All posts by asselshmidt

About asselshmidt

M.A. Multilingual Education Nazarbayev University

From ENU to NU: My Academic Shock Experience

It is going to be an emotional post perhaps, but I definitely need to pour my heart out to someone. I have been asked several times lately “what do you feel about studying at Nazarbayev University?” and normally my answer is “I am very happy to study here”. It’s true, but who can realize what lies behind this simple answer? I will tell you, guys, that behind this answer lies a year of shock, difficulties and internal struggle. And you know why? This is because the university, where I got my bachelor’s degree, had a totally different system of education, other principles, and even different worldview. It has taken me the whole year just to adapt to a new environment and get used to the new rules and requirements of NU. No, I am not against the Eurasian National University, but all the things that I have experienced here at NU last year prove again that universities like ENU do not provide a sufficient academic knowledge and do not develop academic skills. And let me explain why I think so.

Let’s start with the scariest thing I heard here in the first day I came: PLAGIARISM. I am very happy that it is not a scary word anymore, but it was. And I was surprised that the thing that was so absolutely normal and usual in my previous university has a name and is actually forbidden. No one had ever told me that it was bad. I had to accept it and fortunately, I’ve done it well, because my content and my own unique style of writing have turned out to be more important than just copy pasting someone’s ideas and thoughts. Thank you, NU.

Another thing that had been putting a lot of pressure on me, two things to be more precise, was READING ACADEMIC ARTICLES and WRITING ESSAYS. CONSTANTLY. Stop, stop, stop, let me just take a breath. I mean, are you serious? These articles are so mind-blowing, where do you get them? No one has ever told me that such kind of literature even exists! And these essays (oh my goodness, in ENGLISH). Who in this world cares what an ordinary person like me thinks or writes? Or, why didn’t we write essays at ENU?  What? 500 words? Is it possible?

Yes, these were my thoughts a year ago. And, thank God, I don’t think that way any longer. Reading articles has become an everyday routine that gives me not only a new piece of information but introduces me to the theories, concepts and conceptual frames that I can possibly use in my future research (MY RESEARCH. I can’t believe it). As for writing essays, do you have one more? Great. I’ll write it.

And RESEARCH is another new thing that I have encountered at NU. No comments here.

Finally, APA STYLE. This is what I have been struggling a lot with because even in this blog you can see that I am more a freestyle writer than the one who writes in a perfect academic way. Following certain rules in writing and always making sure that your essay is well-organized, clearly developed, accurately cited, has references and so on and so forth, were not my thing and it had taken me months to realize the importance of APA style formatting. But now, I am actually in love with it. I can see a huge progress and development in my writing style, mostly because of Mr. Montgomery’s lessons.  Thank you, professor.

Honestly, these four points I have mentioned are just the beginning, and they definitely have been the hardest things that I’ve experienced here. But who can imagine how happy I am to study at this wonderful university and face all those difficulties? I am happy indeed because it means that I can become a real researcher, a real educator, a real professional. It means I deserve all these things. We all deserve. That’s why we are here. At Nazarbayev University. Thank you, NU.

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Argument Deconstruction: “How to learn any language in six months” by Chris Lonsdale

Synopsis: The video “How to learn any language in six months” was presented at the independently organized TEDxLingnanUniversity event by Chris Lonsdale, a managing director of Chris Lonsdale & Associations, and the developer of a unique approach that helps people to learn any language in a short period of time. In the lecture, the presenter provides 5 principles and 7 actions claiming that they will help anyone to learn a second language.

Thesis: Following 5 principles and 7 actions offered by the author every adult can learn any language to fluency in 6 months.

Deconstruction: The speaker begins his talk with a question “How can you speed up learning?” and during the performance, he tries to answer this question by offering several pieces of advice. He speaks very enthusiastically and confidently, it is obvious that this man knows what he is talking about. His speech generally can be divided into three parts: 1) explanation of why 6 months period is quite realistic; 2) an attempt to dispel two widespread myths about learning languages (talent and immersion); 3) demonstration of 5 principles and 7 actions for better language learning.

Regarding the first part, the author’s decision to include it in his presentation is based on the fact that many people think he is crazy with his idea of learning a new language in a short time. But he draws listeners’ attention to some historical examples when people also did not believe in things which then became reality. For instance, no one could ever think about a flying machine. However, it was invented later and successfully introduced into our life. According to the speaker, the same is about learning languages. Nobody may believe that it is possible to learn a second language in 6 months, but it may turn out to be real. I partly agree with this statement, but I also think that there are some differences between creating material things or improving your physical state and overcoming cognitive barriers that one may have. But in general, I liked his examples.

The second part included the author’s attempt to dispel two popular myths. The first is that to learn a language effectively you need talent and the second is that it is much better to immerse oneself in a new country for a better result. He underpins the first claim that talent does not matter by giving an example about an Australian girl Zoe. However, the speaker does not mention if this girl is a real human, it seems therefore that this story is just a fiction. So, this example completely fails. Supporting his second claim, the author provides an example of Chinese people living in America or Australia, yet not being able to speak English. For me, this is somehow ambiguous, because even if I know such people in my life, I am also acquainted with people who on the contrary learned a language by being totally immersed in a language environment. Thus, I was not convinced by his examples. As for the third part, I finally started to enjoy the talk, and although I did not understand some of the principles at once, after watching the video again I realized that they were great.

Since I am very interested in learning languages as well, I naturally tend to sick for some advice and tips that hopefully would help me to gain a deeper understanding. But when I first looked at the title of this video I was quite skeptical and my first thought was: “oh, this is probably going to be another mediocre video with a standard range of advice”. But the more I watched it the more was interested in the content and the data presented by the speaker. His psychological approach to learning process made me believe in the effectiveness of the given principles. The idea of imagining oneself as a little child is really worth applying. In general, the talk is helpful and deserves attention.

So, did I enjoy the video? Yes. Did I agree with it? Mostly. Will one be able to learn a new language by following the tips? I think YES. And starting now, I am going to apply them. The one thing is that it would be better for the presenter to include more meaningful and reliable examples.

My personal tips for learning languages

You know, guys, I love learning languages. So do many of you, I guess. With a constant improvement of my English and Kazakh, I am also learning Spanish and Korean at the moment. And I am so excited, because every time I am involved in a foreign language environment or just in a process of learning, I feel so relaxed and happy. I don’t know whether you feel the same way, but I really do!

As learning languages has become my everyday habit, there are things that I am constantly using to improve my knowledge. I have tried many different ways to make the learning process more effective and interesting since most of the time I learn languages by my own. Consequently, I found several ways that I would like to share with you. So, here they are:

  1. I think everyone will agree that when learning a new language you should, first of all, build a good vocabulary. For that reason, I use so-called “intellect-cards”, square pieces of paper with a word in the target language on one side, and with its translation to my native language on another side. I keep them separately by a language in different boxes and then use when I want to learn a new word or to remember them. I use colored highlighters to indicate nouns, verbs, and adjectives and add transcription if needed. These cards are absolutely helpful, that’s why I recommend you trying them!IMG_8967.JPG
  2. The second tip is using textbooks. Yes, they really help. Currently, I am using three Korean textbooks, a Spanish one, and Kazakh. I first realized a tremendous value of textbooks in learning languages after my preparation to IELTS a year ago. Thanks to Cambridge and Oxford textbooks I quickly improved my writing and reading skills as well as enhanced my vocabulary. Working with books, however, requires being permanent and studying regularly. You should also accomplish all the exercises for a better result. But when you enjoy the language this will not be a problem for you.IMG_8975.JPG
  3. Now let’s turn to the Internet and amazing opportunities that globalization brings to us. There is a website GoSpeaky.com, a social network for language learners that gather people from around the world. This platform empowers digital language learning for people who have one purpose – to learn languages. All you need is just to create an account and indicate the languages that you are native in and the languages that you are going to learn. Then people who are native in your target language but are willing to learn your native language will connect with you (or you can find them on your own) and then start a conversation. You can share your Skype account if you want to have live communication. But it is up to you. So, you help your partner to learn your language, and they, in turn, help you to improve the language that you want to learn. Sounds good, doesn’t it?Untitled.jpg
  4. The last but not least, YouTube channels, created specifically for language learners. There are many of them on the YouTube, they have a range of videos and they are absolutely free! Another benefit of watching such videos is that it’s similar to a real classroom setting and it’s like you have a real instructor. You need just to find free time, take a notebook and start learning. Spend some time and find the channels that suit you, subscribe and enjoy. Here are some of my favorite channels: Learn English with Let’s Talk – Free English Lessons for those who are learning English, Learn Spanish with SpanishPod101.com  and Butterfly Spanish for Spanish learners, and Lena RukoTV for those of you who learn the Korean language.

So, here are my 4 tips for learning languages that I use and recommend for all of you. And of course, I have more ways to improve my language knowledge, but these are my favorite ways that are really helpful and allow me to stay fit and constantly enhance my language awareness. Hope you enjoyed reading this and found them useful.

Image credit: Assel Shmidt

Success and failure are not opposites!

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Failure. A scary word, isn’t it? I think almost all of us do not like this word and make everything in order to avoid every opportunity to fail. We all are so charmed by the words like “success”, “achievement” and “succeed” so that we often forget that our route to success is covered by mistakes and failures. From the failure of applying to a prestigious university to the refusal of giving you a job of your dream after the interview, every individual should go through the hardest parts of their life and dare face the difficulties. What does it mean? It means that we need TO LOVE our failures!

If to take some examples we will see that many famous people had failed several times before they became successful. For instance, Henry Ford failed twice with his “Ford” company; Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper for not being creative, and Abraham Lincoln failed plenty of times before he finally became a president in 1860. These are probably the most well-known examples in the world but they remind again that everyone may fall one day.

Although failures like those often are not so crucial for our life, they can hardly demotivate us and consequently, we may quit and give up. In our subconscious mind mistakes are usually connected with the sense of shame and guilt. Yes, there are some mistakes which we could prevent with our knowledge and attentiveness, and when we make such kind of mistakes we are definitely guilty. But the majority of other wrong decisions are not the result of our incompetence, but a natural and inevitable part of our way towards achieving goals. That is why we must see all the difficulties as an important component of our future success. In fact, we do not need to avoid failures, we need to changes our attitude to them. Success and failure are not opposites, and the second is necessary for achieving the first. We need to accept it fully then we will be able to love failures.

As for me, I have been experiencing difficulties since the very childhood. Honestly speaking, I was a loser who failed at my relationships with other children, later with boys. I was an introverted and frightened girl who was afraid to communicate because of the fear of being ignored or laughed by others. At the university, I always was silent during the lessons because of the fear to speak in English and make mistakes. After the graduation, I changed several jobs because I never believed in myself and feared of the possible failures that I could end with. But I obstinately kept moving forward and now I am here, a master student of Nazarbayev University. But even within the university, I am currently experiencing lots of challenges; at the end of the first term, for instance, I was close to dropping out. But then I realized that those were just temporary difficulties that I needed to go through. I am not afraid anymore.

And you?

 

 

12-year education reform: Are we ready?

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Kazakhstan is entering a new phase of the system of education. Growing market economy demands a new quality of education since it is a well-known fact that in all civilized countries education has been and remains the most prioritized area and the core indicator of development. The high quality of educational system should help Kazakhstan to respond to the social and economic challenges faced by the country, supply national security and strengthen institutions of the state (Smailova & Uvalieva, 2013). The high-efficiency educational system is one of the key factors that ensures sustained economic growth and Kazakhstani society.

According to the Concept of 12-year secondary education in the Republic of Kazakhstan (2010), there are factors that still negatively impact on the development of the educational system of Kazakhstan. They are: the lack of qualified subject and language instructors; the lack of the diagnostic targeting in secondary education, the maintenance of an obsolete assessment system which is aimed only at the evaluation of knowledge; the main focus is on getting formal results, but not on the personality development; informational overload of the educational content which leads to the decrease of learning motivation and health deterioration of students. Considering these problems and negative factors, there was made a decision to embed a new reform of shifting from 11-year schooling to 12-year education. In 2003-2004 academic years 51 schools in Kazakhstan were involved in the experiment on the shift to 12-year education, in 2004-2005 years the experiment included 104 schools, and at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year, 373 students studied in the 12th grade (Zhilbayev, 2015).

The experiment generally had a positive impact on the educational process. There was a significant increase in students’ motivation; interests of parents in the educational process also have risen noticeably; creativity of teachers has activated (Zhilbayev, 2015).

However, despite the fact that the reform of the 12-year education is very important and attractive at the same time in terms of its goals and objectives, the rationales for implementing the reform are reasonable enough, there are several reasons in my opinion that make implementation of this reform quite difficult. The major reason is the lack of finance at the moment in the republic. Firstly, it occurs because of the economic crisis that we have experienced recently and, probably, are still experiencing in the State. Secondly, the preparation to the international exhibition EXPO-2017, which in fact creates this difficult financial situation in the country.  In such circumstances, we can, of course, talk about a new educational reform, but why to implement it now? After all, a large amount of finance is needed, firstly, to build a new school for six-year-old children. Secondly, a new educational reform requires new textbooks, updated methodology and curriculum. And the third and most important, training of qualified teachers, who are the main driving force of the reform, requires a huge amount of money. Hence, two options are left: the first is to gradually implement this reform, as the government has already decided to do and struggle with the challenges and problems, the second is to postpone the reform until the times when the economy of the country is stabilized and sufficient financing is ensured.

And what do you think about this issue?

References

Smailova, S.S., & Uvaliyeva, I.M. (2013). The problems of quality assurance of education in modern Kazakhstan. World education, 3, 50-52.

The Concept of 12-year Secondary Education in the Republic of Kazakhstan. (2010). National Academy of Education named after I. Altynsarin.

Zhilbayev, Z.O. (2015). The Report on the experiment on the transition to 12-year education.  12-Year Education, 4, 6-54.

Multitasking. You’d better get rid of it!

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You probably often notice when people around can do two or more things at the same time. For instance, a man working on the computer, drinking coffee and listening to music; a woman singing the baby to sleep and reading a book; students surfing the Internet and using VK or Instagram at the lecture or Mr.Bean hurrying to the dentist. There are so many examples, in fact. We live that way every day and sometimes, in our busy living and rush, we do not recognize what is happening. But our ability to perform several things simultaneously has its own name multitasking. A majority of people tend to justify it by giving arguments like “it helps to save time” or “I can manage everything”. However, multitasking has a number of negative consequences. I myself became recently aware of this notion and realized that my weak productivity, slow academic progress and apathy, which sometimes I suffer from, are all the aftermath of multitasking. It is time now to identify this enemy and make a right decision!

The concept of multitasking is not a recent (as it turned out) phenomenon, but with the advent and development of new technologies like smartphones and tablets, it became an integral part of our life. Abate (2008) defines it as “an attempt by individuals to engage in several tasks in rapid linear succession (rather than simultaneously) where at least one of the tasks is a conceptual learning activity” (p. 8). It was long believed that multitasking is an extremely positive feature which helps us to improve our effectiveness, manage lots of things, especially those which are repetitive and simultaneous (Judd, 2012). And really, why not to check social networks while your professor is introducing a new material? Or do homework listening to music at the same time?

Not so fast. Multiple studies were conducted following the main question: is multitasking indeed a positive characteristic as it has been long considered? The study of Rubinstein, Meyer, & Poldrack (as cited in Abate, 2008) revealed that multitaskers are less productive comparing with people who can concentrate on doing just one thing because it is impossible for a human brain to perform two simultaneous things. So, when we multitask our brain has to switch quickly between the different tasks which consequently leads to the reduction of effectiveness and productivity. Multitasking also impedes the acquisition of knowledge since it creates redundant brain overload which hinders the working memory (Lee, Lin & Robertson, 2012). Moreover, “as multiple tasks are performed simultaneously, a cognitive bottleneck develops because of the limits of cognitive capabilities, and this results in an appreciable disruption in the decision-making process” (Lau, 2016, p. 287). A number of research studies were conducted on the theme of media multitasking and academic performance. For instance, Junco (2012) found that permanent usage of ICTs (Facebook and WhatsApp) during lessons has a negative impact on overall students’ GPA. Mayer and Moreno (as cited in Junco, 2012) have also revealed that “paying attention to Facebook or texting in class limits essential processing because energies focused on attending to these technologies cannot be focused on making sense of lecture material” (p. 2241). A study by Brasel & Gips (as cited in Judd, 2012) provides a good example of the prevalence of multitasking in the modern world: students and staff of one university who had simultaneous access to a computer and TV toggled between them more than 4 times per minute.

It can be seen therefore that multitasking indeed is not as good as it sounds. Having a number of negative consequences such as a poor productivity, cognitive overload, slow memorizing abilities, distraction and low academic performance, multitasking becomes a serious problem for all the people, especially for students. However, the decision of keeping on multitasking or not is only up to us. Perhaps it will take a lot of time to get rid of this habit and learn how to focus and concentrate, but it is really worth it. Because consequently you will start enjoying what you do and have a more meaningful, productive and happy life.

P.s. I also put a link to one good article in case you would like to know some tips for reducing the opportunities to multitask.

References

Abate, C.J. (2008). You say multitasking like it’s a good thing. Thought & Action, The NEA Higher Education Journal, pp. 7-14.

Lau, W.F.W. (2016). Effects of social media usage and social media multitasking on the academic performance of university students. Computers in Human Behavior, 68(2017), pp. 286-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.043

Lee, J, Lin, L, & Robertson, T. (2012). The impact of media multitasking on learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(1), pp. 94-104. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2010.537664

Judd, T. (2012). Making sense of multitasking: key behaviours. Computers & Education, 63(2013), pp. 358–367.

Junco, R. (2012). In-class multitasking and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, pp. 2236–2243.

Image credit: http://www.livescience.com/19983-multitaking-work-bad-feel-good.html

The importance of preschool education

       As a huge fan of children aged from 0 to even 15, I have always been interested in child development and how children’s brains work according to their age and environment. In 2013 I started working at a pre-school development center in Astana, first as a teaching assistant, then as an instructor. This was the place where I learnt how to deal with children from 8 months to 6 years, gained valuable experience teaching and working with kids and realized a great importance of early childhood education. So, why pre-school education is important? As all of us are future educators hopefully going to work in the educational field and also are future (or present) parents, I consider this topic to be interesting and useful, especially for those, who are fond of children as I am.       

Taking care of the education of a kid is the same as laying the groundwork of a big house. This will be the base for building and development of a future character, skills and abilities of a child. It is certainly important to ensure that this basement is going to be solid and secure.

Basically, the age from 3 to 7 is the time when a child gains the first view of the world around, himself or herself. Their personality takes its shape in that difficult and dynamic period of time. Their imagination keeps developing and curiosity takes the first place. Playing games remains to be the main way of their living as well as their cognition of things in the world outside. That is why it’s very important to take advantage of this period and help a child to develop his or her skills and abilities and fulfill their natural curiosity.

While working with the children I realized this importance. Comparing the kids that had been attending the center for a long time, a year or even a half, and those kids who attended my lessons for the first time I saw that the difference between them was huge. The children of the center were more confident and positive, their speech contained a rich variety of words, they were more open to new people, talkative, could count and knew many numbers and concepts whereas those children, who came for the first time to a place like that, had difficulties with communication, lacked concentration, could not identify numbers or letters, had poor variety of vocabulary. But was there something special we did in the development center? No. All that I did was teaching children to read, count and read but on a regular basis through a carefully considered plan. We played games, drew pictures, danced and sung, did various crafts and so on. They enjoyed the learning process because it was so much fun and full of interesting knowledge and activities that they were striving for.

We should care about children because they are our future. Providing a good pre-school education to them is one way to do it. It opens a road to the better achievement in school and university as well as to more successful and meaningful life. Let’s create their future together!

Image credit: Assel Shmidt

 

I don’t want to work in my field! or Job-Seekers of the 21st century.

Education today is the privilege available for many. In Kazakhstan secondary education is compulsory for every child, colleges are open to anyone wishing, universities offer grants and stipends for future specialists. However, a significant proportion of graduate students does not work in their field or has difficulties with finding a job for a rather long time. Some graduates who started to work cannot prove themselves as good specialists. Why is this happening? Let’s figure it out!

There can be many reasons for that issue. Based on my experience of studying at university I would like to highlight some of them. The first is parents who tend to choose the field for their newly minted graduate, thinking mostly about the popularity of the profession, not about their child’s desire. This practice is very common for the Kazakhstani society, no wonder my younger sister and some of my friends experienced it. As the results, they changed their profession after graduation, admitting that they are tired and they want to try something else. I have been luckier: my parents knew that I was fond of English and had no doubts at sending me to the Translation Studies program. This fact, however, has not made my study completely enjoyable as I might have been expected.

So, here comes the second reason which is the instructors (not all of course, but a sufficient number) who are totally not interested in the academic development of students like their critical thinking or analytical and research skills. They are just doing their job and then leave the class because they have so many other things to do. Sometimes those teachers have their favorite students thereby opening the way to unfair grading and fostering discontent among students. The outcomes are indeed quite sad: students lose their learning motivation, become more aggressive and irritable, or even lethargic. They do not feel that they are respected and have they own voice. A friend of mine quit university two years ago because his teacher ignored his efforts in doing some research in physics and literally run him down before the class. This awful experience still has an impact on the young man’s life, so he cannot find a job in the field so far and is working part-time.

I would also like to mention another problem which has increased over the last years, it is a mass obsession with gadgets. Modern community, especially its younger members, seems to be unable to live without their mobile phones. I dare to assume that every second student in Kazakhstan checks his or her phone immediately after waking up. Moreover, the social networks like Instagram, Facebook or Vkontakte as well as WhatsApp messenger, take a huge amount of time of people and make them lose control over their lives particularly with regard to study. Consequently, students become absent-minded, have serious troubles with concentration and focus, tend to procrastinate. These affect not only their grades at university but also their interest in learning as a whole.

To sum up, above I provided three, as I think, most frequent tendencies that influence modern students, so after graduation, it becomes a real problem for them to find a job or they feel that they eager to alter their working field. There are many issues that must be addressed and resolved in order to make our educational system better, but the ways how we can improve it is another big article. But in the meanwhile, what are your thoughts regarding this issue? What else do you think impacts on it? Did you experience the same in the past?