Six Words about Teaching English in Ukraine

Zhenya PolosatovaSix Words about Teaching English in Ukraine

by Zhenya Polosatova


Ukraine is my home country, it’s where I was born, raised, and had all of my EFL learning and teaching experience. I taught English as a foreign language to kids and adults at IH school (International House DNK) for about ten years. My youngest student turned two in one of my lessons. Even though I have not been teaching on a regular basis lately, I consider myself a part of the ELT family as I am actively involved in teacher training (intensively internationally and online), facilitating/coordinating a Reflective Practice Group in my native Dnipro, and co-organizing EduHub Teacher Sharing Days. I also do some consulting, coaching, speaking examining, and presenting in various places in Ukraine.

I am aware I am far from being an ideal person to speak about the Ukrainian ELT. On the other hand, not being directly from (or attached to) a particular sector of the Ukrainian ELT field may offer a chance to step back and catch a bigger picture. The ideas I express in this post come from my own experience and reflections, as well as numerous conversations with teachers of English throughout Ukraine, such as former colleagues and TESOL course participants, Reflective Practice Group members, conference presentation attendees, small language school owners, teacher educators, “international” teachers, etc. As anything I say in this post can be seen as overgeneralizing, I chose to structure it around six words that can describe my views on ELT in Ukraine.

#1: Transformation

Let’s start with the name of the country: it is Ukraine, not the Ukraine. There is an idea that “the use of the article relates to the time before independence in 1991, when Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.” It is a seemingly small thing, but to me it symbolizes the change we are going through from being a part of the USSR to finding our own identity.

Ukraine is a large country in Europe spreading over 603,628 square km. Ukraine’s regions and even cities differ a lot from one another: teaching and living in Kyiv, the busy capital, would be different from Lviv in the West, Odessa in the South, or Dnipro where I am from. Ukraine’s ELT context is therefore quite varied. Working in the public school sector would be different from teaching in a private school, having a contract with a language center is not the same as freelancing, and freelancing in a large city would certainly be different from doing it in a small town.

In addition, it’s important to note that Ukraine outsources IT specialists throughout the world, which results in (1) excellent Internet connection across the country and (2) the demand for English teachers, especially in large cities. This fact adds another significant ELT context to work in – a full-time teaching job with an IT company.

#2: Application

Even though English has been the leading foreign language taught on each educational stage (optional at pre-school, but mandatory from primary school), it started to play a much more noticeable role after 1991. Teaching switched from mostly Grammar-Translation Method to more progressive approaches and techniques, new coursebooks entered the market, international training courses for teachers were offered, private language schools were opened.

Gradually, state school sector opened its doors to international publishers and course providers and approved a number of international coursebooks, exam results, and teacher training qualifications. Even though we may discuss advantages and disadvantages of teaching from a coursebook or using grammar-based syllabi as opposed to Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), for example, I personally see the change as positive as students get to use the language in the classroom more and more (and potentially apply it outside, “in real life” as well).

The educational reform called the New Ukrainian School started in 2017. It is bringing even bigger changes in attitude to language learning where “communication in foreign languages” becomes a goal, a competence/skill set to develop, “the ability to understand adequately concepts expressed in a foreign language, to express both in speech and in writing the ideas, thoughts, feelings, facts and views” (from Conceptual Principles of Secondary School Reform).

English in Ukraine is still a foreign, not a second language, although you can encounter it more and more in the large cities, tourist centers, movie theaters, book stores, etc. Sadly, the level of English proficiency among Ukrainians is low, taking 28th place out of 32 European countries according to the EF Education First annual ranking.

#3: Motivation

It could be a big generalization to make, but working with the Ukrainian language learners (adults or young learners) is wonderful: their curiosity, open-mindedness, optimism, and sense of humor are amazing and energizing. As my colleague and friend recently told me, “I love our job as I am paid for this kind of interaction [with my language learners].”

At the moment English learners here are very motivated and goal-oriented, both short-term and long-term. Many would like to study or work abroad, some need high language level at the current job communicating with an international partner or customer, and some are actively traveling. International testing systems and exams are gaining popularity in the country, which often becomes a measurable sub-goal students would like to reach.

#4: Enthusiasm

Goal-oriented students (and their parents!) are demanding, and this motivates teachers to do their best. I can say that most ELT teachers in Ukraine are passionate, eager to help kids and adults, ready to learn, trying to perfect in the skill of teaching. They are able to bring life and passion to sometimes unrealistic or boring curriculum. In the light of the educational reforms, I think teachers of English are at an advantage today, being able to have direct access to lots of resources, ideas, activities, and social media platforms internationally.

To give an example, while looking for ideas for this post, I learned about a teacher in a small Ukrainian village near Dnipro who has been successfully engaged in eTwinning Plus project collaborating with schools in other countries and engaging students in exciting and motivating activities in English (there is an article about Yaroslava Kazarian’s project in Ukrainian here). Another colleague from Kyiv, Olga Puga, co-created an online School of Magic, similar to the school Harry Potter attended (more in Ukrainian here). To me, these are good examples of “enthusiasm in action” and they are inspiring.

#5: Choices

Overall, I think it’s very interesting and exciting to be an English teacher these days. You have the Internet, access to ELT materials and webinars, you can decide what kind of international training certificate to earn and do it in Ukraine. One of the big changes the reform offered is a choice, where state school teachers can earn the number of obligatory professional development hours (it used to be possible only through designated centers of “enhanced qualification” and those courses often left much to be desired in terms of format and content).

Since 2017 Ukrainians can travel to EU without a visa, which literally opened doors to international ELT events. My colleagues have recently attended and/or presented at conferences in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, and more trips are planned for the coming spring (Spain, Malta, Moldova). 

There are teacher development events to attend in various cities in Ukraine. Apart from large conferences, such as IATEFL Ukraine, and training workshops from publishers, there are smaller events offered by specific training centers or even teams of teachers. The so-called “non-conference” ELT events are becoming popular, for example EdCamps (educational camps) and reflective practice discussion groups for teachers. These are face-to-face, “real-time” events, and there is a whole different dimension of webinars, online courses, social media groups available. I would say that there are too many choices and sometimes a bit of free time is needed – to breathe, to think, to do nothing.

Besides, living in the times of constant change has made teachers here even more hard-working, resourceful, and flexible, and that includes their attitude to employment. Many colleagues I know have recently become freelance professionals, probably following what we call a Ukrainian characteristic feature of wanting to be fully in charge of a small business, but most likely using their creativity and teacher-preneurship skills to build a career of their dream.

#6: Journey

There is a well-known wish often seen as a blessing or a curse: “May you live in interesting times.” While there is no choice in what time we can be living, we can certainly manage our attitude and goals. As our famous poet Taras Shevchenko* put it addressing his fellow Ukrainians, Gain knowledge, read, from other cultures learn! But do not thus neglect your own.” I think Ukraine as a country, and ELT in Ukraine as a field, is at the beginning of a big journey to discover what’s important, to learn from the modern research and practices, and adapt it to the local culture and needs.


Questions to the readers:

  1. What is special/unique about your country? How does (might) this impact learning and teaching English there?
  2. What would be your 6 words about teaching English in your country?
  3. What do you dream about for ELT in your context in the future?
  4. What change do you want to see happen?
  5. What small steps can you personally make (or are already making)?


  1. Wikipedia: “In 1993 the Ukrainian government explicitly requested that the article be dropped.”
  2. Mining Academy in Dnipro, EFL Magazine.
  3. Olga Afanasieva in Cherkasy Uni, ET Forum. 
  4. The Internationalisation of Ukrainian Universities: the English language dimension, by Rod Bolitho and Richard West, British Council report.
  5. Kris and Kate’s blog offers a different perspective on living and teaching in Ukraine, e.g. Teaching English in Ukraine: A Guide.
  6. National Conference “eTwinning Plus” in Ukraine (May 2018, Kyiv).

* from Shevchenko’s  “My Friendly Epistle,” written in December 14, 1845.

Teaching English in Greece

Theodora PapapanagiotouTeaching English in Greece

by Theodora Papapanagiotou


Every country has a unique education system which suits the needs of its inhabitants. I can say that Greek people try to learn a lot of languages and English is certainly the most important foreign language, since we need it for both educational and professional development in various careers. Learning English is crucial to us also because almost 25% of Greece’s population is involved in this or that way in the tourism industry.  

There are various places where one can learn English in Greece, but for every child with no exception it starts in elementary school. English is a compulsory subject from the third grade and some schools, especially in the private sector, might even include it in their curriculum in the first grade or at kindergarten. Students continue learning English until they graduate from high school at the age of 18.  

One interesting (or strange) thing I observe in Greece is that we don’t think that learning a foreign language at school is enough, and so we send our kids to private language schools that they attend after school in order to learn more and/or better.  

One of the reasons why this happens is that here people love taking exams and receiving certificates, which makes language schools focus on preparing students for these particular exams. There are over 30 different English language certificates and exams in Greece, so most teachers have to be exam-oriented, unfortunately.  

It is very important for Greek students to acquire a certain level of language at a specific age: for example, get to B2 CEFR level at 13-14 years old and then reach C2 CEFR level at 16. The expression that may often be heard from the parents, “We would like our child to finish with English as soon as possible.” I see no clear reason why this is happening. Some people will say that it is impossible to “finish with English” at the age of 16, especially because the higher levels of language (such as C2) are meant for people who have some kind of experience in life, can understand certain types of texts, and write an article or a formal complaint letter. Nevertheless, when faced with such demand, teachers have to overcome this obstacle, find ways to teach students of any age regardless of their life experience, and make them ready for exams.   

To illustrate how serious the situation is, here’s another example: it sometimes happens that, as people turn to a language school or a specific teacher, they don’t say that they want to try to learn English, but rather that they just want to get the B2 certificate for a job.  

Teaching grammar is another important part of ELT in Greece, largely because of the way we are taught our mother tongue, the Greek language, as well as the ancient Greek. Greeks know what a “subject” and an “object” is, they are well aware of the terms “passive voice” and “indirect speech,” so they feel the need to learn a new, foreign language in the grammar-focused way as well. Even though it is sometimes really hard to do for a teacher, especially in low level classes (and learning through play is a better way to teach children anyway), some parents still prefer the grammar book. As a result, teachers use coursebooks, workbooks, grammar books, activity books, vocabulary books… which is also very expensive.   

Teaching English in Greece is not easy. Teachers have to face a lot of difficulties, such as working long hours or dealing with poor working and paying conditions. Nevertheless, there are a lot of teachers who try to do their best. There are teachers who teach through play, who use projects and integrate technology, who continue to learn new things about their profession through attending seminars, webinars, and teacher groups. And it is those teachers that make all the difference.  

Teaching English in the Czech Republic

Hana TicháTeaching English in the Czech Republic

by Hana Tichá


If you go online and search for the title of this post, you’ll get quite a few entriesYou’ll come across a plethora of job advertisements and blog posts which eloquently summarize the pros and cons of teaching English in the Czech Republic. One of the things you’ll discover is that Czechia is a great place to teach English because it’s a beautiful country with stunning architecture, great nightlife and eager students. Such articles, as you can see, are mostly aimed at unsuspecting foreigners. 

This post, however, is not going to be just another collection of tips for people making a decision about their next travel destination. After all, I’m not a language school owner so I have no desire to attract potential employees. Instead, I’d like to share what teaching English in the Czech Republic is like for somebody like me – a Czech currently based in a secondary state institution 

First things first. Not everybody can become an English teacher in the state sector of education; you’ll need some specific qualifications. Ideally, you should hold an MA degree from a pedagogical faculty or at least obtain a ‘pedagogical minimum’ certificate after you have graduated as an English major. This applies to the primary as well as the secondary level of education. If you want to teach English at university, you’ll probably need to aspire for a PhD.  

A typical English teacher in the state sector is a non-native speaker and female, especially at the primary level of education. The ‘higher’ you go, the more likely it is you’ll bump into a male colleague. Ironically, at our school, all the English teachers are women. Why is it so? Well, generally, you won’t make a fortune as a teacher and men are still considered to be breadwinners over here. But stereotypes aside, since the working hours are quite convenient – there are no night shifts, you have all the holidays and weekends are almost always free – aspiring for a teaching job in the state sector is not a bad option at all, especially if you have a family and kidsAdd to that the fact that the number of students in language classes is usually much smaller than in other subjects and that high proficiency in English may open some other doors for you – in the field of translation and interpreting, travelling, presenting, etc. Finally, teaching English can be enormously gratifying so in fact, it’s a win-win situation.  

As far as (non)native-ness is concernedthe lack of native speakers in the state sector is probably connected with the issue of qualifications. International certificates like CELTA or DELTA are almost unknown here, at least in my teaching environment. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think they are even recognized as proper qualifications. Add to that the fact that native speakers seldom have the opportunity and/or desire to get degrees from Czech universities and you’ll see why they have become a rare species over the past few yearsI’m mentioning this because in the past, in the era of backpackers merrily marching from the west to the eastern and central Europe, native speakers of English were quite common, even as state school employees 

But some other things have changed as well. Gone are the days when the grammar translation method was in. Now, we like to say that we teach English communicatively. Whatever it means, though, it’s not proved terribly effective as of yet. The Czech Republic is not ranked among the top non-native English-speaking countries with the best English. Mind you, we’re not doing badly. In 2018, we came in 20th according to the EF EPI Global Ranking of Countries and Regions. As an excuse, let’s stress that Czech is not a Germanic language so it’s tough fous to master it the same way the Dutch or Swedish do. But once we stop dubbing English movies, we’ll definitely catch up with them. We will.  

Apart from teaching communicatively, we love using coursebooks. Our students and schools spend a lot of money on themIt doesn’t really matter that these days, loads of interesting teaching materials are accessible online and for free, and, most importantly, that some of the stuff found in globally produced coursebooks is unsuitable for a Czech learner. Wstill love coursebooks. This is probably because they represent something tangible – something to hold on to in the bad times.  

Another thing we adore here in the Czech Republic is British English. It’s OK except that many students, as well as some teachers, believe that British English is the only correct version of English. But recently, with the influx of American pop culture, particularly the film industry, the situation has changed a bitNow we have another version of ‘acceptable’ English, preferred by many students but still looked down on by some English teachers. It seems that not everybody has accepted the fact that there are more than one or two englishes out thereAlso, we need to start acknowledging that non-native speakers outnumber the native speakers by three to one and the imbalance will keep growing. Thus, it may not always be desirable to aim for a perfect English accent.  

Having said thatI believe teaching English in the Czech Republic has become much easier in the past few years. This is mainly due to all the opportunities technology offers these days. Unknown words can be instantly looked up in an online dictionary. There are useful apps which can help the learner to acquire English faster. English songs and movies with or without subtitles are just a click away. Sometimes it feels as if we are no longer teaching English in class; students learn it on their own outside of school and we only monitor their progress. The fact that our students can do without us just fine may appear a bit scary, but I believe there’s no need to despair. As our students get better, weCzech teachers of English, are gently forced to become better professionals too. And that’s what I really love about my job – I don’t feel like I’m getting fossilized.  

Teaching English in Morocco: Through My Lens

Aziz SoubaiTeaching English in Morocco: Through My Lens

by Aziz Soubai


As an English teacher with some classroom experience, I assume that most English teachers I meet either online or in regional and national conferences are extremely enthusiastic about their profession. They invest a lot of time and effort not only in the teaching itself, but also in other areas and activities, such as theatre, acting, and public speaking. In this post I’m going to share with you some reflections and ideas on what it is like to teach English in my country that I have gathered from my own modest experience. I will try to shed some light on the major challenges that EFL teachers and learners might face in the language classroom in my country and what kind of techniques or strategies an English teacher like me can use to achieve the lesson objectives more effectively.

Limited exposure to English

First of all, it is worth mentioning that English in Morocco is taught as a foreign language. This means that learners don’t get exposed to English outside the classrooms, except for some highly motivated students (like this awesome little girl in the video). This also means that less exposure to English creates more burdens to the teacher, simply because learners are detached from the language once they are outside the classroom (and sometimes even inside the classroom, which is a worse case). To address this issue I would recommend teachers to encourage their learners to watch American cartoons like “Martha speaks” or “Family guy” with subtitles, or listen to slow tempo songs while following the lyrics. Of course, YouTube is easily full of these learning materials. The teacher’s job is then to assign these activities as homework, which would be an interesting and fun alternative to the regular boring “page number n” kind of homework.

Demotivated learners

It often happens that students who we label as low achievers detach themselves from English and then have a negative image about themselves as language learners. They lack confidence and persistence and have a very high psychological filter that blocks language production. They become self-conscious and often disrupt other learners in class to get some form of attention. The teacher in this case has to adopt some form of differentiated instruction.

Let’s imagine for a second that you would like to teach your class difficult grammar items (like the passive voice) or ask students to read a particular passage and answer comprehension questions. The teacher in this situation might feel baffled because he or she has to do so many tasks to help all learners to get this particular grammar point or understand the reading passage. It is part of the teacher’s job in this case to explain, for example, very simple vocabulary or the difference between “do” and “watch” to those learners who lack some basic language skills and require remedial teaching. In this regard, I can say that classroom presentations are my favourite strategy. At the end of every unit (which is normally composed of six lessons), I ask those struggling students to prepare a PowerPoint presentation about a particular lesson. That helps the students to regain their confidence and get more engaged in the learning process.

As I advanced in the teaching profession, I learned more ways to effectively engage and manage learners, as well as sustain their interest. One of these ways is having students create their learning portfolios, which is also a great tool for effective English instruction and assessment. I ask students to divide their portfolio into sections, such as “tongue twisters,” “writing drafts,” “what I learned today,” etc. (you can see samples of my students’ portfolios on this page). I also learned to integrate project based learning into my classroom practices. Students love working together and they often come up with creative ideas. We recently moved a little bit further by creating links with local and international schools to collaborate on different topics, such as environment, food, and culture. The collaboration between schools happened mainly on such Learning Management Systems as Edmodo, which offers a safe learning environment. I believe that project work is extremely beneficial for EFL learners because it gives them a chance to practise nearly all language skills and sub-skills like reading, writing, listening, and pronunciation.

Large classes

Overcrowded classes present another huge challenge that teachers in some regions of Morocco might face, particularly novice teachers. I still remember my very first years in a classroom with 40 students… They were all talking at the same time, laughing, and moving in all directions. It is a really nerve-racking situation. There are two techniques I use in this kind of situations. I first salute the students and try to calm them one by one by checking their lessons and homework until the job is done (this step takes from 10 to 12 minutes). Then I do a quick review of the previous lesson to get their attention, but sometimes I don’t succeed and they slowly get back to the endless talking. I know that noise can be normal in a language classroom, but this type of noise can be really annoying. Additionally, they say that “silence is the sound of thinking,” so I always try to keep things balanced: allow for some noise especially during group work, but don’t tolerate it when I’m giving particular instructions or explaining an important point.

I want to conclude by saying that English is a beautiful language with a natural musicality, rhyme, and rhythm. That’s why teachers here enjoy teaching it despite the aforesaid challenges. They help their learners master the language by creating English clubs. They encourage their students to get involved in local and national competitions, like spelling bee and students talent shows. By helping struggling learners, teachers rethink their own classroom practices and engage in continuous professional development.