Using English outside of class – Anna Loseva

I believe I’m lucky to be a non-native teacher of English. I live in the same language environment as my students, I know where problems can lie because I could have (and indeed, I have) faced them myself. I’m a just learner who is given a chance to teach. From my viewpoint, that is such a winning position! So my main take on this post is: share what you know works for you. They’ll get the hint and find their own way.

The activity that I’m keen on including during one of the very first classes of the course is all about encouraging students to see English beyond our classroom. We draw two simple mind maps and brainstorm ideas for ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ ways to learn a language. The input we usually have as a result is astounding. The informal map is filled with ALL the kinds of things you’d recommend them to do to get involved with English outside of class. What’s been my personal eye-opener about this activity is that I do not have to utter a single word. To quote Chuck Sandy,  “a teacher can totally step back”.

They already know where English is around them and how to get the most of it. Some play computer games on international servers, others watch favourite cartoons and TV series in English. Some remember that they most often have to read user guides to devices in English, others note that they can pick a free English newspaper in cafes. Songs, TV channels, films with or without subtitles, books, airport signs, brands, podcasts – ideas pop up from all students in the classroom and everybody learns something new. We then critically look at what we’ve come up with and discuss which of these ways are best for each one of them.

Yet, I have my own special favourite that I like to share. I advise my students to switch all the gadgets they have into English. That is, I advise them to change to operating system of their phones, ipods, computers and whatever else they might have into English. By doing so they turn their immediate surroundings into English. It’s so easily done and the effect will not leave you waiting for long. A phone which operates in English becomes your English-speaking friend. A Google search conducted in English gets new results.  There’s a whole new world of the Internet instantly open through this one-click door. English becomes your reality and with it come confidence, knowledge, and a broader mind!

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Anna Loseva

Anna Loseva is a Russian teacher of English in a university in Tokyo. She curates the iTDi Blog, writes (mostly about teaching and learning) on her own blog at, and co-runs Reflective Practice Group in Tokyo. Other than that, Anna spends time reading, travelling, doing yoga, and learning more about sketchbook art. Anna is passionate about teacher AND student self-development and she strongly believes that fruitful education process is driven by the mix of positive thinking, inner as well as outer motivation and avid curiosity.

10 thoughts on “Using English outside of class – Anna Loseva”

  1. Hi Anna,

    I just love your post. Each paragraph has something special that resonated with me.

    1. Of course the clever non-native teachers realize that they can be the perfect role models for their students. I’ve been saying since about the second day of teaching in Japan, “If you can speak as well as Tanaka Sensei or Suzuki Sensei – Wow, you’ll be excellent!” I’ve never thought that students should aim for native-like English ability. I know my own goals for Japanese are based on all of those (rotten) friends of mine who speak and read Japanese so beautifully. So, good for you, Anna, for starting your post so positively and wisely.

    2. I love that you make it a collaborative idea among students at the start of the year to brainstorm ideas together. I will copy your idea exactly in a few weeks.

    3. I love that there are so many ways to use English shared and that you accept them all as valid and useful (who are we to know what works for individuals), We can ask for reasons for studying in certain ways and suggest how to find a balance between the academic and the practical, but I will always support a student who expresses clear reasons for their own approach.

    4. I love this idea and I’ve already told 3 students and two teachers about it – the simple ideas are the most powerful.

    Thanks for such a great post.


  2. Hi Steven,

    Thanks for your appreciative comment, that sure means a lot to me.

    1) What a good point you make for personal language goals you set for yourself. I remember when I started learning German I motivated myself by setting a goal to achieve – being able to read Remark’s novels unabridged. Now I know that was a goal a bit too distant, which in fact never led me to proper result I could be proud of..But I know a couple of successful learners (aka rotten friends=)) as examples and now it’s them I aim at) Unfortunately, my teacher of German didn’t prove to be a role model in this respect, I hope I’m doing better.

    2) Please do use this idea and it’s always so exciting to see what there’s there they will come up with!

    3) I am absolutely with you here. That’s clearly my approach to accept their viewpoints if they’re supported and reasoned. Balance between the academic and the practical is also very important to be pointed out, both teenage and adult learners often have their eyes closed on one of these and it should be a teacher’s duty to open up the curtain)

    4) I’m very happy this idea appealed to you and I hope other teachers could also find a way to apply it.
    It was today that I set a challenge for one of my groups at university to switch the language to English in the settings of their mobile phones and try to “survive” for a week this way)) Next Monday we’ll be sharing impressions and feelings about the experiment and hopefully it could get into a habit for some.

    Thank you for kind words!


  3. Definitely. gives different results as so does Wikipedia in English. I do hate how sites and programs automatically defaults to the operating system language. It’s a constant battle. Like I mentioned in Vicky Loras’s post, I encourage my son – and students – to search for information in English sites as they are likely to get more choice.

    1. Yay, I”ve discovered a “reply” button))
      I hear you Chiew, and I absolutely agree! English learners are in a more beneficial position being able to get search results of better quality. Wikipedia in Russian is in most cases full of rubbish and unreliable information. Yet of course being critical towards any kind of results is key.

  4. Hi Ann!

    A beautiful post, full of super ideas!

    I love the idea of mindmapping and use it as well. I am still trying to get my students to switch their devices into English! ; )

    And above all, it is great for us teachers to share our learnign experiences as well – I always let them know about my German-learning adventures! ; )

    Thank you for this,

    1. Hi Vicky!

      Thanks for commenting)

      When my “friendly” recommendation to switch them over into English did not work for all, I set a weekly challenge. Today I got the feedback – 98% said they liked their phones better in English! And 90% said they wouldn’t switch it back to Russian=)

      Well you students are happy to look up at such an incredible learner example as you are!=)

      Big hugs,

  5. Hi Anna,
    The great thing about teaching is that you get a new start every year 🙂
    This is definitely a start-of-a-new-term activity, which is on my books for next term.

    1. Hi Elizabeth!

      I”m almost in time with my reply) thanks for dropping by!
      I’m always looking forward to new semesters to try out fresh ideas – and get new projects going, right?!=)


  6. Hi Anna,
    It is an excellent idea to brainstorm for the ways to learn and improve English. I believe it will guide the students in the very beginning of the year and show them they are actually surrounded by a lot of materials and real life opportunities.

    I will definitely try it in the beginning of the new academic year.


    1. Hi Asli,

      it’s actually interesting that by your comment you brought my attention again to this and so timely – in the beginning of the new term, so I”m going to try it again as well, just like you =)

      Thank you for dropping by and leaving a supportive comment! Wish you a fruitful and in all ways positive academic year ahead.


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