Yakut TESOL Conference: Reflections on Language and Culture

This past June, I had the opportunity and honor to represent TESOL at the Yakut TESOL Conference in Yakutsk, in the Siberian region of Russia. The theme of the conference was “Contemporary Issues in EFL Teaching: Teaching Writing by Nonnative English Speaking Teachers for EFL Students.” The conference had around 120 participants, all EFL teachers from around the region. Some had to cross miles and miles to get to Yakutsk, and all seemed to be really happy to be there.

I gave a plenary, titled “Nonnative English-speaking teachers teaching writing at all levels”; two presentations, “A Genre-Based Approach to Writing Instruction” and “About TESOL”; and a workshop, “A Genre-Based Approach to Writing Instruction: Strategies and Tips for Implementation.”

Yakut TESOL 14_participantsI’m so glad I had this wonderful opportunity, thanks to the Affiliate Speaker Program, open to all TESOL affiliates (For more information and to request a speaker, click here), and the invitation by Yakut TESOL!
I was very excited and nervous to be traveling to Russia this summer because—believe it or not—it was my first trip to a country where I don’t speak the language. I’m trilingual, speaking Portuguese, English, and Spanish, and, until this trip to Russia, I had only visited countries where one of these languages was the primary language spoken. I was also very excited because of wonderful experiences with my Russian students and friends, all of whom I hold very dearly in my heart.

Reflections on Language

Yakut2Using a country’s widely used language—in the case of Russia, Russian—shows respect and consideration for the people and culture of the place you’re visiting. So, I made sure I knew some key words and phrases and used them constantly while there. I spent one day in Moscow with one of my PhD students, who made a special trip to Moscow from her native Kazan. We were able to visit some of the main sites in Moscow with a city tour bus. At the bus, we got a map of Moscow and in the back there were some key phrases and words and their translations in English, which were very useful throughout my trip.
Most used phrases: Спасибо! (spasiba) [thank you] and Хорошо (harashO) [very good/excellent]. Knowing how to say “thank you” in a language is very important. Because I was working with teachers who are all language learners themselves, I wanted to show that they were doing a great job, so knowing how to say and use “excellent” or “great” was also very relevant!

Yakut4Reflections on Culture

When I did my first presentation at the conference, I noticed that a lot of participants were not showing agreement or disagreement in the ways that I was expecting by smiling or nodding their heads. I found that particularly interesting. I really wanted to check if they understood what I was talking about and found it helpful or applicable to their classrooms. So, during my second presentation, I asked them to use the gesture “thumbs up” to show their agreements with what I was saying. I also asked them to nod their heads up and down. These actions clearly helped me to adjust the topic or speed of my presentations. It was interesting to see how the participants reacted—or showed their reactions through their body language—in a different way than I was expecting.

Yakut3I had also been told by some of my close Russian friends that Russians don’t typically show their emotions through smiles. This does not mean they are not warm. Actually, after having close contact with folks there, I can really say that they’re a very warm people. Yakutsk is the coldest place on Earth where people live, but I found the warmest people there.

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