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.

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.

Diversity and Choice in the U.S. Educational System

Posted by: Alexandra Evans, Consular Officer 

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The University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin

You probably know the difference between a public school and a private school, but do you know what a charter school is?  Do you know the difference between a college and a university?  Do you know what it means to be a “liberal arts school” versus a “research institution?”  These are some of the distinctions I discussed at my lecture at Taras Shevchenko University.  I gave an overview of four schools in the United States – two secondary institutions where I taught before joining the Foreign Service, and two post-secondary institutions where I studied.

First, I introduced two secondary schools.  The Khabele School is an independent private school in Austin, TX.  Opportunities for Learning is a public charter school with locations in Southern California.  While the Khabele School follows a more or less traditional educational model, its small class sizes and independence from the public school system give it more flexibility in meeting students’ unique needs.  As a charter school, Opportunities for Learning is more closely tied to the public school system but is authorized to provide a unique, independent-study learning environment which best suits the needs of the at-risk students it serves.

Wellesley College
Wellesley College

We next discussed two excellent, but very different, post-secondary institutions:  The University of Wisconsin and Wellesley College.  The University of Wisconsin is a large, public research university.  It has numerous locations throughout the state of Wisconsin, a plethora of facilities and resources, and being a university, it offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Wellesley is a private, liberal arts college in Massachusetts.  As a small, liberal arts college, its focus is on providing a broad and high-quality undergraduate education with lots of access to professors, research grants, internships and study abroad opportunities.  We discussed the pros and cons of attending larger or smaller schools, as well as why one might choose a women’s school like Wellesley (or a men’s college like Morehouse) over a co-ed school like the University of Wisconsin.  For instance, some young women notice that their intellectual inhibitions drop when in the company of only women.  They feel less shy, are more willing to express their opinions and ask questions, and thus get more out of being in class.

We also discussed the accreditation process in the United States, which varies from state to state and region to region.  In larger states, like Texas, the state’s department of education oversees accreditation of all schools.  In other areas, such as New England, which are comprised of smaller states, states band together and form one accrediting body for numerous states.  International schools may also approach these groups for accreditation, so that their degrees will be accepted by other institutions in the United States.  Did you know that the same group, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, accredits both Wellesley College and Pechersk School International, right here in Kyiv?

Beyond Certificates and Statistics

This blog entry is written by an American Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) currently living and working in Ukraine. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, the U.S. Embassy hosted a competition among all Ukraine-based PCVs and will be posting the top three over the next week, beginning with the overall winner, followed by the two runners up. Today U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft swore in the latest group of PCVs at a ceremony at the historic Teacher’s House.

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.

The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:

  • Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Peace Corps volunteers work at the request of other countries to help develop better opportunities for their people, living and working with people in remote villages and burgeoning cities in the developing world. Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served as volunteers in 139 countries, teaching English, helping people improve their families’ health and nutrition, working on HIV/AIDS issues, encouraging entrepreneurs to build their own businesses, introducing new farming techniques to bolster crop yields and protect the environment, and providing leadership to the young.

To learn more about 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps please read E-journal.

To learn more about Peace Corps in Ukraine please visit official websiteContinue reading “Beyond Certificates and Statistics”

International Education Week — Americans in Action

Posted by: Parvina Shamsieva-Cohen, Professional Associate, U.S. Consulate

As the snow falls and Ukrainian school children are in the midst of their holiday vacation, I warmly recall my recent visit to a Ukrainian high school.  The visit was in commemoration of International Education Week, a combined initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.   Every year, this particular week gives Americans working at embassies abroad the opportunity to highlight the  importance of increasing student knowledge of the world’s cultures, peoples, and languages, and affirms the critical role that international education and exchange programs play in fostering people to people contacts throughout the world.  Being a former graduate student myself from Tajikistan to the U.S. under the auspices of the Open World-Soros Foundation, I jumped at the chance to visit Kyiv public school #168 and talk about educational opportunities and share my own experience.   Iryna Tymchenko, my Ukrainian colleague, was also eager to participate.

Students of Kyiv public school #168
Students of Kyiv public school #168

This was not just any typical school, mind you.  The school is unique in that it is the only school in the area (Kyiv Oblast) where physically disabled children are integrated into regular class rooms.  Children with disabilities and non-disabled kids both benefit from this approach. Some of the disabled kids have even started walking on their own since the integration began! The teachers’ dedication and enthusiasm are particularly amazing to me.

I chose to speak to the children on the topics of Renewable Sources of Energy and Intellectual Property Rights. These are topics of particular interest to me, and I tried my best to transmit a fraction of my passion for them to the audience.   The children seemed genuinely interested in these subjects and asked me many pertinent questions afterwards. 

In our attempt to reach out to the students, my colleague, Alison Hannah, talked with students via web chat about Studying Abroad and specifically about the Summer Work and Travel Program. This program typically generates tremendous interest among Ukrainian students and the number of program participants increases every year.  In 2009 alone, the Consular Section in Kyiv reviewed over 11,000 applications for the program. 

The main participants of the web chat were students from Kremenchuk National M. Ostrogradskyi University and Education USA “Osvita” from Dnipropetrovsk, but it was also open to the general public as well.  During the chat, Alison covered issues related to the exchange program, program administration, possible placements in the U.S., visa types and application procedures.  Alison also provided tips on ensuring personal student safety in the US. 

The presentation, which incorporated the most frequently asked questions, was based on Alison’s experience dealing with the variety of exchange programs. The audience evaluated the presentation as extremely informative, and among the best they have ever experienced.  Web chat participants particularly noted Alison’s openness and the transparency of the program.

Congratulations to Exchange Alumni and American Councils!

Amb. Tefft presents photo book to an exchange alumna

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John F. Tefft

I love this part of my job. Spending time talking  with some of Ukraine’s brightest young students is such a positive affirmation of the country’s amazing potential and that the work we are doing really matters. As an ambassador, most of my days are filled with meetings with ministers and government officials, visits to technical assistance projects, reading and writing diplomatic cables, and hosting receptions.  To be sure, these are all serious and important things.

Honestly though, one of my favorite parts of the job – and no less important – is meeting the very impressive Ukrainian students, scholars, and professionals who have participated in our many exchange programs.  Having spent anywhere from a few weeks to two years in very diverse parts of the United States, they return home brimming with interesting insights into American society, fond memories of newfound friends, and ideas for how to improve their communities. Exchange program participants see all sides of my country, as the famous Clint Eastwood movie title puts it:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  We are not perfect, but I always hope they have discovered some part of “The Good” that they will use in some way when they return home. Continue reading “Congratulations to Exchange Alumni and American Councils!”