Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Milena Stevanovic. I live in Serbia, which is located in the south-east part of Europe, on the Balkan peninsula. I graduated from the University of Nis in Serbia and acquired a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature.
My last year’s journey to Okinawa inspired me to teach Japanese students. I found that people were very polite and kind and responsible, and I was more than amazed and thrilled about the culture and order of things.
I found Best Teacher on the internet and loved the idea and the concept of teaching. You cannot have just listening without speaking, nor reading without writing. In Best Teacher, students learn all four language skills, which is what makes it really the best.
What have you found interesting, surprising, or even difficult through teaching at Best Teacher?
What I find surprising is that most of my students struggle with the pronunciation of the sounds L and R, especially if both sounds are in one and the same word. When that is the case, I usually give them even more examples and ask them to repeat the words several times out loud. Another problematic is ‘th’, so again I give examples and show how to protrude the tongue between the teeth just a little. For a moment or two, we stick our tongues to each other and then have a good laugh all with polite apologies, but it’s all for a good cause. :) There is nothing particularly difficult about teaching at BT, to me everything is a challenge rather than an obstacle.
Can you talk about tips and know-how for learning a language?
Serbian is my mother tongue. English is my second language. I have been learning it since I was 11. I say that because I know I’m still learning, every day there are new words and phrases and different sorts of additions so that we, the teachers, also need to keep up with the innovations and study just as our students do.
I also speak Greek fluently. I studied it in college. After graduation, I moved to Greece and lived there for three years. The basic knowledge and grammar that I acquired in college really helped me out a lot when I started living there. Listening was perhaps the most invaluable skill in the process of learning not simply to speak, but to speak properly, with the right intonation and pronunciation. I was listening to music, the talk shows on TV, my neighbors… It wasn’t really about what they had to say, as much as about me adjusting my ear to the proper sound of the words. I managed to have people wonder and say to me something like, ‘You don’t look like you’re Greek, but you sound Greek!?’ :)
What do you think of English education in Japan?
I understand that when it comes to studying English in Japan, the focus is mostly on grammar. Grammar is OK to know, of course, but it is not the most important part of learning to speak a language. I like to ask my students to tell me how babies and young children manage to learn to speak. They cannot read or write, they cannot even pronounce the words properly in the beginning and they certainly do not think about grammar! So, how do they all manage to learn perfectly their mother tongue?! What do they do?! They listen. Listen to everyone and then try to imitate and repeat the sounds and words and sentences, until they start making their own sentences. I see the exact same thing with my youngest students who are 3 and 4. I see that with my daughter who is only 6 and understands Serbian, English and Greek. So, in my opinion, the solution is: early exposure to the language, more listening and repeating practice and less cramming and passive learning of grammar.
What makes you special in teaching English at Best Teacher?
When I teach, I try to speak slowly and clearly. I am quite aware it is not the way native speakers would talk, but I want my students to feel confident and positive about the knowledge they have, so I make sure they understand everything I say to them. I also try to make them feel relaxed and ask them simple questions or just tell them something about myself, so they can feel comfortable in a friendly online environment.
Do you have any encouraging message for students?
Teaching at Best Teacher has been a wonderful experience for me. I feel I get to learn so many new and interesting facts not only about Japan but about the world and different kinds of people. It can be tough for some people to study at the older age, but I know where there is a will, there is a way, and with the positive attitude and persistence anything can be achieved. My advice to anyone studying English would be: dare to speak, even if you make a mistake it’s OK. Then, have the background noise in English, every day, whether it is music or the news or whatever, just be exposed to and surrounded by the English language. Make learning fun! Try out different things and see what works best for you.