The Internet TESL Journal

How Native English Speakers Can Be Better English Teachers in Russia

Radislav Millrood
millrood [at]
English Teaching Department at Tambov State University (Russia)

Native speaking English language teachers are very much needed in Russia and in most cases they are met with traditional Russian hospitality, get a decent pay according to Russian standards and receive good evaluations and references. Behind this generally welcoming attitude there may often be a certain critique, which for face-saving reasons and culturally conditioned politeness may not be made explicit. One of the chief values of native English language speakers as teachers lies in their command of English and demonstration of their teaching techniques as a glimpse of "foreign" teaching methodology. In some instances, due to cultural differences and differences in expectations, these teachers are not as effective as they could be.

Triangle of Success

There seem to be three essential components that contribute to the success of teachers in Russia (and most probably in other countries too)

Language Techniques Culture

As it follows from the teachers' and learners' interviews, the missing link on the chain of success is the "culture", meaning teaching culture or socially expected classroom experience.

Native speakers o English as teachers usually demonstrate good standard English, along side with idiomatic language and slang. An interesting turn of attention in the Russian audience has recently been towards authentic behaviour (gestures, exclamations, explaining everyday behaviour, e.g. how to wait in line "in the American way" etc.). In most cases, however, they miss the point that the learners and teachers in Russia need primarily the language of general use. Interest-arousing cases can't make up for the rest of the language needed and become a "sore" when they top out too much.

Native speaking teachers of English often demonstrate teaching techniques, which seem interesting and are treated with enthusiastic welcome. The chief reason of it, however is the novelty of these practices and teachers/learners expectations of a miraculous result, supposedly achieved with the help of these techniques. When with the time, however, the audience feels that the chosen way of instruction does not meet their expectations of how language should be taught, muffled objections can be raised and subdued requests can be voiced about the change of tactics. This change is not likely to happen in most cases for the simple reason of the teacher being unaware of what has actually gone wrong. Another possibility is that the teacher may not be aware of the critique and lack sufficient feedback from the classroom.

The Hypothesis

The hypothesis of this research was that the chief reason why native speakers of English fail as teachers in Russia consists in their lack of knowledge about the Russian teaching culture.

The Subject of Research

The subject of this research was to study the Russian teaching culture and to work out recommendations for native speaking English language teachers, who want to go to Russia to teach effectively.

Teaching culture is a part of the general national culture. It comprises the following components:

Method of Research

Observations during the lessons were made and teachers'-learners'-parents' interviews taken in the three Russian provinces of Tambov, Ryazan and Samara in the period between 1995-1998. Moscow teachers and learners of English at different levels as well as their parents were also interviewed.

This helped to draw conclusions on what can be taken into account to enhance the effectiveness of English language teaching by native speakers coming to work to Russia.

Organisation of a Lesson in Russia

A lesson of English in Russia (as well as of other subjects) will usually though not strictly always have the following features:

Failure to meet these commonly held ideas of how a lesson should be organised, may cause doubt in learners as to whether they will benefit much from the untraditional lessons. First reactions to novel lesson organisation may be very positive and enthusiastic.

Russian Learners' Expectations of Teachers

Learners' parents also share the expectations mentioned above. Many complaints voiced by parents concerning the teachers both local and foreign refer to a teacher's ...

Schools and teachers are held responsible for the academic performance and behaviour of learners, though there are attempts to find a more balanced approach to responsibilities shared by the school, the learner and the parents.

Russian Teachers' Professional Beliefs

These beliefs are commonly held by the teachers in Russia and shared by the professionals teaching different subjects.

In the Universities, a greater emphasis is put on learners' independence but this refers largely to student-teacher encounters during the lectures. Seminars and workshops, in many cases, have the features of a school lesson, though the faculty may deny this.

Helping Russian Teachers of English to Develop

One of the tasks of the native speakers of English coming to Russia from abroad is to help the local teaching community develop professionally. The following principles of this process may help prevent disappointment in this area of engagement:

Experience shows that these principles usually help in introducing modern tendencies for English language teaching instruction in Russia. In the final account the teachers will demonstrate a fine blend of the modern and traditional features and this is to be expected as normal and justified.

General Interests

Russian teachers of English respond with interest to the ideas of:

These points can be considered while working out sessions with the teachers, meant to enhance English language teaching methodology in Russia.

The procedures of the sessions with the teachers may be as follows:

During this process the teachers actually create a teaching pack, which they view as their own product, in which they believe and which they are ready to implement and recommend to colleagues.

Coral Reefs in Russian School Education and How to Overcome Them


The research shows that teaching culture indeed has a lot to do with success in profession especially when one works abroad in a strange environment. The initial hypothesis being proven, practical steps are now necessary to start training English language teachers from among the native speakers to work in Russia, which is a huge market for this kind of services.

I hope that the material presented above will help native speakers of English, who want to try their pedagogical talent in Russia, cope with the difficulties, caused by the local teaching culture and be very successful in all their professional undertakings.

Further Reading

Dunstan J. Ed. Soviet education under perestroika: papers from IV World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies, Harrogate. L. 1992


Research for this article was supported by a grant from the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) with funds provided by the United States Information Agency for the Regional Scholar Exchange Program. None of these organisations are responsible for the views expressed.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 1, January 1999