Category Archives: Lessons

Language Learning: Online vs Offline

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just started taking Russian classes. I’m taking these after having gone to Russia two years ago, and having “studied” it on Duolingo.

Duolingo is a free language-learning site. The courses are easy to follow, and start with the basics before moving through different pieces of grammar and the vocabulary of various topics. It rewards you with “lingots” to spend in its store whenever you complete a lesson, level up, or reach a milestone in your streak of active days.

There is some criticism that it focuses too much on making learning fun, and that much the same as at school, memorizing answers doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve learned anything.

Duolingo: Learning tool or fun game?

Both. Making learning into a game makes you more inclined to keep at it – it took me about a year to get through my course, and the only reason my streak got broken was because I travelled and wasn’t able to get online.

I also do feel like I’ve learned by using it. I admit that I didn’t read the grammar notes with each lesson, and those probably would have helped me learn even more, but even so I have a large vocabulary and an idea of syntax and grammar.

It really depends on you

Have I learned from Duolingo? Sure. For people who are confident about practicing and learning by making mistakes, it’s probably a great way to learn for free.

However, if you aren’t one of those people, I think “real” classes are necessary to refine what you’ve learned. I spent a year on Duolingo, but then learned things – simple things – in my second class that were news to me.*


Something I discovered through the Duolingo forums, “laddering” is learning a third language through your second language. For example, if you’re an English speaker, you could ladder by taking the Russian for German speakers’ course.

Or, for my own real-life example, you could learn Russian in a class designed for Greek speakers. The idea is that it helps you learn the third language while also continuing to improve the second language, and it helps with concentration. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I am going to stick with it now it’s happened.

In my case, Russian is also more similar to Greek than English. There are more similarities in the alphabet and verb formation, and even to an extent in terms of “what you see is what you read” when it comes to spelling. (You know, unless it’s an unstressed O which is pronounced A, just to be really confusing. [Something else I didn’t learn/totally forgot during my time on Duolingo.])

* For those who will understand this, those things were:

  • Его. Not actually pronounced “eyo”, but “evo.” Why? Because if Г is between Е and О, it’s pronounced like a V. Who knew?!
  • Что это/Кто это. Like I said, I didn’t really focus on grammar while using Duolingo, so I didn’t make a note of any rules. In class, I thought I got it: что for things, кто for people. But no. It’s что for non-living things кто for living things, not just things v people.




The teacher becomes the student

No, not because I’ve gone back to school to take a PGCE or any other teacher training. Rather, I’ve decided to play student by taking Russian lessons – partly because most of my private students are Russian and I’d like to know it in order to help them, and partly because I’m currently still in Cyprus, where Russian is the new English when it comes to languages employers want.

I’m taking level 1 lessons, which is one 90 minute class a week, and these are my starting stats:

  • English is my mother tongue
  • I speak, read and write Greek fluently. I grew up in Cyprus, which meant having to learn it at school and constantly being exposed to it, and although I hate using it I can with no problem. *
  • I’ve been using Duolingo for about a year, and I’ve done both the Russian for English speakers and English for Russian speakers courses. I don’t feel confident with it (though see above, that’s partly me never being confident with other languages), but I do know the alphabet, a lot of vocabulary and a little grammar. **

* There are two reasons this is relevant: one, it proves I have (or at least, used to have) the ability to learn languages. Two, Russian is more similar to Greek than English – at least when it comes to the alphabet – and I’m hoping that comes in helpful in finding it less foreign.

** I admit that I did the courses without reading the grammar notes, which probably help you learn more. I think they offer a good foundation for knowing the basics – and probably work great for people willing to get out there and learn by making mistakes – but it’s probably true that it’s a little too gamified to be properly educational.

The first lesson was actually last week. It being the first lesson, it focused on the alphabet and some basic phrases that I already knew, but there was one major surprise: it turned out to be a Russian course for Greek speakers. It should be interesting learning my third language in a class for speakers of my second language…

Have you learned a language through Duolingo? Have you taken any language classes as an adult? Tell me about your experiences!

When you assume…

Well, you know what they say.  Basically, don’t.

I exaggerate, as today wasn’t a disaster, but I had gone ahead and assumed – and prepared for – X number of students, expecting two to be missing like they usually are, and I ended up with Y number instead.  Which meant a slight running off to photocopy panic. Continue reading →

Tales from the other side of the desk

So.  Today was a day focusing entirely on the little ones.  That’s four hours with an 8 and 10 year old: not just keeping that age focused and teaching them something, but them being that age and not speaking much English.  It’s not as if I could even skive off teaching properly and just get them talking to at least practice the language.

I’m not saying it didn’t go well, I covered at least most of what I planned to.  I just worry that the line between understandably less productive and being too soft was approached or even crossed.  Continue reading →

The Futility of Making Plans

Okay, so that’s a little melodramatic.  To be fair, if I’d made more plans I’d be fine: I made the mistake of assuming they’d be at a certain level and only preparing for that (in my defence, the teacher helping me out didn’t exactly warn me not to.)

And let’s not forget the things you hear about teachers – their workday doesn’t end at 3pm just because the school closes.  You hear about late nights marking or preparing lesson plans, and that’s what I’m already getting to experience – at least this week where I’ve fallen into a loop where I need to keep preparing for the next day.

Then there’s the unpredictability of what’s going to be changed.  No sooner did I realize last night that I could use my old plans after all by modifying them than I was told I’m going to spend tomorrow – and potentially Friday – focusing on the little kids.  That’ll take more than modification.  Sigh. Continue reading →

Me and my Glamorous Assistant

Okay, she’s not technically my assistant, but that’s the role she’s taking while waiting for the students she’s been hired to teach arrive.  It’s both great right now and nerve wracking that she’s going to be taken away from me: she’s really nice and a huge help in dealing with the two (wildly) different levels I’m dealing with.  We’re talking pretty good vs struggle with numbers and shapes.

Then again, things are constantly being altered, so maybe I’ll get to keep her. Continue reading →

Success! Well… YMMV.

For those of you who have successfully avoided the time waster known as TV Tropes (Google at your own risk, don’t be surprised if there are a bunch more posts here by the time you get back), YMMV means Your Mileage May Vary.

I’ll gloss over the rocky late start and impromptu timetable change – not due to me, for the record, but way to add to my nervousness – and get to the actual lessons.  Well.  More games than lessons due to a slight panic.

Ready! Not ready.  Ack. Continue reading →