aaleks's log

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Cavesa
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Cavesa » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:07 pm

aaleks wrote: ...The story I'm going to tell happened about a year and a half later. At that time I wasn't so scared of writing in English anymore. I didn't feel really confident but I was moving in that direction, so to speak. That was probably why I got myself in a potentially harmful situation. Language-learning-wise harmful, of course. I won't tell the whole story, I'm not sure if it really matters or not. (It happened two years ago). Anyway, at some point of some discussion on efl.ru another user wrote this to me:

"alanta, try to avoid starting your sentences with Because and And.
Your writing is ok in general. There are some minor mistakes and slips but it’s not the issue. The main trouble is that it has totally Russian syntax and rather big problems with composition. I could say that those are the aspects you should pay more attention."


(alanta is me :) )

IMO, this text is a great example of a mean remark, among other things, because it was disguised as advice. Unsolicited advice. I wasn't asking how I could improve my writing or anything like that. I was asking a quite specific question about a quite particular phrase. But this text not only didn't answer my question, it didn't provide any helpful information at all.
...

Thus, "your writing has totally Russian syntax" is just a fancy way to say that I write in Runglish. And this is the worst possible insult for a native Russian speaker learning English. And then she says that I should pay more attention to this and that's it. No examples, no practical advice. The person who wrote that mean post is a teacher/tutor of English (but she's a native speaker of Russian, not English), so she's kind of supposed to know how to deal with this, how I could improve my English, etc. If I really had "totally Russian syntax", trying to improve that with paying more attention would be like putting a plaster on gangrene.

Basically, that person said that I'd achieved nothing. This was the point, especially in the context of the whole story that started when I disagreed that C2 was a native-like level, and then tried to prove that one could learn a language without teachers.

...But sometimes I recall those words about "totally Russian syntax" and that makes me self-conscious about my writing. Recently I left efl.ru, maybe it'll help (?) :) . ...
(I didn't want to post a too long quote, but the whole post was very informative)

This story totally explains your reply to my remark about not avoiding the unpleasant people. I was mostly talking about the regular life, not other learners or teachers (even though they definitely matter. A lot.).

I agree with others that this person clearly had some selfish intentions. Either she hoped you'd go like "oh, I am such a loser, will you please please please teach me?" or at least she could have gotten an ego boost.

Is it a quote of her post to you? If it is, there are some imperfections I would definitely not want to write, if I was an English teacher. (I wouldn't care much otherwise)

Yes, the blow is very harsh and strong. The "Runglish" is actually something known not only to the Russians. You can offend people with the alternatives "Czenglish" or "Franglais". It is totally not cool to do that to an advanced and good writer.

I understand what you mean, it is easy to be self-conscious due to a mean teacher. Honestly, I have a similar problem in Czech. I am not an objectively bad writer, I am actually well above the average (more and more people become lazy writers these days, it is painful to read even their emails). But a mean teacher with too high standards has left a trace I can't get rid of. She was enforcing university level in highschool, but without actually teaching how to do that (well, a part of the class was solving it by buying their homework from one of the few people capable of writing well enough). I can still remember the bad grades and totally useless big red comments like "Style!!!". I am nervous whenever I write something in Czech. I keep fighting though.

What I meant by my post: it is important to prepare for various types of mean people and for verbal self defence. For some solid argumentation, for reacting well, quickly, appropriately, and while expressing or suppressing a negative and well founded emotion. Building your self-confidence is definitely a part of that. After a certain moment, you can no longer hide behind "I'm just a learner", nor do you want to (probably). Some people will try to use that for their advantage and will try use the uneven ground to pretend you are wrong, your arguments are weak, or that you are less intelligent. Only solid language and communication skills can help. (But it always reminds me of that meme "Do you know how clever I am in Spanish?!", it is so real!).

You took the mean person's comment the best way possible. You used it to fuel your own learning passion, and your desire to prove you can do much better than people expect. And you've succeeded! That's admirable. You are a successful learner. That teacher is just a mean person trying to get customers by lowering their confidence, which is a shameful tactic.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby aaleks » Thu Dec 03, 2020 12:28 pm

Cavesa wrote:I agree with others that this person clearly had some selfish intentions. Either she hoped you'd go like "oh, I am such a loser, will you please please please teach me?" or at least she could have gotten an ego boost.

Is it a quote of her post to you? If it is, there are some imperfections I would definitely not want to write, if I was an English teacher. (I wouldn't care much otherwise)


In this particular case I think it was about an ego boost, as well as proving me incompetent and incapable to learn a language without a teacher/tutor. The text was written in an English-only section, I made no change to it - so, yes, it is a qoute ( https://efl-forum.ru/boards/viewtopic.php?t=2400#p54710 ) The thread I linked sprung out of another discussion that had taken place in the Russian-speaking part of the forum. In that discussion I wrote (in Russain) answering someone's claim "C2 - is the level of a native speaker": "To me, the difference between C2 and a native speaker is like the the difference between textbook English and real English. They exist almost in parallel though sometimes those parallels may cross. It may take years of watching tv, communicating in the language, and reading thousands of bookpages so one day C2 will become native-like. And this is a best case scenario. Otherwise, when one lives not in the TL's country, C2 may... turn into a pumpkin". (I know that last phrase may sound confusing as it seems in English it means go to bed because it's late, etc. but in Russian it's more about losing in quality). No disrespect to textbooks and people who took and passed a C2 exam was meant. My point was that textbooks and the CEFR scale were kind of made up things that served their purpose: helping a learner to learn and improve, assessing the levels of learners proficiency, etc. But they neiither teach nor mesure nativeness - that's not what they for and about. If after passing successfully a C2 exam one stop working on the TL their level might start declining so one day the C2 would turn into a "pumpkin" - C1 or, maybe, even B2. Actually the pumpkin allegory was meant as a joke, I even put some smiles there as a hint. But one of the users passed CPE (a C2 exam) decided to get offended. Answering my pumpkin joke she wrote that if someone wanted to make that kind of sweeping generalizations then it would be an independatly learend language that had a better chance to turn into a pumpkin because there would be so many fossilized mistakes that one wouldn't be able to get rid of in years. (Sorry, I'm not really good at translating Russain to English). At the same time in that thread people were discussing the need for a teacher/tutor to learn a language. The majority of the forum's members seem to be English teachers/tutors who like to portray independets learner like some kind of freaks who in reality can't learn a langauge properly, and who should be put in their place. The mean teacher I quotted before and the offended C2 belong to that kind of the teachers. So, I think, the goal of the mean teacher was to expose me as a failure who just couldn't see how flawed their English was.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Cavesa » Thu Dec 03, 2020 2:03 pm

Yes, that explains it very well. Sucessful independent learners are seen as a threat. And they should be. Everyone needs to evolve, every job changes in time. As an MD, I hate the attitude of some colleagues, who despise the patients' googling. It is a sort of similar issue. I don't hate it, I find it to be an important and logical part of an active and autonomous approach to one's health. The only solution to the disadvantages (such as fake news, or misunderstandings) is to explain, to participate in creating better googleable resources, and to do all the stuff google cannot do and for which we've suffered so much in medschool. But sure, it is easier for some to just treat their curious patients as disrespectful morons, who will find just nonsense online anyways. Teachers simply need to accept this too. Just like sellers of everything have had to accept eshops. Either you adapt, or you end up jobless.

I've recently gotten into a sort of similar discussion (to the one you describe) on Subreddit, where a C1 learner was looking for ways to deal with a very bad and passive teacher, who was just making the C1 learners read out loud or speak without feedback in class (both are things requiring no work from the teacher, and definitely doable on one's own). There was a teacher in the discussion, peresenting the four strands of teaching and how a real teacher is meant to make you discover stuff by yourself. They meant well, but they were totally oblivious of the fact that the majority of their cute list is already available (and in better quality and quantity) outside of any classroom. And that the students (especially the advanced ones) are paying for detailed feedback and for being "served" the pieces of knowledge they struggle to figure out. We do all the independent discovering on our own, especially at the advanced level. We can succeed without a teacher, especially if they refuse to focus primarily on feedback (the only thing not that avilable to an autodidact) for ideological reasons.

The mean teacher from your thread is just afraid for her job and perhaps also a bit brainwashed into thinking the independent learners are just useless. Due to her background, she is also much less likely to have direct experience with autodidacts in general, who are not that rare in some other fields. And as it is a direct quote, I definitely wouldn't want to hire someone with this style of writing.

A thought experiment: Let's say you agreed about the necessity of the teachers, but made it clear that only highly educated native teachers are worth it for the C1 and C2 learners? Her own writing is a proof. :-D :-D :-D I can only imagine the angry reactions.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Deinonysus » Thu Dec 03, 2020 2:48 pm

The worst part about that teacher's advice is that it's wrong. There are many styles of writing where it is completely appropriate to start a sentence with "because" and "and". It is only very formal writing like newspaper reporting or an academic publication where you shouldn't do that. In something less formal like a forum post, a work of fiction, or even an opinion piece in a newspaper, a native English speaker would often start a sentence with "because" or "and" to convey a certain speech rhythm. So she was basically criticizing you for writing a forum post the way a native English speaker would write a forum post, instead of the way a professor might write a paper.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby aaleks » Thu Dec 03, 2020 5:03 pm

Cavesa wrote:A thought experiment: Let's say you agreed about the necessity of the teachers, but made it clear that only highly educated native teachers are worth it for the C1 and C2 learners? Her own writing is a proof. :-D :-D :-D I can only imagine the angry reactions.


Actually, I did :D . I didn't write about her English, of course :D , but my first reply in the discussion might be translated to English like this (the post about C2 was the second one):

"To be honest, I'm not (so) sure that a teacher who's not a native speaker of the language would be effective in helping to impove one's active skills as well. Many of those teachers have an accent that I wouldn't want for myself. Besides, they may make mistakes, or just speak in a not really natural way - when it's not a mistake but a native speaker would say it differently, use a different article, etc. I might consider to hire a tutor only to prepare to a language exam if I were to take one."

:D

Deinonysus wrote:The worst part about that teacher's advice is that it's wrong. There are many styles of writing where it is completely appropriate to start a sentence with "because" and "and". It is only very formal writing like newspaper reporting or an academic publication where you shouldn't do that. In something less formal like a forum post, a work of fiction, or even an opinion piece in a newspaper, a native English speaker would often start a sentence with "because" or "and" to convey a certain speech rhythm. So she was basically criticizing you for writing a forum post the way a native English speaker would write a forum post, instead of the way a professor might write a paper.


Unfortunately, this kind of "expert" opinion is quite a norm for efl.ru. Some usage of a word, phrase, etc. that's claimed being wrong or inappropriate by the forum's members might turn out to be the way how a native speaker would say or write that.

There are, of course, good people on efl.ru. Even among the teachers :D . But they are minority and usually don't stay long.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Caromarlyse » Fri Dec 04, 2020 9:08 am

Interesting discussion! In my opinion, both getting corrections and finding good teaching gets harder at the higher levels.

For corrections, it's no longer a question of the easy fixes, that is, where a grammar point hasn't been fully understood or internalised, you can easily point to the offending text, say it's wrong and why, and what you should write instead. Instead the "mistakes" are more along the lines either of something not sounding quite right, or of you formulating something in a way that works in your nature language/culture but doesn't translate well so needs to be completely rethought/rewritten. Asking a group of people online to help there often doesn't help, either because they "correct" so it sounds right but doesn't make the right point, or because you're in the realm of native speakers from different countries/regions preferring different formulations, or you're at such a high level that not all native speakers have sufficient education (or knowledge of the particular field in question) to keep up ;-). Even teachers are often not great in my experience. Where I've seen corrections work really well at a high level is within a work context - I think this shows that you really need someone prepared to engage with the content of what you are producing. How you replicate this when you're not working in your TL country, I don't know! For what it's worth, I don't see any issues with your syntax either and saw problems in and with the comments you received. (I'm sure I've got loads of work in front of me trying to make my Russian sound more Russian - I think I saw on that forum some comment about the stupidity of using an English word order in Russian, which is definitely something I do at the moment...)

For teaching at the higher levels, I agree with what Cavesa says (here and on the subreddit): you need some explicit instruction and correction in order to make improvements, and if you're not getting that, you may as well focus on getting massive input and output on your own. The study linked to containing the "four strands of an ideal language course" seemed quite targeted to the early stages of language learning. Even accepting the study's recommendations (effectively that you should have intensive input, intensive output, some explicit study of grammar/vocab/pronunciation, and work on developing fluency) as accurate, it doesn't give a great deal of guidance of how that should ideally translate into language instruction. It doesn't cover how much, if any, of this should be done outside teaching time. It doesn't cover how/if the teacher is to provide input. The commentator seemed to dislike the idea of teacher instruction, but to me instruction includes, for example, the teacher introducing new vocab/collocations/synonyms/natural ways of expressing ideas in the TL and allowing for practice/reinforcement of that material. I don't think the study recommendations would preclude that (it could fall within 1, 3 and probably 4 also), but I haven't yet found a teacher at the C levels who is willing and/or able to do this in a structured way. The study also stressed how much of the teacher's role is planning, including finding/suggesting suitable materials. Again, I wouldn't disagree, but I don't see it happening - I've had teachers I've approached either preparing nothing at all and effectively winging it, or giving me low intermediate level material as a starting point for conversation (which, yes, I can talk about and it does stimulate conversation to an extent, but pushing me, allowing me to grow? Not so much). Even the institut français in an C1 course gave out vocab lists from a UK A level list (which equates to a B1 level in my view, early B2 at a push). I get that as a teacher you have to have a bit of a formula to follow, but there is scope for improvement on what elements make up that formula.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Cavesa » Fri Dec 04, 2020 10:11 am

Caromarlyse wrote:Interesting discussion! In my opinion, both getting corrections and finding good teaching gets harder at the higher levels.

For corrections, it's no longer a question of the easy fixes, that is, where a grammar point hasn't been fully understood or internalised, you can easily point to the offending text, say it's wrong and why, and what you should write instead. Instead the "mistakes" are more along the lines either of something not sounding quite right, or of you formulating something in a way that works in your nature language/culture but doesn't translate well so needs to be completely rethought/rewritten.


Yes, it is much harder to find a good teacher at the C levels and their ignorance of the scope of the problem doesn't help. Many mean well, they just have no experience and therefore no clue about the differences between the advanced and other learners.

Asking a group of people online to help there often doesn't help, either because they "correct" so it sounds right but doesn't make the right point, or because you're in the realm of native speakers from different countries/regions preferring different formulations, or you're at such a high level that not all native speakers have sufficient education (or knowledge of the particular field in question) to keep up ;-). Even teachers are often not great in my experience. Where I've seen corrections work really well at a high level is within a work context - I think this shows that you really need someone prepared to engage with the content of what you are producing.


That's true. A typical advanced issue is making a longer text, that holds well together, the ideas are well connected, and it is comfortably read. That is a challenge that is simply too much for many natives giving feedback for free and without any background in creative writing/writing teaching/literature etc. Unfortunately, many language teachers are not better at all. Many even fail to understand what it is that you want from them. I think it was reineke, who shared a nice link to a study identifying the issues of the advanced learners, and the wrong ideas of the teachers were found to be a huge issue. The teachers have often no clue how good you actually can and want to be. They think you are the best possible, but you know that you aren't (and both the high cefr level exams and the real life stand on the learner's side).

How you replicate this when you're not working in your TL country, I don't know! For what it's worth, I don't see any issues with your syntax either and saw problems in and with the comments you received. (I'm sure I've got loads of work in front of me trying to make my Russian sound more Russian - I think I saw on that forum some comment about the stupidity of using an English word order in Russian, which is definitely something I do at the moment...)


Some people replicate this by using very expensive and exceptional teachers. I have nothing against people asking a lot of money for high quality service, if they are so exceptional. I hate the fact that they are not more common and that most teachers simply lie about their skills, presenting themselves as more experienced than they are. Focus on the advanced learners shouldn't be so rare (+expensive).

An alternative might be hiring a native, who is used to teaching natives. But how to convince them to do this sort of experiment, I am not sure.

But that's just the feedback. For the rest, a teacher is already not needed, fortunately. Tons of input work really, really well for stuff like more natural syntax.


For teaching at the higher levels, I agree with what Cavesa says (here and on the subreddit): you need some explicit instruction and correction in order to make improvements, and if you're not getting that, you may as well focus on getting massive input and output on your own. The study linked to containing the "four strands of an ideal language course" seemed quite targeted to the early stages of language learning.


Thank you! Yes, the person in that thread prefers to offend me and compare me to the flat earthers, instead of just admiting that their glorified methods might be more adapted for the beginners. Or to think about my main argument: Three out of the four strands are not a good use of the paid class time. But unfortunately, this behaviour is not that rare, as Aaleks' experience demonstrates. Sometimes, a teacher comes to a learners' platform. Therefore a platform that is also filled with people disappointed with teachers, who had to learn how to learn inspite of them in order to succeed. But the teacher still expects to be respected as an authority and doesn't respect the others at all.

Even accepting the study's recommendations (effectively that you should have intensive input, intensive output, some explicit study of grammar/vocab/pronunciation, and work on developing fluency) as accurate, it doesn't give a great deal of guidance of how that should ideally translate into language instruction. It doesn't cover how much, if any, of this should be done outside teaching time. It doesn't cover how/if the teacher is to provide input.
Yes, the teachers still haven't understood that the best of their students are the best exactly because of lots of extra work, not superior intelligence or a better connection between the teacher and student. The better results of the English learners overall are due to superior motivation and superior amount and quality of extraclass resources, not to the quality of teaching (the person even glorified the CELTA far too much. Really,this is a huge attitude problem. Assuming a successful learner knows less than someone with a short teaching course, that is delusional).


The commentator seemed to dislike the idea of teacher instruction, but to me instruction includes, for example, the teacher introducing new vocab/collocations/synonyms/natural ways of expressing ideas in the TL and allowing for practice/reinforcement of that material. I don't think the study recommendations would preclude that (it could fall within 1, 3 and probably 4 also), but I haven't yet found a teacher at the C levels who is willing and/or able to do this in a structured way. The study also stressed how much of the teacher's role is planning, including finding/suggesting suitable materials. Again, I wouldn't disagree, but I don't see it happening - I've had teachers I've approached either preparing nothing at all and effectively winging it, or giving me low intermediate level material as a starting point for conversation (which, yes, I can talk about and it does stimulate conversation to an extent, but pushing me, allowing me to grow? Not so much). Even the institut français in an C1 course gave out vocab lists from a UK A level list (which equates to a B1 level in my view, early B2 at a push). I get that as a teacher you have to have a bit of a formula to follow, but there is scope for improvement on what elements make up that formula.


Yes, I totally agree. A lot of the problems lie in the area between the theory and the real class. Most teachers simply have no clue how to apply these nice ideas to their advanced learners' teaching. As a result, we have lots of advanced students progressing in spite of the teachers, but who's achievements and opinions get disregarded in a humiliating way. And teachers living in the fantasy that any success is the teacher's achievement and the people stuck on B2 or C1 forever are just there because C2 is objectively impossible to reach.

We might have hijacked aaleks' log a bit :-D But thank you!!! I hope some of this might be useful to any reader, who unlike the two of us hasn't been also reading the subreddit discussion. Which might get blocked, that teacher is getting more and more agressive and irrational. :-D
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby aaleks » Fri Dec 04, 2020 2:30 pm

Cavesa wrote:We might have hijacked aaleks' log a bit :-D

It's okay. I mean, you haven't :) . It was interestning to read, besides, it intersects with my experience on efl.ru. A teacher expecting to be seen as an authority is so true. On efl.ru teachers like playing that authority card. I registered there when in one of the forum's thread some of the teachers portraied independent learners as people who always overestimated their real language proficiency and couldn't communicate nicely with others during the class. Then, during another discussion, I criticized the practice (for individual lessons) of convincing students with mismatched language skills to start all over again with textbooks for beginners, etc. instead of using a more individual approch for working on their problems. As a result I was labeled a "teachers' hater" :D , and after that no matter what I would write about this often would be brought to the discussion.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby Cavesa » Fri Dec 04, 2020 3:57 pm

I was just labeled a flatearther and a Napoleon-like crazy revolutionary yesterday and today :-D Just because I simply pointed out that any piece of research must be taken with a grain of salt, that there are differences between the research and its application, and that the advanced learners are perfectly capable of actually applying some of the research (like the "four strands") intuitively better than many of the teachers. :-D (btw there are whole textbooks on that grain of salt in medicine, called for example "Lecture critique d'article", and medicine research is much less vague than humanities. Really, many people in the humanities should get a course on what does real research and reading about it mean. They should be much better at discussion and critical thinking than us, that's the purpose of opting for a humanities degree, isn't it? But unfortunately, many teachers think that the only way to "be educated" is to adore uncritically the authorities. That's rather sad.)

Some teachers passionate about language teaching and learning are solid and interesting members of the LL communities online. But there are also those expecting to be taken for authorities, despite the whole existence and popularity of these forums proving that a language class is no longer the main or best way to proceed. Unless they are also learners (many of them are not), I honestly don't know what they are doing in such comunities. They just demand their egos to be fed, nothing more.
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Re: aaleks's log

Postby aaleks » Fri Dec 04, 2020 5:38 pm

Cavesa wrote:
Some teachers passionate about language teaching and learning are solid and interesting members of the LL communities online. But there are also those expecting to be taken for authorities, despite the whole existence and popularity of these forums proving that a language class is no longer the main or best way to proceed. Unless they are also learners (many of them are not), I honestly don't know what they are doing in such comunities. They just demand their egos to be fed, nothing more.


The problem with efl.ru is that it's a teachers' forum in disguise. The original efl.ru forum was created by a (successful) language learner in 2001 ( https://www.efl.ru/ ). Since the forum's owner was a learner the focus of the forum was on learning English. I don't know if there was a teachers subforum at that time. Either way, I don't remember teachers being a somewhat privileged part of the community when I came across it the first time in 2012. Back then one would be considered to be a valuable member of the forum based on their level of English in the first place. In 2018 the old efl forum got closed. While I can understand the reasons I don't like how it was done - one day the forum's members wake up and there was no forum anymore. Former members of the forum first created a facebook group, and then one of them made a new forum - the current version. Here's the thing - the new forum looks very like the original one: the same dirty blue color, the same names of the subforums, and even the names of the forums are almost identical (old - efl.ru vs new - efl-forum.ru). But what is different - this version of efl.ru is run by a teacher. Now your level of English means not that much, are you a teacher (or claim to be one) or not means almost everything. Just a couple of days ago I read a discussion between a learner with C2 and a teacher yet to take CPE. The teacher was leaning on the fact that she is a teacher and that's why her opinion should bear more weight than one of a person who successfully passed the C2 exam after just two years of learning English.
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