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Special features in the teaching of the English language in the Linguistics Grammar School

At the present time in Russia significant changes are taking place in the socio-cultural context of foreign language study: direct international relations are developing at an astounding rate between Russian and overseas firms, enterprises, organisations, schools and HEEs. In this connection, the aims, goals, content and techniques of tutoring foreign languages, and English in particular, are being rethought. The aim of tuition in the English language in the Linguistics School is for pupils to attain a post-threshold level of competence in the cognitive processing, socio-cultural, verbal, linguistic and communicative frameworks. This should cover the functional literacy necessary for leavers to continue their further education in any of the country’s linguistics universities successfully, and at the same time make it easier for them to adapt to the ever-changing living conditions.

The themes and issues of foreign communication selected are oriented towards the real interests and requirements of modern pupils. Aside from those compulsory topics that one needs to know for university entrance, pupils discuss the questions that worry contemporary society and that touch on politics, economics, the environment, and public life during lessons. 5 – 9 hours a week are allocated to English language study in the School, including extra classes and special courses.

The study of foreign languages gives pupils the opportunity to:

  1. To better grasp the main grammatical features of the language being studied and to recognise them while reading and listening and to use them in speech and writing. This aim is achieved through various grammar exercises , drills, tests, models, quizzes, substitution exercises, multiple choice exercises, explanations in the native and foreign language, comparing and contrasting the two language systems; illustrating with real examples and an analytical-syntactical approach to the study of grammar; contextualization;
  2. To acquire thematic lexicon in widest use as envisage in the programme. This will facilitate work with course books, newspaper and magazine articles, and materials of a cultural studies nature. Listening to monologues, conversational interviews and dialogues, learning modern songs, and reading extracts from modern prose further help pupils top up not only their active word store, but their receptive (passive) store as well;
  3. To perfect pronunciation. Audio/visual supplements to course books that pupils study in the Linguistics School are used. We use the following: the “English in Mind” learning pack from level 2 – 5,”Complete First Certificate”, “Grammar for FCE”, and “Round-up”;
  4. To understand the gist of native speaker speech in a variety of everyday and basic professional situations; to understand and identify key information from audio texts. The English language classrooms contain all the necessary equipment to develop listening abilities and skills, helps the forming of an audio environment for pupils (i.e. pupils are to demonstrate the ability to pick out the main information; to process spoken language with full understanding of content or highlighting selected information).

By the completion of their studies, pupils will have acquired skills to work with written texts, including the skill of choosing the best reading strategy which takes its informational requirements into consideration and reading texts of different genres like publicity, fiction and popular science.

They will have the rudiments of dialogic and monologic communication: the communicative techniques employed in the construction of spoken dialogue (such as cross-questioning, encouraging, exchanging information, opinions, judging and expressing points of view, arguing, verbal etiquette, and interviews), the communicative techniques of constructing spoken monologue (describing, narrating, reasoning, comparing etc.) and public speaking.

Leavers of the School are able to prepare commercial correspondence, narrate, reason on themes read in texts, and describe people and events. In our School pupils are taught to form theses for oral and written communication, take notes, write papers, summarise, and write personal and business letters, and fill in forms.

There are free extra classes for pupils experiencing difficulties in absorbing English language knowledge.

The Linguistics School initiated the orgranisation of the inter-school conference in English: ” the English Language World: history and modernity” which has been running successfully for its sixth year and is now included in the list of UNESCO and UN events.

The Linguistics School’s founder, the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, is a Cambridge University Examination Centre in the Russian Federation. The following Cambridge English language exam preparation courses can be taken at the School:

  1. English as a Second Language – Level 1
  2. First Language English – Level 2
  3. Cambridge ESOL Exams (KET, PET, FCE, CAE).

Pupils who pass the exams receive Cambridge University certificates indicated with examiners’ listening, reading, speaking and writing marks. Exam preparation is conducted throughout the academic year in class and supplementary courses using authentic study materials and past exam papers. Pupils are taught to communicate freely, to process spoken language, speed reading and to complete tasks based on texts, and to write task based compositions. In addition to this, there are classes with native speakers to develop verbal fluency.

English language teaching methods and techniques in our School pass on necessary and quality knowledge allowing all leavers without exception to pass the final state exam and to apply it in their further career development.

Preparation for USE in the English language at the Linguistics School

Preparation for the Unified State Exam in our School begins from Year 10. Each English language group has 1 extra hour per week in addition to normal classes to work with USE tests in order to get accustomed to the format of exam tasks, to answer questions within the time limit and requirements. In 2011 the USE tasks were a little different from 2010. In section C1 (personal letter) grammar and vocabulary was assessed in addition to task completion, form, style, and length. The exam consists of 4 sections: listening, reading, lexis and grammar, and writing. The top mark for all four sections is 80 points which when multiplied by 1.25 makes 100 points. Over the last 2 years our leavers attained from 95 to 65 points which has allowed many of them to get stat-funded places in various HEEs. Although the speaking section was not assessed in 2011, it is not inconceivable that it will be included in the 2012 exam and this will affect current Year 10s. At present, new preparation in all 4 sections is being undertaken using M.V. Verbitska’s (test author and MSU Professor) and native speaker Malcom Mann’s material.

Listening

This section includes tasks of different levels and formats.

  1. The ability to understand the basic content of a listening text;
  2. The ability to understand the information required;
  3. The ability to understand fully and exactly the content of a listening text.

It takes 30 minutes to complete the tasks. During preparation pupils are provided with all necessary instructions, strategies, and advice drawn from the experience of past leavers and lectures from the authors of the tests that teachers have heard. Practical lessons are conducted regularly with compulsory teacher correction and analysis and the pupil’s own self-analysis.

Reading

This section consists of 3 parts with tasks covering elementary, intermediate and advanced levels. The first tasks test the ability to understand the main topic of the text, the second tasks test the ability to understand the structure and meaning of the text,and the third tasks test complete understanding of the text. During preparation for these tasks the same principles as those used in listening are applied: regularity of practical lessons, teacher analysis and pupil analysis. These tasks take 30 minutes.

Grammar and lexis

The tasks here only cover two levels out of three. The first level is elementary and checks verb tense forms, forms of numerals, and pronouns etc. The second level is intermediate and checks word formation whilst the third upper-intermediate level checks the ability to use lexical items appropriately. Preparation is conducted in the same detailed manner as for the other sections. This section lasts 40 mins.

Writing

In our School we pay special attention to preparing for the creative aspect of the test. Apart from the fact that in this section there are no and cannot be multiple-choice questions, it is creative and it is the only section not checked by a computer, but by living people (a qualified group of experts which our teacher is part of). Pupils are provided with all the necessary instructions and advice from teachers who have been city examiners for two years and aim at informing pupils about all possible mistakes that they have learned from experience. This section lasts 60 mins. The entire exam lasts 160 mins. Mock USE exams are conducted no less than 3 times per year thus giving pupils the chance to assess their strengths beforehand and to correct shortcomings. There are 4 English teachers per class: a lexis and practical speech teacher, a grammar teacher, a native speaker, and a USE preparation teacher which gives pupils the whole picture and encourages them to achieve high standards in the USE exam.

This is also facilitated with authentic coursebooks which we use in our School as well as preparation for international exams which have much in common with the USE. One would like to say by way of conclusion that preparation for the USE is not to be taken lightly, but high standards can be reached through diligence and the desire to achieve the most by the exam date.

GOOD LUCK!

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