RELO Kyiv’s 8 Best Free Sites for Learning English Online

Posted by: John Silver, the Head of the Regional English Language Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

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President Petro Poroshenko declared 2016 the Year of English Language. It is hard to overestimate the importance of learning English in our ever-globalized world. For that reason, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has supported the Go Global initiative aimed to promote foreign languages learning in Ukraine and raise awareness of opportunities that foreign languages provide. The easiest and most accessible way to learn English is to do so online. Upon numerous requests, I’d like to share my list of free sites for learning English online.

  1. American English

american-englishAmerican English is a resource for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. This website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom. Both teachers and students will find new ways to practice English and learn more about the United States.

  1. American English at State Facebook

american-english аи
American English at State is a Facebook page that provides English language learning materials for both learners and teachers. Our American English website is a resource center for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. The website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom.

  1. Voice of America Learning English

voice-of-america-learning-englishLearning English is VOA’s multimedia source of news and information for millions of English learners worldwide. Audio programs and captioned videos are written using vocabulary at the intermediate and upper-beginner level. Programs are read one-third slower than normal English speed. Online texts, MP3s and podcasts let people read, listen and learn American English and much more.

  1. Duolingo

duolingoLearning with Duolingo is fun! Earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. Bite-sized lessons are effective and proven to work!

  1. American English Mobile App

american-english-mobile-appTeachers and students: build English skills anytime, anywhere on your mobile phone with the free American English app! It works with almost any phone and uses very little data. Get audiobooks, e-books, music, the Trace Word Soup game, dictionary and translation tools, and more.

  1. BBC Learning English

bbc-learning-englishBBC Learning English provides multimedia English language teaching materials to meet learners’ needs

  1. British Council Learn English

british-council-learn-englishThere are hundreds of high-quality resources to help improve your English. Read about how to use the site, take a level test or find a face-to-face or online course in your country.

  1. Lang-8

lang-8A new language learning platform where native speakers correct what you write.

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Education in the United States: Then and Now

Posted by: Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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On the first day of school in Ukraine, we asked Cultural Affairs Officer Shari Bistransky to talk about education in the US and share her experience about the first day of school.

Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv
Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

The United States doesn’t have a Ministry of Education or a national education policy. The US education system is set up as state system rather than a national system. There normally is a state structure, a Department of Education or an Office of Education, where they make decisions about curriculum, textbooks, and things like that. We do have regulations nationwide that say the curriculum has to meet certain requirements.

We start at kindergarten at 5 years old. Now it is really common to have organized pre-school, and many kids start at school at 3-4 years old learning letters, learning songs, and counting. So, then there’s primary school that goes from 5 till about 11, then middle school, and then our traditional high school, which goes for 4 additional years, which is 9th grade through 12th grade. And then off to college.

I remember my first day of school as if it were yesterday. I was 5 years old. I was wearing a purple dress. I had on white lace tights I was so proud of. I had my hair cut fresh and brushed. I had a little sign that was cut in green construction paper that had my name on it, my address, and my telephone number. Because we had a school bussing system, and for the first day of school for the new kindergarteners you wanted to make sure to be labeled, so that people could get you where you needed to go. And I could hear the bus, and I was so excited, and I ran out the front door, and I ran to the bus… and I fell. I tripped on the step of the bus, went down hard, broke the skin on both knees, tore my white stockings, and I was injured so severely that there was blood pouring down both of my legs. The bus monitor picked me up, put me on a seat, and the first thing I saw at school on my first day was the nurse. Terrible story. (Laughing)

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

School year in the US starts in August. When I went to school, it was traditional for school to start on the first Tuesday after Labor Day (the first Monday in September).  But now with more and more schools in the States going to a year-long school calendar or wanting to fit in more vacation during the school year, a longer break at New Year for example, or a spring break, school start times are getting earlier and earlier and earlier.

On average, kids have a class three hours a week. When I was in middle school, the school day was organized in seven 50-minute classes and with a 5-minute break between, so that you had every class that you took every day. So in high school it was Math, English, Grammar and Composition, English Literature, Science, Foreign language (I studied French in high school), and then the seventh period would be some kind of arts, whether it was choir or instrumental music, or drama. What I see now in schools where my kids are and where their friends are, they’ve gotten away from every class every day, and have done more like a class three hours a week or four hours a week, and what this allows is for longer class periods and lab time for sciences.

Speaking about the financial side of school, public school in the United States in all districts is free of charge. Public schools are supported by local property taxes. School is required, and school is provided. There are private schools that you can send your child to, but they are generally expensive and the government will not provide that for you.

One of the greatest things about the university education is the opportunity to meet people you disagree with. When you are in school, when you are young, you hang out with your friends, you’ve got your peer group, the people like you. In university, that all kind of goes away, and you have to learn to make your way with people who are not like you. That is huge.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

There is a lot of freedom at university. University students actually do not have to say what degree they are pursuing until the third year of university education. You will, in your first two years, take Math, Science, Psychology, and History, etc. Only once you do that, then you start on the course work for your specialty, your major, your minor – what your main course of study is and then your secondary course of study. Within that major and that minor, there are requirements that you have to fulfill. My sister, who did s pre-medical school program, and I, who studied international relations, we did the same first two years more or less, but then she did a lot more in Organic Chemistry, Heavy math, Biology, and I am taking History and Politics. Once you finish those liberal education requirements, there is still a lot of space, especially in your last two years, to design and customize your program to your interests. You have to be careful when you do it though, because if, at the end you’ve turned in your transcript, you’ve called your mom and dad, you’re like “I’m gonna graduate”, and then the dean says, “Hmm, you didn’t take Introduction to Sociology, and that was a requirement in your first year. Guess what, we won’t give you a diploma till you take that class.” Surprise!

The Public Affairs Section of the Embassy administers and supports a wide range of exchange programs. Many people will recognize the name of the Fulbright exchange program, which is one of our oldest. We celebrate 70 years this year. In the course of my work, we are often meeting with teachers at universities, language teachers, rectors. We ask them to help us publicize our network like EducationUSA, which helps students interested in studying in the United States find out how to do that. Many students, for example, are surprised that the process of applying for U.S. university takes about 18 months. We are always interested in helping people grow those networks. The education beat is one of the best things about the office that we work in here, because it helps us stay in touch not only with the education system of a country but also with students, because students really are where it’s at. It’s where the country is going. Students are going to take you there.

Armed Conflict, Resiliency, and EFL: Training Displaced Teachers in Ukraine

Posted by: Crystal Bock Thiessen, English Language Specialist at U.S. Department of State

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CBT_7657“Before the war…we wished health and peaceful sky only because it was a tradition and a habit…after spending hours under attacks, listening to shots, you give more sense and meaning to those words.”

“…we went to work, did our routine and pretended that everything was normal as we could do nothing in front of guns.”

“It will never be the same again.”

The words from the shared journals of internally displaced English teachers in Ukraine help tell the story of our experiences this summer in Kharkiv. For six days, my colleague, Eve Smith, and I held back-to-back teacher-training sessions geared towards immersing novice teachers of English in current methodologies and creative approaches to the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom.

19310806459_50947d4815_oIn terms of education, the fighting has tragically resulted in the death of teachers, staff, and students.  For survivors in the educational system, the conflict has brought about new challenges in dealing with the resulting effects of stress and trauma while trying to create a safe environment where learning can continue to take place.  Many schools and universities have had to relocate to other towns and regions, and now somehow must strive to maintain their academic integrity despite new surroundings, disconnected buildings, makeshift classrooms and a reduction in staff and students.

“I left my job, my family, my hometown—everything.”

“I work and pretend that everything is ok. But it’s not true.”

“…I feel a bit lost and confused about my future, especially taking into consideration [the] situation in our country.”

Starting with a pre-training questionnaire for the participants, we poured ourselves into ideas and information that we could use to make this training the most beneficial for those who would be coming to us.  Many of these young instructors had concerns about how to be sensitive to the effects of trauma while promoting the relevance and importance of learning English to students whose lives have been greatly affected by the fighting.  A lot of them were also dealing with great sadness, loss, anxiety, physical displacement and high levels of stress as a result of their own experiences.

“It’s been a year of challenges, sad losses, and getting new perspectives on life…”

“I had fears…I was not sure that my thoughts about my emotional state are worth sharing and actually worth having…”

19500222321_38046d6b01_oAnother goal that we had for these training sessions was to help the participants get their stories out to their English teacher colleagues in the United States and beyond.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine, while continuing well over a year now, has been reduced in many Western media outlets to an occasional photo or short blurb—many of the teachers were surprised to learn that something of such magnitude in their lives and country on a daily basis is barely mentioned anymore in American news.  Personal stories like those from our teacher trainees are rarely shared in the headlines, making it hard to fully grasp what has really been going on and what they have been through.

“Maybe my story will change someone’s life, maybe not.”

“A lot of difficulties and grief were on our paths, but the spirit of light and faith were leading us.”

“Last year, I saw a lot of strength in a lot of people I know.”

In addition to resiliency sessions on teaching compassion and creating action plans, we led our teachers through sessions on modern and creative methodologies in the EFL classroom, including teaching English through art, photography, and music.  We also gave sessions on how to access and use the free online resources provided to English teachers by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional English Language Office, specifically those found at the American English website and in Forum magazine.

More than anything, we wanted our teachers to have fun while they were with us!  Having an art table, late-night movie-watching, mini-dance parties, and a photo scavenger hunt around the city drew us all closer while giving them a brief respite from their troubles.  Laughing together definitely allowed them to build positive and meaningful connections and new friendships during such difficult times.

“Thank you for extending compassion and flexibility.”

“I’ve had in my head so many things, concerns, knowledge, worries…about teaching, career and life…and today you managed to put some of them in order.”

CBT_7458At the end of the six days together, Eve and I were not only touched by the inspiration and optimism of our teacher trainees, but were also left with a renewed sense of the importance of compassion, resiliency, and connections.  It’s great to know that they’ll be bringing that passion and inspiration into the classroom with them this semester. Having had this opportunity to work with those who will be carrying Ukraine into a brighter future is something that is incredibly impactful to me and which I hope will continue to influence my work with both teachers and my students in the future.

“Through teaching English we learn how to be compassionate and friendly to each other.”

“I root for my country and I believe that eventually it’ll show everybody what it’s worth.”

Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission

Posted by: EUCOM

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By Master Sgt. Charles D. Larkin, USAF
United States European Command
Stuttgart, Germany, May 5, 2015

Three years ago, United States European Command (EUCOM) consolidated several military installations located throughout Europe. As installations closed and buildings were emptied, office furniture, computers, beds, and other furniture and equipment piled up in warehouses, like the one operated by the US-Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in Italy.

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U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine speaks at an inauguration ceremony for the Vinnytsia Community Education Center

Thanks to the efforts of EUCOM and DSCA, some of those items were recently given a new home in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Personnel from the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine, EUCOM officials, and members of local Ukrainian government and non-government organizations gathered at the brand-new Vinnytsia Community Education Center for an inauguration ceremony on April 27.

The project began in 2012 as a request from a local non-government organization. They wanted a resource center in their area to focus on public health and youth education for socially-vulnerable individuals. Additionally, the community center also addresses the problems of internal displaced persons (IDP) and human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation — often referred to as a modern-day form of slavery — is a multi-billion dollar criminal activity in Ukraine. Trafficking of women and children for this type of exploitation is a serious problem affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and their families. Continue reading “Three Years, Two Partner Nations, One Mission”

Creating a Better World by Practicing Multilateral Diplomacy

Posted by: N. Kumar Lakhavani, Information Management Specialist

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ModelUNI got excited when I saw an email from Peace Corps Director Dr. Doug Teschner inviting me to attend the Model United Nations (MUN) Camp managed, hosted, and taught by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers in Ukraine. I quickly made up my mind to take the weekend off and go to Odesa to attend and speak at the conference on my own dime and my own time. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to speak to the inspiring future leaders of Ukraine and also meet Peace Corps volunteers and camp counselors.

The MUN conference consisted of a week of activities that offered bright high school students a unique opportunity to learn about global issues, develop skills in negotiation and debate, and become friends with other remarkable individuals from all over Ukraine.

It was a quick trip! I booked a flight to Odesa for Saturday morning and a day train from Odesa returning back to Kyiv on Sunday. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Office pointed me in the right direction so I could prepare a message about diplomacy, volunteerism, and development of communication and negotiation skills. Knowing how much Peace Corps volunteers give up to serve overseas, I wanted to speak about the importance of volunteerism.

MUNdiscussion1I flew down to Odesa early Saturday morning and in less than two hours a taxi got me safely to the MUN Camp in Odesa Oblast. Sixty attendees, 20+ Peace Corps Volunteers, and 10+ camp counselors were in the middle of a meeting working hard to pass a MUN resolution. Participants were representing countries from Angola to Afghanistan, Cuba to Croatia, Panama to Pakistan. You could see all of the hard work and effort that was put into this camp by Peace Corps Volunteers like Lukas Henke, Natalie Gmitro and Julie Daniels.

MUN Camp participants had been at the event the entire preceding week starting at 7 AM and finishing as late as 10 PM every day. They discussed parliamentary procedures, meetings as nations, global issues, and had already taken votes on different resolutions. The camp included some fun evening events such as a talent show, “Activities from Around the World,” networking, and a bonfire.

MUN-Meetingconclusion1I was given the podium on Saturday to speak to the participants about “Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Value of Helping Others by Volunteering.” After my remarks, participants spent 45 minutes asking me questions. I was also invited to attend a training session about corruption later that day. At the session, participants discussed the definition of corruption, their thoughts about corruption in Ukraine, the causes of corruption, and shared ideas about how to eradicate corruption in their country. The campers took turns roleplaying to explore what corruption looked like and how individuals could work towards making Ukraine a corruption- free society. Georgia’s success in reducing corruption was cited by participants.

At the conclusion of the corruption session, I was given a thank you note signed by the participants sharing their appreciation for my travel all the way to the camp in Odesa Oblast to speak.

A Peace Corps Volunteer showed me the way to the marshrutka stop with my most prized possession that day in my hands. The two hour marshrutka ride back to Odesa was tough but reading the thank you note made me realize it was all worth it!

The Positive Power of Hip-Hop in Ukraine

Posted by: Arthur Evans, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

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IMG_1810Recently I joined Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, his family and an audience of over 10,000 on Independence Square to watch the World Breakdancing Championship.  Sponsored by Burn Battle School, hundreds of young Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls “battled” (competed) in four categories: best youth b-boy, men’s, women’s and team or “crew.”  I was blown away by the popularity of the event and amazed at the skill level of the Ukrainian breakers.  Even more impressive was that, although competition was fierce, the atmosphere was positive — even festive — a bit like watching a college football game in my native Ohio.

IMG_2483Because our Embassy was one of the event’s sponsors, the Ambassador awarded the first place prize in the youth category.  The winner was a 10-year old dancing tornado from Kyiv: Andrei Kirilin. Taking first was no small feat on Andrei’s side.  The youth division included kids as old as 16, and many of the contestants were almost twice Andrei’s size.  But in breaking, where preparation, innovation and speed trump strength, “Davids” often best “Goliaths.”  Andrei’s victory was a testament to years of training and the support of his studio, Kinder Crew of Kyiv.  Backstage, many of Andrei’s Kinder Crew friends were there to support him along with older b-boy mentors, coaches, and family.

Hip-hop and, by extension, breaking, has always faced an up-hill battle in the image department, partly due to a “gangster” motif that has eclipsed other aspects of the movement, and partly due to misconceptions of what b-boying is really about.  If my experience on the Maidan showed me anything, it is that breakdancing can set a positive example for young people in Ukraine.  No matter how hard two “crews” “ battled”, and no matter the color of their skin or where they were from, when the music stopped and the winner was announced the competitors always came together in the center of the stage, shook hands, embraced and showed signs of mutual respect.

IMG_0990These positive aspects are in keeping with breaking’s American roots. When it emerged from New York’s boroughs in the 1970s, break dancing’s “street” status meant there were no coaches, teams or leagues.  For an aspiring b-girl or b-boy, getting in was easy but getting good was hard.  You had to learn from somebody.  Talk to any accomplished “old” b-boy or b-girl about how they learned and they will smile and rattle off the names of the best b-boys in the previous generation: people who inspired them, took them under their wing, and invited them to join a “crew” that could help them reach the next level.  “Each one teach one” is a quiet mantra in breakdancing that still holds true.

Perhaps no other crew has internalized “each one teach one” like Seattle, Washington’s Massive Monkees Crew.  Our Embassy was proud to support them as our country’s entry in the Burn Battle School’s team competition.  As dancers, Massive Monkees have won at the highest international level.  But what sets them apart is how they have parlayed that success into opportunities for their community, and particularly for the next generation.  One example is their Extraordinary Futures NGO, which uses dance to teach self-discipline, boost confidence, and broaden the horizons of at-risk kids.  In recent years they have even used city support and crowd sourcing to turn their Seattle dance studio, aptly called “the Beacon,” into a community center complete with afterschool programs, toddler dance classes, music and art.  No wonder the Mayor of Seattle created a “Massive Monkees Day” in their honor.

IMG_3345Massive Monkees brought this spirit of civic activism with them to Kyiv. Over the course of three days they taught classes, visited summer camps, hosted hip hop films, judged dance contests and performed for thousands of young Ukrainians.  They talked about breakdancing’s celebration of diversity and demonstrated its ability to break down barriers and to build young people up.  But Massive Monkees weren’t alone in delivering this message. Their trip was supported by a national network of Ukrainian crews and dance studios.  At each event they were joined by veteran Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls who shared their own experience with the younger kids or were there as chaperones, trainers and mentors.

In the end, one can say that this year’s Burn Battle School was a success because hundreds of kids competed and thousands more came to watch.  But what is more important is that it proved that breaking is alive and well in Ukraine.  Clearly, local b-boys and b-girls have developed a thriving community that stretches from Kyiv to Sevastopol, Lviv to Lutsk ….And that’s a good thing.

A Teaching Revolution

Posted by: Crystal Bock Thiessen, English Language Fellow

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9507694313_c43956372d_cWalking into a room of nineteen young Ukrainian English language teachers, it was hard not to be aware of something stirring, of something much bigger beginning to take place.

As a part of the U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s annual novice teacher training, I was invited to work with these novice participants in current English as a Foreign Language (EFL) methodologies and best practices.  We explored topics in lesson planning, error correction, and using technology and social media in the EFL classroom as well.  Everything was done with a focus on the communicative approach to teaching and on learner-centered teaching (a fairly uncommon concept in this part of the world).  In preparation for this endeavor, the words I heard over and over again were simply, “they’re hungry.”  No doubt that feeling was thick in the air throughout the training.

9510471632_0b3bae6a34_cThese are exciting times to be a young English language teacher and learner–scary, yet exciting.  Once again in our great educational evolution we are on the brink of a transformation in not only how we think about language education, but in how we go about it in our classrooms.  This is especially true in Ukraine, where the stifling idea of English as merely a puddle of complicated grammar rules and translation purposes has given way to a generation of Internet-savvy learners quite ready to actually use the language to communicate with the world they so willingly connect to and absorb.  There’s restlessness towards the way things have always been done—towards the English learning of the past.  What these young teachers are just becoming aware of is that they are the first bullets in what will ultimately be the next revolution in English-language education.  They are the ones who will start the chain of change, and change, as we all know, is incredibly difficult.

Like I said, scary and exciting.

9510490234_137cd9d0f9_cBy the end of the four days with these novice teachers, the hunger for useful English teaching skills was joined by a sense of empowerment in the knowledge that, as engrained as things seem here in Ukraine in terms of English education, the revolution of it is beginning now with this generation of new teachers.   Having such programs and workshops sponsored by the Regional English Language Office shows these teachers that we are committed to helping them meet their language-teaching challenges head on, and that we too are hungry for these new practices and methodologies to become the norm, not the exception, in English language education here in Ukraine.

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