At the start of my first semester teaching at university, I was a bit horrified to find that I had four native speakers in my Russian language classes. I didn’t think to ask my experienced colleague in time to find out how she handled that situation, so bumbled on.
I’ve had a lot of native speakers in high school classes, and have even posted how to use them on this blog. But those were usually exchange students for whom the Russian class was a chance to relax in their day at an American school, or children of Russian speakers who had missed the reading and writing of a Russian school. In either case, they were basically captive audiences, and I did my best to engage them and use their talents in the best way I could.
But at University, I forgot that these are students with a choice, and was tormented that they should be in a class they were paying for, with a non-native speaker in charge.
Fast forward, and I am just delighted by their presence. One participates fully in the class as a regular student, sometimes becoming my “dictionary,” looking up concepts and vocabulary for me. He often gets to help model our activities for the rest of the class. His homework is not the same as the others, as he is reading novels — and discussing them outside class with another, older, native speaker. That man was a computer programmer in his native country, and he is a whiz preparing Quizlet, Kahoot, and game-like Powerpoints based on our text’s grammar and themes. I love it!
Two young Russian-speaking women are in charge of finding me appropriate support for our texts. Often they will write up texts about themselves and their families for me that supplement our book, especially the book for the lower level class that has almost no extended texts. I use their shorter texts as discourse scrambles (thanks, Bill VanPatten for this bridge to writing). They find videos and blogs that are reasonable to understand and appropriate (in my mind), especially after I went on a search for blogs and came up with some that had pictures I never want to think about again. (They know which words not to search.) In class, they allow me to divide up into reading and interview groups, and they are again great models for conversations. Today, one of the young women will bring her 12-year-old sister to be the subject of an interview. I’m excited!
And just now, one of them sent me a list of blogs–I wanted readings with first-person accounts–and she offered an extra suggestion that we follow Russian celebrities on Instagram. I had done that on Twitter, but forgot about it, and was thrilled to search for каюры (mushers…we’re on our third day of the Iditarod up here) and find great pages of Beringia mushing, complete with lots of text and comments. Wow. I asked her to suggest which celebrities we should follow, because she will know who’s top of the list.