Challenge Spotlight: Learning English with Anna Agee
Before launching her challenge on Framework, Anna worked for the UN providing simultaneous interpretation from English and French into Russian. She was an active participant in the UN's outreach program aimed at helping students who study simultaneous interpretation to sharpen their skills.
What inspired you to start teaching Russian?
I worked as a tutor before joining United Nations—teaching kids and adults English and French—and I always enjoyed that. It was actually my childhood dream to become a teacher. I would even play teacher as a child—I had different toys and I would set them up as a class and teach them stuff. So, after I quit my job at the United Nations, I thought, “What should I do?” and I had a lot of content kind of accumulated over the years from living in the US and learning English, having my own ups and downs, some embarrassing situations, misusing some words or using wrong words. So I just thought, I'll share that. It all started as a blog. But then obviously, when you do something, you want to try to monetize it, so I decided to go back to teaching.
Are there any unique or unusual approaches you take in your teaching?
Normally, when people teach English, they just start talking about grammar and vocabulary across different topics. I prefer to teach more basic things that help you sound more natural and more like a native speaker.
Russian culture and American culture are a bit different, and our mentality influences the way we speak. For example, in Russian, we use a lot of negative constructions. We would ask, “Can’t you tell me, where's the bathroom?” which would be a polite way to ask in Russian. But you can’t say this in English or else you’ll sound very negative. Russian is also much more exhaustive than English, so we use more words. A speech in Russian would take twice as long to deliver as it would take to deliver it in English. Anyone who just started learning English tends to translate the word-for-word whatever they think in Russian, but they just end up with a very long sentence that’s really hard to process. Meanwhile Americans tend to use shorter phrases, so the communication is short and pragmatic.
So I teach these sorts of differences in culture and mentality that influence the way you speak and which constructions you choose. And I have not seen that—I don’t see other people teaching that.
What specifically are you trying to help your students achieve with your challenge?
I want to teach my students how to sound more natural without learning lots of vocabulary or idioms. I used Framework for a challenge because I wanted to stand out. You don't want to create a Telegram chat or Facebook group where you just send people videos and it all feels messy. On a platform like Framework, that gives you your own app, you can stand out from the crowd.
What’s been your favorite part of running your challenge?
My favorite part of running a challenge has been the live classes. Obviously videos and exercises are very useful, but in my live class the students use all of what I taught them. We practice small talk, because I talk about small talk a lot, which is not common in Russian. Like in Russia, you don't talk to strangers. But small talk is an essential part of everyday life in America. So we take all the knowledge that I share with them in the videos, and we practice small talk. And you can actually see that people are watching the videos and now using the words and constructions we talked about—that's my favorite part.
What did the day-to-day of your challenge look like?
The challenge day-to-day was a 5 minute video that I recorded of myself talking about a particular topic, like how American and Russian mentalities differ and how that manifests in the way that we speak. Then I would add a couple of YouTube videos and exercises related to the topic that I was talking about.
How did the experience go for your students?
I actually got a lot of positive feedback. I had 17 people participate and most of them wrote reviews. I didn't have any negative reviews at all—only positive reviews. Everyone liked the content, and people were pointing out that they've never seen content like mine. Other content talks about grammar and vocabulary, but no one ever came across anything like my challenge content, so everyone was pleasantly surprised.
If someone out there is curious about building a challenge but not sure how to get started or whether or not to take the leap, what advice would you give them?
I actually yesterday saw a funny meme about this on LinkedIn. It said, “Do you want to do something?” and one option is “Yes, I do” but then the other option is like “Yes, but I'm scared” and then it says, “Do it scared.” I think it's fine to feel like scared and I know it’s not easy to put yourself out there. Even starting a blog and trying to sell something to people—it’s not easy. It's actually very complicated, because you're just putting yourself out there you don't know how people are gonna react to it. That's scary, but it honestly helps you a lot in life after. It's like a free coaching program.
So people are going to pay you to do this challenge, but actually I think you’ll receive the biggest benefit, because the experience coaches you in so many different ways. Like communicating with strangers—people may not react nicely to having a technical issue or something like that, and you just learn how to communicate with people and how to deal with that. So, I would say you should you should just do it, if you’re thinking about it. It's just like a personal coaching program. Not to make money but just because it helps you a lot—it's like a personal growth program.
Are there any goals that you've set for yourself as a teacher that you're hoping to reach?
I honestly do not have any particular goals, because this whole thing started an experiment for me, because I wasn't even sure that I would like to do this. I'm a pretty shy person—it's really uncomfortable to me to get out there and talk to strangers. I also wasn't sure I could work by myself. I always thought of myself as an employee—a person who gets instructions. And I'm pretty good at doing what I’m told to do. And then I realized the biggest challenge of working for yourself is making the plan of what to do. It's not doing the stuff, it’s figuring out what stuff you need to do. So for me, it's all just a big experiment. And if that succeeds, I will be very happy.
Do you have any kind of final thoughts that you'd like to share?
I would just say go for it. If you're thinking about doing anything like this, you should definitely go for it. If you have anything to share, then share. You'll definitely find someone who finds you interesting and you might inspire just inspire someone. You should just go for it.