Teacher Interview – Varvara!
23 June, 2016
Teacher Interview – Varvara!
Continuing our #meetourstaff initiative here at Liden & Denz Saint Petersburg, yesterday I interviewed our teacher Varvara, who, luckily for me, was happy to speak English (after a while…)
What’s your name?
Where are you from, and how long have you been living in Saint Petersburg?
I was born in Kamchatka, in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, it is in the far East.
Yes, really far away. Not far from Alaska, just two hours away. Then I got accepted into Herzen University in Petersburg, studied there and finished my doctorate, so I’ve been living here already nine years.
What hobbies do you have?
Hobbies? Hm… Good question. In the evenings I study art illustration, I am interested in painting, so I work on that a bit.
I like kimchi.
Yes I really love Korean food, I’ve been to Korea a few times.
No, in Busan. My parents lived there for some time.
Ah, like Yuliana?
Yes, yes, exactly [laughs]. Only her parents still live there, mine returned to Russia.
Interesting. Favorite book?
Well, I have a lot of favorites but one I like in particular is a book by Nabokov called Podvig, in English “Glory.” Or “Nine Stories” by Salinger. Of course that’s not all of it, but it’s something we could talk about for a long time.
Certainly. So – what about movies?
Well, ok, you can name two.
Ok, well.. perhaps not that original, but, “Stalker” and “Solyaris.”
What kind of music?
I don’t know, indie, mostly, I guess. [Laughs]
Do you speak other languages?
Yes, I speak English, German, Japanese, and – really badly – French. [Laughs]
No, just a few words that are the same in Japanese, like yaksoku. [“Promise”]
Ok, that was the personal stuff, now about your work. How did you become a teacher?
Well I started off working as a teacher, well, officially, not as a tutor, seven years ago, while I was doing my doctorate. In a school, well, three years ago I decided to try teaching Russian as a foreign language and I found it very interesting, because I was always interested in foreign cultures, it’s part of my profession [Herzen University specializes in linguistics and philology]; I saw the vacancy here, got the job and started working. In the beginning I thought it would be temporary, because I also work at my university, but I ended up liking it, so I continued and now I work both here and in the university. But there I don’t need to do many hours, just two days a week, after my classes here.
What makes Liden & Denz a good school?
Well, I like the methods – the communicative approach is the best one, because if I compare it to, especially, the university, I see that here they maintain the balance between grammar and speaking, which is the most important thing for me. In other schools, especially universities, they mainly focus on grammar, and that’s why students know the rules but they cannot use them fluently.
I also like the teachers who work here, they’re very helpful, all the time. Especially in the beginning, when I had some questions, when I wasn’t sure about something, I could always ask them, and they always helped me. Yeah, I like the school, and I like the people who are coming here, because I respect every student who starts learning Russian, because, you know, you don’t need Russian anywhere except in Russia. It’s not like English, or French, or Spanish.
You gotta be a bit crazy.[Laughs]
What makes Russian a difficult language to learn?
Well, first of all, we say that it’s a Indo European language, but it’s very different from Germanic or Romance languages, so that makes it difficult, and it has preserved more traits of an ancient language. For example, in English they used to have different cases as well, but we are still using them, and you have to learn every ending of a noun or adjective, you have to learn the conjugations.. But the most difficult thing is probably the [verb] aspect. We say that aspects are our philosophy: it’s not grammar, you have to… feel it; we’re trying to give you some rules, but it doesn’t always help.
It reflects also some kind of mentality.
Yeah, that’s true. Actually there are a lot of articles which prove that language, grammar, namely, reflects the mentality. For example we have мне кажется, мне хочется, [“it seems to me, I would like”] I don’t say я хочу [“I want”], well I can, but it’s a bit rough.
Or like у меня есть [“by me there is”, the equivalent of “I have”], instead of “I have” – I don’t have, there’s something near me.
Yeah, or in Japanese, they prefer not to say “I.”
Interesting. So what do you thing is the most effective way to learn Russian, for students?
Uhm, well, they have to stay motivated [laughs], all the time, and, unfortunately, I believe you have to work a lot outside the school, you have to spend at least two, three hours learning, otherwise, well, the material is too intensive. Like today, you saw, we had so many new words – it’s impossible to memorize them unless you work by yourself. I would also recommend to use Russian as much as you can – ask people about something, even if you don’t understand what they are telling you, at least you practice.
Mhm. Do you know of any online tools you could recommend?
Yeah, I know a site, learnrussian.rt.com. I used it a few times, they have good texts on there. And once I remember I used a recording from their site.
Tips and advice for students coming for the first time to Saint Petersburg?[Laughs] Well many students have told me about the smiling thing …
Yeah because we don’t smile that much, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like you, it’s just part of our culture, I think. As for Russian, you should be prepared not to compare it with your native language. You might find some similarities, but they would disturb you more than help. Actually while teaching Russian I’ve noticed only one good similarity with German, with verbs of motion, it really helps, but otherwise I don’t think so, especially if you try to translate “I have” [mentioned above], yeah it’s a nightmare.
“Forget about what you know..” Moving on: what are three places in the city students have to visit?
Hmhm. Good question.
According to you.
Aha, well, I would recommend going to Tavrichesky Sad, and I would recommend going to one of the restaurants on a rooftop, they usually offer a great view of the city. Well of course you can go to St. Isaac’s Cathedral but it’s … touristic, everyone goes there, but if you go to a restaurant maybe it’s a bit better. Something like Makaronniki, or Hi-Hat.. and the W Hotel. Number three, well, I’m interested in art, as I’m studying to be an illustrator, so I would probably recommend the Corpus Benois of the Russian Museum, because they house only Russian art. It’s a great source of inspiration for me as well, as an artist.
Yeah, I really like the Benois wing, actually I like the Russian Museum more than the Hermitage.
Yeah because the Hermitage is like any kind of museum, but you can see the Russian soul through the paintings of the Russian Museum.
You can walk through all of Russian history.. So aside from the достопримечательности [dostoprimichatelnosty, “tourist attractions”], can you recommend another place or activity, something special to do, an anti-cafe, a favorite place to kill time, for instance?
Well honestly I don’t have a lot of free time [laughs], but I would recommend going to the Loft Proyekt Etazhi, or Taiga, on Dvortsovaya Naberezhnaya. They are quite big. We have a lot of other smaller lofts but I can’t remember their names right now.
Do you know any good places to go study? Like a reading room, or a library.
Many students told me that they went to the National Library. You can register there, without being a citizen, you just have to pay for the card. There’s also the Mayakovsky library, but I think you need to be a resident to register. As for other places, we have some bookshops but I guess it’s a bit noisy. But I would recommend going to Podpisnye Izdaniya, it’s on Liteyny, they also have a café, you can have coffee and read books, and to Vse Svobodny, on Moika 28. They also have a small tea room and a lot of books, but I’m afraid they are all in Russian.
We need that too, I guess. Anyway, I think we have everything, so thank you very much![This interview is brought to you by Esther, intern and student at Liden & Denz]