MT and his method led me to you which now leads me Shekhtman). I have been teaching for 13 years and had never heard of him until now, and I am beginning to think my teaching (and learning) will never be the same. This was also my experience with MT. The feeling that someone was teaching the way teaching was meant to be done. But, I like the fact that in Shekhtman's case there's a marriage between the linguistic and communicative approaches. In fact, I suspected that the MT CDs were only a part of what MT actually did in his center, and that what followed the grammar instruction was something communicative to allow students to transform the schema into lived experiences. In any case, Shekhtman gives an insight into bridging the gap between the structural and communicative aspects of learning.

Finally, I have just ordered "How to improve your foreign language immediately" as per your recommendation and will look forward to your posts until it arrives : )

July 8, 2011 at 7:27 PM  
Blogger Harold said...

Thanks, Sterling, for your comment. What I really hoped for, when starting this little blog, is to initiate a dialogue with others who have similar interests like you.

I will now create a new post which you and others may find of interest.

July 8, 2011 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger Paul Miller said...

This is a great piece of article i have ever seen in whole internet, it is actually scientifically proven that learning new language will increase one's self esteem to the core. This article was truely inspirable as well. Thanks for sharing. Blog content like this.

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