All posts by akalya77

Elastic time: How to gain control over your free time? / Laura Vanderkam (Deconstruction)

I am not the most disciplined, organized person on the earth (despite what my personal statement may say), and if you are anything like me, chances are you are struggling to manage your time effectively. In her 12-minute-presentation, the mother of three small children and a time-management expert, Laura Vanderkam helps us look at time from a new, refreshing perspective. In this video, we see a successful way of delivering your presentation by sharing a common experience with the audience (being late), telling short stories from other people’s lives, offering strategies to deal with a situation and using simple numbers in an effective way.

Laura builds a strong rapport with the audience by talking about the case when she was ironically late for her own presentation on time-saving, being an expert on time-management herself. Further, she goes on telling a story about the woman with the broken water heater, who surprisingly found time (7 HOURS!) to deal with the problem and its aftermath, despite the fact that at the beginning of the week she claimed not to have any free time. This story has sparked connection with the audience, as it is so relatable. I think we all had an urgent situation, at least once in a life, when you were the victim of some circumstances and it completely changed the way you planned everything beforehand. Speaking of my experience, once I had to finish all of my assignments in advance to attend my sister’s wedding (of course, a way better reason to reallocate your time than a heater problem). And, believe me, if you would ask me whether I could do it in advance or in such a short period of time at the beginning of the semester, I would say no, too. So, it all leads to her next point, that time is highly elastic and most of the time, “I don’t have time really means It is not a priority”. The woman with broken water heater found time to fix the problem, because she only prioritized it in her to-do list. Thus, if we prioritize “the things that deserve to be there”, “we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got”.

Acknowledging that it is not always easy to find “time for what matters”, and even complicated for some people, Laura offers some strategies on how to balance our time commitments.  For that, the speaker suggests to write three categories each Friday afternoon – career, relationships, self- and jot down the things you want to finish by next year and ensure that you have proper investment in each category. Even though these suggestions might sound like a task, the way she delivered this piece of her talk, makes it clear that it is up to the audience to follow her advice or not.

Finally, the speaker presents numbers in an attractive way, so that it doesn’t look like a spreadsheet, but one numerical value embedded into one slide. The numbers (the time that we have to do what we want) come from solving simple math equation like “twenty-four times seven is 168 hours”. So, according to Laura, even if we work 40 hours per week, sleep eight hours per night, we still have 72 hours to spend on things that matter. However, I think this part of her speech could benefit from incorporating food-related time, as she does not consider the amount of time each person spends on eating (for some people food preparation and cooking is a big part of the day).

Overall, her friendly personality and articulate speech throughout the talk makes the presentation more engaging and impactful. I would like to end the deconstruction blog with her outstanding quote that I find to be true: “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it”.

The lost message

You may know from my previous blogposts that I have a keen interest in the dichotomy between native and non-native English speakers. There is an urgent matter that I would like to raise which came to my attention via a recent (well, it was published almost 1.5 year ago) BBC article. According to the report, with English being a lingua franca, native English speakers (NES) are not at an advantageous position anymore, as they have to adapt their language to non-native English speakers (NNES) to cooperate effectively in the workplace. It seemed strange to me at first. On second thought, however, this claim made a lot of sense.  The smart manager, businessperson or anyone working in a global team realizes the importance of being understood to their international colleagues and surely, would try to accommodate NNES. However, what makes NES’s lives even harder is that “too many non-Anglophones, especially the Asians and the French, are too concerned about not ‘losing face’- and nod approvingly while not getting the message at all”, as quoted in another BBC article powerfully titled as “native English speakers are the world’s worst communicators”. So, even if NES are willing to show courtesy to be understood by slowing down their pace of speaking, avoiding the use of idioms, sayings, slangs and jargons, and instead, use simple vocabulary, how are they going to know that others do not understand them if these others do not let them know about it? Isn’t it an absurd?

Director of the Centre for Global Englishes at the University of Southampton, Jennifer Jenkins, draws our attention on yet another important issue that NES are not only having hard times to be understood, but also struggling to understand others, i.e., NNES. As a NNES myself, I can imagine that my natural accented English can affect comprehensibility, but accents and dialects vary dramatically even across English-speaking countries. For instance, British, Americans, Canadians, Australians share the same language, but according to their social or cultural group, they may have developed their homegrown regional accents/dialects which can be mutually unintelligible. What I am saying is that, it is unsound to expect to understand and be understood all the time, because miscommunication can easily happen even between two native English speakers, let alone between NES and NNES.

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So, the most useful takeaway from those two articles for me was that irrespective of whether you are NES or NNES, you should always make an attempt to modify your language and improve your communicability. Thus, NES can learn how to grade their language whereas NNES can always ask questions for comprehension, as effective communication occurs when both parties are equally involved in the process.

Did you like BBC articles? Do you think they are melodramatic, overstating or just fine? What is your perspective as a native or non-native English speaker?

Should everyone in Kazakhstan be required to learn Kazakh language: linguistic discourses in place

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The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was met with great local enthusiasm on the part of Kazakh nationalists who perceived it as a great opportunity to promote Kazakh language and increase the prestige of Kazakh language within predominantly Russian-speaking population (Fierman, 2006).  In fact, from the beginning of Kazakhstan’s independence to present, the domains of Kazakh language has significantly expanded mainly due to the state’s considerable efforts to legitimize and institutionalize Kazakh language (Smagulova, 2008). However, people are still increasingly expressing their concerns regarding the superiority of Russian language in public life. That being said, extreme Kazakh-language advocates started to call for a mandatory knowledge of Kazakh language virtually by all citizens of Kazakhstan. It is highly evidenced in the print and social media, which are full of complaints that Kazakh language is undervalued and discredited. Thus, the point of departure of this blog post is different linguistic discourses in place constantly emerging in recent times.

Since the proclamation of Kazakhstan’s independence, the relationship between Kazakh and Russian languages has been highly complex. The ongoing debate is stimulated by the state’s desire to assert the supremacy of Kazakh language in Kazakhstan. In addition, the State programme for language development (MCRK, 2011) also aims to promote the state language as a key factor to strengthen national unity. Opinions on this particular issue vary greatly among people as evident in the following excerpts by Mukhtar Tayzhan, president of the Bolatkhan Tayzhan Foundation:

U nas v Kazahstane kazahskij jazyk ne zanimaet podobajushhee emu mesto gosudarstvennogo jazyka. Jeta situacija nikogda ne izmenitsja, poka my kardinal’nym obrazom ne pomenjaem gosudarstvennuju politiku v sfere jazyka. Rezul’taty obzora mezhdunarodnogo opyta pokazyvajut, chto v osnovnom metody v sfere jazyka ochen’ zhestko regulirujutsja gosudarstvom, primenjajutsja administrativnye resursy. Nashe pravitel’stvo chereschur gumanno v dannom voprose. Ja schitaju oshibochnym otsutstvie mehanizma prinuzhdenija perehoda na gosudarstvennyj jazyk. […]. Esli chelovek schitaet sebja patriotom Kazahstana, to on objazan znat’ kazahskij jazyk i na nem govorit’.

[In our Kazakhstan, Kazakh language does not occupy its supposed place as a state language. Unless we alter the language politics of the state, this situation will never change. The review of the international experience shows that the methods used in the field of language are strictly regulated by the government, administrative resources are used. Our government is far more humane in dealing with this issue. I believe that it is wrong not to have a compulsive mechanism of switching to a state language.[..]. If one person considers himself/herself to be a patriot of Kazakhstan, then he/she must know Kazakh language and speak it.] (emphasis added).

The word supposed suggests that Kazakh language is not where it should be: it still does not have a high prestige appropriate to its state language status. Further the use of the conjunction unless allow us to conclude that it is a conditional sentence. The author clearly implies that the current situation (condition) of Kazakh language is not good and we have to try to change it. The author next talks about the international experience as being the best experience to which we have to rely on and shows vivid contrast of the international experience and our government in dealing with the same issue, with former being strict, and latter finds itself being  far more humane.  Moreover, Tayzhan call for a creation and development of  compulsive mechanism that would enforce people to speak Kazakh language. Such a strong position is then confirmed by his definition of a patriot as someone who knows and speaks the language. As we can see, this is an example of an assimilationist type of discourse where Kazakh language is needed to promote national unity. This excerpt (1) echoes the discourse that all people who live in Kazakhstan should be able to speak a state language and if needed, measures should be taken to enforce the learning of Kazakh language.

While the language ideology of one nation-one language remains present, this discourse has been a subject to intense debate on the part of non-Kazakh speakers who complain that the predominance of Kazakh language might come at the expense of their constitutional rights. Therefore, the language belief of one nation-one language was met rather skeptically as reflected in the following response of Yuriy Bunakov who is the leader of the Russian Community of Kazakhstan.

Na segodnjashnij den’ okolo 50% naselenija Kazahstana vladejut gosudarstvennym jazykom. Razve mozhno v takih uslovijah perevodit’ deloproizvodstvo polnost’ju na kazahskij jazyk? [..].Esli stupit’ na takuju stezju, my dozhivem do togo, chto russkoe naselenie zadumaetsja ob ot#ezde iz Kazahstana, vsled za temi, kotorye uzhe uehali.

[For the present time being, approximately 50% of the populations have a good command of Kazakh language. But how we can talk about the transferring of the whole administration system to a state language in these conditions? If we step on this path, we will reach a point when the Russian population will start thinking about leaving Kazakhstan.] (emphasis added).

In this excerpt (2) we can see an illustration of how some people’s language belief that Kazakh language should be spoken by everyone is unfair in relation to ethnic minorities living in Kazakhstan. The leader of the ethnic minority group emphasizes that only 50% of people living in a state know the Kazakh language. Therefore, it is unsound to ask for the whole office administration processes and paperwork to be implemented in a state language. By the final sentence, we can see that the voices of ethnic minorities are becoming louder and they can easily leave a country if the situation goes on this way. Therefore, I would argue that the government  need to provide means for minority groups to study Kazakh language first and then argue whether  “deloproizvodstvo” (the administration system) should be carried out in a state language.

The president Nazarbayev has been more concerned with the possible ethnic conflicts that may arise from promoting Kazakh language as a sole state language and nation-building tool. He warns people against language discrimination and believes that no one should enforce the learning of Kazakh language, thus reminding us that we are bilingual country as shown here:

Gorjachie golovy, govorili, pust’ vse zagovorjat na odnom jazyke. Vse kazahi vladeli russkim jazykom i teper’ v odnochas’e vzjat’ i vsem govorit’: davaj.[..]. Ja im govoril: «Horosho, esli pered toboj postavit’ zadachu zavtra nachinat’ govorit’ na kitajskom, budesh’ govorit’? A pochemu pered nashimi ljud’mi takoj vopros nado stavit’? Ubezhdal, i narod ponimal jeto, podderzhal menja. Esli by my takie reshenija ne prinjali, to o stabil’nosti, kotoroj my gordimsja segodnja, mozhno bylo zabyt’.

[ Some hotheads were saying that everyone should speak one language.  All Kazakhs had a good proficiency in Russian language and it would have been senseless to say: “From now on we speak only one language. […]. I said to them: “What if you were forced to speak, say, Chinese by tomorrow. Would you manage? Then why our people should be posed such a question? I persuaded people, and they understood it and supported me. If we did not make these decisions, then we could forget about stability that we are proud of today.] (emphasis added).

The excerpt (3) illustrates President’s language policies that can be characterized as pluralist type of discourse. The president and the government opposes to take aggressive measures in its language legislations and laws. This excerpt can also be understood as President’s effort to maintain the loyalty of non-Kazakh speaking citizens by allowing them space to speak and develop their respective languages. Also, he underlines that keeping those two languages, Kazakh and Russian, is a way of maintaining stability in a country. And this stability is associated with nation’s pride.
            All in all, there are two permanent language beliefs about Kazakh language in Kazakhstan. There are extreme Kazakh nationalists who argue that Kazakh language should be spoken by everyone and blame the state for being nice and slow in regards to other non-Kazakh speaking population in its language policies.

However, the government is concerned more with social consequences that might be instigated by one nation-one state ideology. This ideology can be easily understood by Fierman’s (2006) statement that the direct connection of language and territory embedded in people’s minds was the legacy of Soviet times, adherent to the ideas of Stalin about what constitutes a nation.

In the view of these disagreements, the role of key stakeholders such as multilingual leaders, educators and researchers are crucial. Researches might direct their works towards learning about countries that have faced the same challenges as Kazakhstan did and suggest the ways of coping with them. Educators should be responsible for instilling the knowledge that we must embrace our linguistic diversity rather than reducing it. Multilingual leaders should think of ways of how to bring to a consensus these two sides. However, most importantly, we should have a structured analysis based on the results of the State Program for language development: this time not quantatively, but qualitatively in order to see the effectiveness of the program itself and whether it succeeded to achieve its aims or not.

References

State Programme for the Development and Functioning of Languages in the Republic of Kazakhstan. (2011).  Retrieved from https://strategy2050.kz /static/files/pr/ p3_eng.docx

Fierman, W. (2006). Language and Education in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan: Kazakh-Medium instruction in urban schools. The Russian Review, 65(1), 98-116.

Smagulova, J (2008). Language Policies of Kazakhization and Their Influence on Language Attitudes and Use.  International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 11 (3-4), 440-475.

Photo credits to https://www.fotolia.com/tag/mandatory

TSR:Teacher-Student Relationships

 

There are a plethora of factors that can be considered responsible of greatly affecting a student’s achievement: age/gender differences, financial situation, parents’ availability, family education, and even place of residence. However, there is yet another important factor that can promote a student’s academic performance which has traditionally been neglected in research: teacher-student relationship.

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With almost 15 years of experience as a student, I have seen it all – from the overly strict teachers who imbue fear and anxiety by treating students in a demeaning and humiliating fashion – to the confused teachers who could not blur the line between being friendly and literally being friends of their students.  And recently, I have been thinking about how to keep a right balance between being inviting to your students and still remain a professional? How to set clear boundaries and establish successful teacher-student relationship?

In the past, teachers took a more formal approach being an unquestionable authority in the classroom. They would lead the discussions, find ways to engage students in their respective subjects and control the whole learning environment. Whereas now, with an increasing student-focused teaching, norms in a classroom environment have changed in significant ways. Students, especially at college/university level, reported that they prefer a “laid-back” environment in which they can interact with their professors and each other in informal style. However, there is a danger in being way too informal: students probably won’t respect their teacher, they may not listen to him/her, teacher’s rules will be no longer valid, and in extreme cases, they may intellectually challenge and test their teacher. So, how to build a positive rapport with your students and know that they fully respect you?

Following are my humble suggestions for establishing teacher’s authority while still having warm and friendly teacher-student relationship based on my personal experience and some readings that I have done:

  1. A Teacher should have a clear idea of the course content, expected learning outcomes and its relevance to the real world experience. Students will not be interested in learning the course if they are not provided with rationale for doing so. Also, if a teacher does not set the objectives for the whole class and connect it to the expected students’ behaviors, students are highly likely to find ways to entertain themselves during the class.
  2. A teacher should be always prepared. If not, students will notice it within first minutes of the class and as a consequence, they may not trust a teacher to lead them through the semester. It can also foster disrespect for the teacher and gave students an excuse for not working.
  3. The relationship should be businesslike, not personal. A teacher should get to know students as people, but communicate only on topics related to a course. In addition, students will really appreciate if a teacher knows each of them by names.
  4. A good sense of humor is essential! It brings positive feelings, enthusiasm to the classroom. No one will doubt that humor is sort of medicine for unmotivated, bored students. However, a teacher should make sure that the classroom is a shame-free zone.
  5. A teacher should try to be available after classes to chat with students and address any questions they may have, or to appoint them some time during the office hours.
  6. Students will always want to be in a class where they feel valued. I cannot emphasize it enough.
  7. Passionate teachers are always inspiring. Students can easily differentiate between a teacher who is merely in the classroom to earn some money and a committed teacher who loves going to work and teaching every day.

Certainly, teachers are held to impossibly high standards while they try to teach and manage a classroom with an increasingly diverse student population. With the pressures on them from every side, sometimes they may fall short of expectations.  In these rare cases, students should be supportive and show some dignity and respect for the effort that a teacher puts. And conversely, teachers should aspire to foster favorable learning climate by building strong connections with their students. Without a rapport, education will be nothing but a simple exercise in rote learning.

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Do you think it is important for teachers to have trusting relationship with their students? Will it affect your performances in class? Do you have any strategies to develop positive teacher-student relationship?

Photo credits to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8elp6xORJ58

http://quotesgram.com/img/teacher-student-quotes-on-relationship/4145474/

Do grades motivate students?

During the break, Graduate School of Public Policy of Nazarbayev University announced elective courses open to all graduate students for the spring semester. One of the courses offered was International Financial Policy which got me intrigued by its content. It did not take long before I decided to add the course to my schedule.

Like many students at the beginning of the semester, I shared my plans with friends and asked them to join me. However, instead of an answer, I received another question in response: “Do you really like to take a risk and choose the course in an area that is not your strong suit? The course that is not part of your graduation requirements, but still will count toward your degree?”. And this caused me to question my ambitions and eventually, hold me back from taking the course. But it was not because I was afraid of challenging myself to learn new things, I was simply conscious about my grades and prized them over education.

Grades are the most common example of an external or extrinsic motivation through which we can leverage learning. Many believe that grades can act as incentives to make students work harder and learn more, and harder the grading system is, the better the results are. But does this type of incentive motivate students to really learn more?

While I acknowledge that grades do serve essential functions as to evaluate student learning and performance, the grade-focused system can have negative effects on students’ motivation. Students can easily miss the point of education in the pursuit of desirable grades. This is because education is often cited as the key to “success” and “bright future”. With this perception of the importance of education, students often get obsessed with their grades, taking them as inherent values that indicate their ability, intelligence or even self-worth. As a consequence of being wrapped up in their grades, they may afterwards suffer from grade anxiety disorders and high academic stress. And sometimes, to take some pressure off themselves, students may be even tempted to cheat, as reported by Barbara Palmer.

Students can also be encouraged to select the easiest courses, the courses they are already highly proficient in or the ones with “kind-grader” professors- not the best criteria for judicious selection of courses, one might argue. But this was exactly what I did. I did not want to risk my grade point average (GPA) by taking that tough finance course. I was afraid of getting a grade that I would not be able to accept.

So, do grades motivate students to learn? I would argue that the answer is yes. But this motivation can diminish the amount of the material you learn. Most students will learn material only over which they are then tested.  They will choose the courses where the probability of getting good grades is high. While this is rarely the intention of anyone, this external motivation imbues students with the wrong motives for study.

To sum it up, grades have their place as a way of measuring student achievement. They are an essential part of education, but what they are not necessary part of is one’s self-worth. And even if there is a social pressure on you from your parents, teachers, do not ever make my mistake and place so much emphasis on grades. Instead think about the benefits (may be not always tangible, but valuable) you might get out of education.

Do good grades matter to you? Do they motivate you? Have you ever been obsessed with your grades?  Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below!

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Photo credits to http://features.columbiaspectator.com/eye/2016/04/13/what-do-we-do-when-we-talk-about-grades/

Accent Obsession

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There are some confident people who can easily join a conversation in a foreign language with a limited vocabulary, broken English, but a great enthusiasm. This was never me. My preoccupation with perfect pronunciation prevented me from speaking English and I would have never become fluent if one wise woman hadn’t made me see things in a different light.

 

In many course materials for English language learners, you might hear RP (Received Pronunciation), sometimes referred to as BBC English (the most often used accent in BBC news is RP, though they are trying to incorporate other accents, too) or Queen’s English (the standard variety of the upper-class’ people of British English). The materials through which I learnt English were no different. Hearing RP accent on tapes in class, I was trying to copy their accent, paying close attention to  the pronunciation of certain words, enunciating them as those actors did in recorded audios in pious hope to speak in an accent that fascinated me the most.

Although I realized that the audios were recorded by trained actors for learning purposes, for some reason, RP speakers seemed to be highly intelligent and well-educated to me. Well, you can start accusing me of being biased, but mind you, it was rather unconscious. Eventually, the false stereotype of considering RP a “posh” accent and all others as lower-class accents bolt down to fear of being negatively evaluated because of my accent. Over-focusing on my accent, I was hesitant to communicate with others, even though I had decent knowledge of grammar and a strong vocabulary.

Until one day, my teacher (a delightful young woman from the UK) told me that rather than trying to adopt this “posh” accent, you should embrace your own, because it is real and because it is beautiful the way it is. Simple advice, but it was so powerful. It had an instantaneous effect on me (may be because she had an RP accent:)). My penchant for RP disappeared and certainly, it was no longer the default “educated” accent for me. I do not want to reiterate the words of my enlightening teacher, but if you ever feel self-conscious, try to perceive your accent as an asset that makes you so unique! You know how they say: “What makes you different is what makes you beautiful”.

Have you ever been embarrassed of your accent when speaking English? Were you drawn to such kind of stereotypes? Feel free to share your experience in comments!

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References

Photo credits to http://www.happysoulproject.com/2014/01/what-makes-you-different-is-what-makes.html

https://www.google.kz/search?q=accent+obsession+rp&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjlpPf0qPTRAhUGDJoKHYNbAp0Q_AUICCgB&biw=1366&bih=638#tbm=isch&q=rp+accent&imgdii=hQqz-qW6081BhM:&imgrc=b_fPNM4SnSHy8M:

Native speaker vs. non-Native speaker: the influence of race

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There is a tendency to believe that Native English Speaking Teachers (NESTs) make ideal teachers of English, framing Non-Native English Speaking Teachers (NNESTs) as deficient educators. It is highly evidenced in recent job advertisements that explicitly give an unfair advantage to NESTs. Expectedly, the treatment of NNESTs at a lower professional status developed a conflict between NESTs and NNESTs. That being said, over the past two decades, the issues concerning the relationship between these two types of teachers have been discussed extensively in the literature. However, the most sensitive aspect of the native speaker construct, race, has taken a long time to be studied and discussed openly.

Traditionally, the differences between NESTs and NNESTs have been examined in terms of linguistic and pedagogical competences, sometimes considering their personal qualities. However, there are prevalent perceptions that English is the native language of White people and they make better teachers (Guo & Beckett, 2007). Guo and Beckett (2007) contend that the native speaker construct has hidden systemic racism that discriminates against people because of some phenotypical traits such as skin and eye color, face shape, and leads to white hegemony.

At first glance, associating White people with the native speaker and equating the non-native speaker to non-White people may appear to be ridiculous. However, the study conducted by Rivers and Ross’s (2013) exploring the implicit influence of race on Japanese students’ desirability ratings of potential non-Japanese EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers support this statement. The results indicate that the vast majority of students conflated the NESTs with Whiteness. Even more interesting is that white heritage teachers were the most desirable compared to Asian and Black teachers among students when the explicit characteristics such as age, country of origin, English language proficiency, command of Japanese language, and teaching experience were standardized across all three race conditions. This observable influence of race on students’ preferences suggests that the Asian race teachers and the Black race teachers were perceived inferior to the White race teachers in their racial hierarchy. Although, a relatively small sample (N=80) of participants does not allow us to generalize the results of their findings, we can all agree that English is not the language only of White people of British origin.

To sum up, we must all acknowledge that people from all cultures and races can be native speakers of English due to colonialism, neocolonialism, capitalism, migration, immigration. Therefore it is the time to address the racialized aspect of native/non-native issues along with linguistic aspects (Kubota & Lin, 2006).

References

Guo, Y., & Beckett, G.H. (2007). The hegemony of English as a global language: Reclaiming local knowledge and culture in China. Convergence, 40(1-2), 117-132.

Kubota, R., & Lin, A. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to concepts and theories. TESOL Quarterly, 40(3), 471-493.

Rivers, D. J.,& Ross A. S. (2013).Idealized English Teachers: The Implicit Influence of Race in Japan.Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 12(5), 321-339.

Photo credits to http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2014/01/20/ten-disability-awareness-lessons-learned-from-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/