English: Stop Learning and Start Living
Learning a language as a lifestyle is the foundation principle Anastasia Ivanova’s professional activity. She is a practising teacher and experienced expert in English language learning. Ms. Ivanova believes that knowing foreign languages impacts greatly the thinking and brain of a person and people’s attitude towards life and themselves. That is why Anastasia Ivanova provides her teaching methodology with principles and exercises that help her students not only gain skills in English but also learn important life lessons.
English teacher, blogger, creator of original English language courses, TEDx speaker
Anastasia Ivanova has been teaching English for 13 years already. During this time, she has created more than 10 original educational online courses. Her expert materials have been included in a number of popular Russian publications. Those include Psychologies, Cosmopolitan, Vokrug Sveta, YOGA Journal, and LADY.MAIL. The expert was a guest on Glamour, Fabula Rasa, and Delovaya Biblioteka podcasts.
Her first book, ‘How to Stop Learning a Foreign Language and Start Living on It’, was released in spring 2019 and became a bestseller immediately. This year, the author plans to publish a new educational book titled ‘Use Your Girl Power!’. This is a textbook with stories of great women in English and exercises based on them.
– Language learning is a lifestyle for you. Where does this love of linguistics come from?
– I started learning English even before school. My parents invested a lot of effort, time, and money into my English practice. We travelled a lot, I was sent to a summer camp where we communicated in English, we visited meetings and classes with native speakers. Now I understand how much my parents invested in that and can’t stop thanking them.
Already during my school years, English became a separate world for me. Almost none of my peers were so fond of it. That’s why I had the feeling that it was something belonging to me, something personal, almost a secret that can be compared to some superpower.
I remember looking for audio books in the net that could be downloaded without registration. No one knew about podcasts at that time. I remember how I watched my first shows in English with a dictionary and a notebook for writing down words. I lived with an amazing and ineffable feeling. It seemed to me that the world of English was my safe space where all problems and worries retreated. That’s how fascinated I was.
When studying at the Moscow State Linguistic University, I started working as a part-time tutor, which is a traditional practice for linguistics students. I got deeply immersed into that. I began to share my ‘secret world’ and the feeling of joy of using a foreign language with other people. I understood that I liked sharing much more than travelling around that linguistic world alone.
Since then, for 13 years now, I have been striving to show a different perspective of English to my students, to make it engaging and interesting for them, to make them personally involved in it.
– At the same time, you believe that one should ‘stop learning’ foreign languages. Why?
I believe that when we say ‘learned’, we most often mean that we have completed a textbook or memorized the question papers for the exam. The goal is achieved, which means that we can put off studying for a while and devote ourselves to other things and concerns.
However, ‘living a foreign language’, as I call my methodology, has no end point. If you organise this lifestyle correctly, you will not have to wait for the weekend to take a break from studying. In this case, the foreign language becomes part of everyday life, part of your boundless world.
– How does the use of foreign languages affect a person and his or her life?
– Greatly. I can see that on the example of myself and my students. I absorb a huge amount of content in English, from magazines to YouTube videos. I often learn about concepts, ideas, and notions that come into the Russian language only after some time in advance from materials of foreign experts. In this regard, we can say that the knowledge of English gives a person the opportunity to move forward and develop in any field much faster.
I wrote a lot about the concepts of life-long learning and edutainment that are popular in the West in my first book and in my blog. These ideas have only recently begun to develop in Russia.
My students often talk about how English helps them ‘to be ahead of everyone’ in business. When projects face a certain problem, executives with knowledge of foreign languages have access to a broader range of information. That makes it possible to find the necessary solutions to overcome the difficulties. For example, my student’s company faces some problem and the Entrepreneur magazine has already written about a similar case. My student who is a keen English reader immediately borrows the ideas from there to the company to solve the problem. The experience of colleagues from America who have already gone through the same challenge can be extremely useful.
A foreign language allows you to use the experience of international colleagues or just those who are going through similar stages in life. You have access to those data while similar information is not available in Russian.
Knowledge of foreign languages helps us expand our boundaries and learn more about life in other countries. I think that Russian people tend to think that it is much better abroad than in their homeland. However, life in different countries is very multifaceted. That makes it even more interesting to learn about it. Studying content in a foreign language helps people get rid of the burden of ‘having something wrong here’. They come to an understanding that the world is diverse and that we can adopt one another’s useful experience or learn from one another’s mistakes by establishing international communication.
Of course, knowledge of foreign languages is a powerful foundation of your own self-esteem. I always pay my students’ attention to how their worldview and attitude towards themselves change in the process of the educational course. They stop being shy about stating their desires and demands. They become bolder in voicing their thoughts and ideas, take risks more often, and benefit from them. These are the wonders of knowing a foreign language.
High self-esteem and confidence are sometimes even more important than knowing grammar well. I remind my students about that all the time.
– Some people believe that they have no talent for foreign languages. Does the ability to learn languages depend on a predisposition?
– There is no scientific data on the predisposition or non-predisposition for learning languages.
It is important to understand that some people may have such diagnoses as dyslexia or dysgraphia when a person has difficulty in reading or writing due to the peculiarities of brain development. However, even that does not mean that such people cannot learn languages.
We live in a world of opportunities. Today, there are even special programs for people with a special perception of information. Thanks to them, one can master many areas of knowledge including foreign languages. Everything is in our hands!
– Are there any basic rules or exercises that can help a person to enter the process of learning a language from scratch? How should a person’s thinking be ‘tuned’ to make it easier for him or her to master a new language?
– All the basic rules are quite simple and clear. For example, the principle of small steps means that one should learn a language gradually. One shouldn’t immediately try to memorize more than a thousand words per day. The principle of developing a habit presupposes regular exercise.
One simple but important rule lies in not forgetting to praise yourself for your success. If a person only criticizes him- or herself constantly, he or she gradually stops making efforts to achieve results.
Readers of my first book often write to me that many of the rules and principles described there are very effective not only in language learning but also in life, business, and sports. If a person has made great progress in a certain area of life, he or she can transfer the used principles to the process of learning foreign languages.
The main rule in achieving any goal is to start to act being aware that possible slowdowns at some point are an integral part of the path.
That principle seems very simple but I'm focusing on it for a reason. Two of the most common problems in learning foreign languages are that people don’t start doing that immediately and constantly put their studies off or give up after the first failure.
– One of the topics of your courses is dedicated to the stories of outstanding women. Tell us about that aspect of your work. Why did you decide to focus on that?
– Seven years ago, I gave birth to my daughter. I had to stop teaching and devote myself to motherhood. It was great! However, I felt a certain emptiness arising from the ‘only focus’ of such a new life. I loved spending time with my daughter but there were very few common topics of conversation with the child.
Then I started listening to podcasts, audio books, and interviews to increase my intellectual load. I understood that most of the content was focused on men in one way or another. Scientists, politicians, businessmen, doctors, writers, and musicians discussed at school and university, in social networks, magazines, and on TV were usually men.
I began to study content about women. It turned out that there is really little information of that kind in the Russian-speaking space. Almost no one here has ever heard of such interesting personalities as Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Allred, or even Gloria Steinem.
I decided to use all my teaching experience and write a course on the stories of outstanding women. It was based on a simple idea: the students watch, listen, and read stories about interesting heroines of different times. I prepared vocabulary and grammar exercises based on these stories and provided quality feedback on the lessons.
‘Use Your Girl Power!’ course has been successfully implemented for 5 years already. It continues to gain momentum and helps girls not only improve their language skills from speaking to writing but also increase their self-esteem and find inspiration.
Women have a unique power and ability to create, which is so important in our world. However, there is not so much written about them in textbooks. That needs to be fixed!
By 2021, I have found that the topic of girl power is really becoming increasingly interesting to Russian-speaking readers. The coming release of my new book, a textbook based on the stories of great women and named ‘Use Your Girl Power!’, is an important event for me.
I am very happy that the birth of my daughter helped me to ‘take a break’ and discover a topic, which is important not only for me but also for the whole society. Perhaps, when my daughter reaches my age, she will not have to wonder why there are so few examples of female influence in history both in Russian and in English.
– What women inspire you personally?
– It’s difficult for me to name individual women who inspire me. After all, I have dozens of heroines in my head, whose stories formed the basis of my ‘Use Your Girl Power!’ project. Most of all I admire those women who never stop, even when something is difficult and seems impossible. It can be not even about great feats but about small steps that a woman continues to do one after another despite all the difficulties.
I have been very interested in the person of Frida Kahlo since my childhood, even before she was considered a feminist icon. I even have a tattoo of her quote: “Nothing is worth more than laughter”.
Gloria Steinem who has been fighting for women’s rights for over 60 years also comes to my mind as my role model. I admire her dedication to the cause! With my 30 years of experience, I can’t even imagine how she can keep herself from ‘burning out’ after all these years of fighting for equal rights. Here I also want to mention Gloria Allred, a lawyer who has been protecting women in courts for over 50 years. Her activity includes different cases from the smallest rights violations to high-profile cases against Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump.
Every day, I admire my mother, Olga Lakhina, who has been helping homeless animals in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast for more than 15 years. She organised the Dog Like Dog volunteer union. Thanks to its work, about 140 animals per year find a new home.
Not burning out when doing a difficult and important thing not only for yourself but also for those around you is something that we can learn from many outstanding women.
– What is your social mission?
– I want to tell stories of interesting women to make sure that one day the words ‘pilot’, ‘judge’, or ‘scientist’ will be associated with women.
Discrimination of any origin is a product of our stereotypical thinking. I would suggest you reading the works of Malcolm Gladwell or Sheryl Sandberg, the heroine of my new book.
It’s not our fault that we think leaning on stereotypes. They are the brain’s tool for preserving energy. However, we should be able to cope with those stereotypes by expanding the boundaries of our thinking.
It would be great if people start remembering Ruth Bader when they hear the word ‘judge’, Mae Jamison when they hear the word ‘astronaut’, or Gloria Allred when the word ‘lawyer’ is mentioned. When we push the boundaries of our thinking in this way, there will be much less discrimination in the world.
A foreign language can certainly help in the restructuring of stereotypical thinking. It has long been proven that learning a language affects the ‘youthfulness’ of the brain and its plasticity.
In addition, the topics of the ageing brain and degenerative diseases of the nervous system have long been interesting for me. According to many studies, foreign languages have a positive effect on the condition of patients with such diagnoses. I want to believe that, by teaching English, my colleagues and I can contribute to increasing the number of healthy and confident people in our society.
– People talked about globalization for a long time. During the pandemic, on the contrary, the world became divided. In your opinion, how much does today’s world need to build and strengthen international communication? What does language learning bring to the world in general?
– The fact that we are now cut off from many other countries and they are cut off from us makes me sad. I lived in Cyprus for 4 years and now I miss my friends and the places I love. However, I am sure that this is a temporary phenomenon. Communication is an integral part of our life.
Speaking the same language makes it possible for people to listen to and, most importantly, to hear each other.
Today, there are many opportunities for international communication. Even people who do not know the language at all can become participants of such communication by using the services of an interpreter or electronic translator. As an expert, I believe in a special value of ‘direct’ communication.
Emotions and feelings of the other person play a fundamentally important role in communication. An interpreter can convey information but, at the same time, he or she stands in the way of direct communication and prevents the interlocutors from exchanging their cultural codes.
The theory of Dunbar’s number is very close and interesting to me. According to it, the number of social connections for effective interaction is limited. Thus, we can keep in memory about 5-10 close people and up to 15-20 associates. Our wide circle of acquaintances is limited to 150-200 people whom we simply can identify when meeting them in the street.
I imagine this number as cells in my mind. I ask myself about how many cells I fill with interesting and inspiring people. If my mental cells are filled with dozens of people from different countries speaking different languages, then my worldview will be more diverse and interesting.
A foreign language gives us the opportunity to fill such cells with interesting people and also to find common ground with foreigners. We are all very different and at the same time very similar! In this regard, a foreign language helps us to not only develop and achieve success in a variety of fields but also learn a lot about ourselves by means of other people’s stories including those about other inspiring personalities.
In my understanding, ‘living English’ is a process that opens up a huge field of opportunities for us.
Viktoria Yezhova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov