MiR 088 – June, a Time to Re-examine Your Life

June 10, 2013

Exam Time!

Exam Time!

Welcome to the Mark in Russia Podcast, episode # 88 and I’m your host Mark.

Well, I tried to think up a catchy title for this week’s episode, one that would capture the essence of my topic this week, but you’ll have to be the judge of my success or failure at the end of this episode.

Sorry that I didn’t post a new episode last week, I was busy on business in a different Russian city and didn’t have time to think up, much less record a new episode.

June for me in Russia has become my most eventful month on so many levels.

As a teacher type of a person, June marks the end of the academic year, lots of loose ends to tie up plus the anticipation of my summer vacation. Students are stressed out due to their upcoming exams, but some don’t have exams and they are happy that soon their nice long summer will start. I’m not going to be speaking of these “exam free” students today. As a matter of fact, I’m going to concentrate more at first on the subject of adults and examinations.

I work at a language school and also as a university teacher in a linguistics faculty, so I’m going to zero in on what I know best, which is language exams.

The three big international language exams are Cambridge exams, IELTS and TOEFL. There are some others trying to break into the spotlight, but I emphasize the word “trying”. There are people involved with some of these “others” and you may be offended, but you shouldn’t be offended by the truth. The only way that the others even get into the mix is just by cronyism, meaning a head teacher here at a school that specializes in language, will be approached by one of the “others” to act as their paid representative. This teacher will now make this “other” exam mandatory in their school, all the while explaining to the parents that this is the new “it” exam. The fact remains however, that on an international level, the so-called “it” exam is not an “it” exam.

This head teacher has no problem whoring themselves out for a couple of shekels and the big losers are the students who have wasted their time and the parents who have wasted their money. This would come as a surprise to many unfamiliar with life here, but for those of us who live here, it comes as no surprise at all.

People take IELTS and TOEFL usually with a specific goal in mind such as immigration or studying abroad. Some take these also just for self evaluation, but this is a small number.

I’m going to speak about Cambridge exams for a moment here, and for purposes of disclosure (not a Russian strongpoint), I’m going to tell you that I’m a Cambridge speaking examiner, certified to test people at all of the different levels. This does however give me a mantle of credibility when I speak about these exams.

While sometimes these exams are used to enter a foreign university, and more often than that for immigration, particularly immigration to the UK, their primary use appears to be earning an international certificate, which shows just exactly what your level of English is in relation to all other English learners in the world. Companies accept Cambridge certificates when hiring and so do other organizations. What impresses me most are the adults to take the various levels of Cambridge exams, moving up levels each time, and do this mostly for self evaluation and reward.

I’m especially impressed by the many, many adults I come in contact with each month who come to my language school after they have already worked a long day at work, and sit down with a group of other like minded adults to learn English. I mean, this requires a lot of self-discipline, especially when the adult is learning English just for their own self edification.

If you’re not from Russia or have not spent much time here, you can’t underestimate how important learning English is for many people here. I’d like to take this opportunity to knock any native English speakers from patting themselves on their back here. You speak English just due to an accident of birth and chances are you have never had the intellect to learn any other language. This is not a victory of the Cold War, not at all, this is only because English has become the Lingua Franca of the world, and for you native English speakers, this phrase simply means that English has become a language that is used by people who speak other languages, when speaking to each other.

Russians, at least many of them, travel a lot. Actually, a whole lot more than the vast majority of native English speakers. It seems that whatever country in the world you are visiting during vacation seasons, you will bump into a lot of Russian, so learning English can help them a lot during their travels and also help them to enjoy their time more while they are traveling.

Many Russians also want to increase their business opportunities both in Russia and abroad and knowing how to communicate in English is a good way of opening new doors for them. There are many foreign companies that are coming into Russia and also many Russian companies who are working as partners with foreign companies. Whether these are French, German or even Chinese companies, the language at work will typically be English.

Again, a parenthetical note to my American compatriots. Today you feel lucky because you already know English, but as you give away your country and your language, before you know it you’ll need to learn some Chinese to speak to the owners of your companies and you’ll need to know Spanish to speak to others and to understand television. Good work folks! How’s that multi-culturalism working out for you? Stupidity personified.

Aside from Languages, adult education is not all that common here in Russia, unfortunately, but the interest in language makes up for the absence of other subjects.

Many of these adults who study languages, although they have exams at the end of their course and get a certificate of completion, also want to know where they stack up on an international level and to have objective proof of their language skills in the form of a Cambridge Certificate. Once they pass one level, most of these adults immediately set their sights on the next higher exam level and start their studying a preparation for this. As a teacher at a language school it’s a very sobering experience to watch these adults take on this challenge and to also see the self discipline necessary to do this.

As a Cambridge examiner, it really does my heart good to see this and to also be a part of their climb up the English language ladder.

I enjoy all ages of candidates who are taking Cambridge exams and each age has its own special parts about it. The hardest part of examining adults is that I must stick to my “Script” when acting as the speaking examiner who talks with the candidates, yet there are many times where the candidate has told of some interesting experience of theirs and I’d love to ask more questions about it, but alas, I can’t do this.

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