Interview and photo by Mike Simpson
It’s my pleasure to introduce you to one of my colleagues and clients, Yulliya Desyatova. We talked about englishlanguagebits.com, Yuliya’s new website for teachers and students looking for audio listening resources to practice and improve their English skills.
If you are interested in my design or education consultation services please get in touch with me.
Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Yuliya Desyatova, I have been teaching English for newcomers to Canada for about 15 years (primarily at cclcs.ca). I have also researched language learning and teaching, and completed a PhD program at the University of Toronto, at the Ontario Institute for the Studies in Education (OISE). Originally, I am from Ukraine, where I was teaching both Ukrainian and English.
Right now, in addition to teaching a LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) during the week, my weekends are taken up by making content for a website www.EnglishLanguageBits.com, which comes with a YouTube channel with the same name, @EnglishLanguageBits. The name reminds us about the nature of language learning, which does not stop after completing a course or a textbook, but continues for years, little by little, bit by bit. So, the website invites you to choose a bit according to your interest and language level and work through it. Right now, it offers mostly Listening Bits with vocab and speaking activities, and Reading and Grammar Bits are under development.
Why did you start this website? What do you hope to accomplish?
For a long time I had this idea of putting my rich knowledge of language learning and teaching out there for everyone. The final push to do it now was the war in Ukraine. Apart from a huge emotional toll, a need to do something productive became urgent. Millions of my fellow Ukrainians have been scattered around the world by the brutal Russian aggression, and many of them may benefit from help in improving their English. It is a way to channel my skills and knowledge into a contribution to the victory over evil, to the country’s and the people’s survival, bit by bit.
But the website is NOT for Ukrainians only. On the opposite, @EnglishLanguageBits can be useful for any adult English learner anywhere in the world, especially those planning to come to Canada or those already here. The website is offering quality English language learning materials that are a product of my knowledge and experience on how English can be learned and taught.
Even though there are a lot of other resources available online today, many high-quality materials are not free, but require payment, which not everybody is capable of, especially at the time of crises. Besides, learning a language takes years, and it hardly ever ends, so many people may not be able to pay for learning/teaching support all this time.
So, my goal was to create learning and teaching materials that would be
- open access (free for everyone),
- build on up-to-date research findings and promising practices,
- address issues that are important for adult learners, but remain untouched in most commercially-produced materials.
I hope our @EnglishLanguageBits will help learners around the world to further improve their English through interactive activities, which always connect to issues relevant for adult language learners and support listening practice and vocabulary growth. At the moment, most materials are a bit Toronto-centred, but the plan is to strengthen connections to other Canadian cities, provinces, and other countries.
What is your favourite piece(s) of content on the site?
Because this website was made for others to use, it brings me a lot of joy to see materials being used. At this time, the piece that got the most attention has been a conversation with Pat, a Catholic school teacher, who shared her take on the differences between public and Catholic education in Ontario. It is actually a question many newcomer parents may be asking, so this clip has become the most popular on our YouTube channel so far. Special thank you to Pat for a very informative conversation!
The success of this clip also demonstrates the demand for action-oriented language learning approach, which has been written about extensively by my supervisor, OISE professor Enrica Piccardo. The action-oriented approach goes beyond task-based teaching, which would probably suggest listening and role-playing a conversation between a parent and a school admin assistant or a teacher, for example, or getting information from the school website, and those would be great tasks, or real-life examples of language use.
But the action-oriented approach goes further – it emphasizes language learners as social agents, expected to make choices and decisions, rather than being limited to pre-defined roles in tasks. In our example, the decision would be about which school to choose for their child. What is especially valuable in this audio clip is that Pat, as an insider on the subject, in this brief conversation, shared a perspective that includes certain common assumptions and prior histories that might be unknown to newcomers, or would take a lot of sources and time to learn about.
This short conversation is accompanied by interactive pre-listening, during-listening, and post-listening activities, most of which offer feedback to learners, so that they could check if they are on the right track with listening comprehension or vocab use.
This is what makes this website special, different from many others.
Was it hard to set up? Can you tell us about the challenges?
I must say, the set-up was not easy for me. The main challenge was and continues to be finding time to learn the necessary tech skills.
However, I was really fortunate to receive a lot of support from my colleagues at CCLCS, including you, Mike – thanks a million! Your expert guidance, together with additional tech support for a young man in my family, made it feasible.
Because of the nature of this website being a database of content, my work on it will never be over, so the main challenge is again, finding time for creating that content. I imagine it would have been much easier if it were a more static website with a limited number of pages.
In the case of @EnglishLanguageBits, creating video content (slide shows) is the most time-consuming part, but visuals can be very helpful for language learners. After the content page with activities is created and added to the website, it needs careful editing and testing, which we rushed through at the beginning, so we had to clean up later. That was not a good decision on my part, but I learned my lesson – test a few times before posting. Even better, get a dedicated editor/tester to review materials before publishing, because we all know, we often stop seeing our own mistakes and typos after having spent quite some time on writing/making the content.
So, finding time for learning new skills and for creating the content has been the biggest content for me.
Do you take contributions? How can people contribute?
I would be happy to see more volunteers join this project. If you would like to audio/ video-record a 2-5 min piece on any topic that can be relevant for a language learner – you are more than welcome to contact me. I have put together a contribution guidance file here.
If you would like to get more involved and create a set of activities to go with your audio, that’s even better – please send me an email any time at [email protected]
There is hope that the website might become monetizable one day, but until then, it is uncompensated volunteer work, which probably summarizes the biggest challenge. The feeling of having helped hundreds of learners (in addition to those in my class every day) makes it worth the work.
What are your plans for the future? (personal and site).
These days it is hard for me to detach my personal plans and the current events.
Similarly to most Ukrainians these days, my main hope every minute is the end of this previously unthinkable war.
This ongoing terror demonstrates how small the world is and how closely connected human lives are with the lives of their neighbours, both immediate and far away. So, we cannot pretend any more that education (of which language learning is part of) can be “apolitical” and limited to “task performance.” There needs to be room for deep thinking, for discussing difficult issues, and for making changes to the better. I am trying to do that in my daily work, whether in person or online.
To the website, I will be adding more sections, such as, as mentioned at the beginning, Reading Bits and Grammar Bits, and also Teaching Bits, to create space for sharing my teacher education experience. It will take time, but it is coming. If you would like to stay informed, please subscribe to our YouTube channel @EnglishLanguageBits and for email updates on the website www.EnglishLanguageBits.com.
I will continue building the website to the benefit of English language learners and teachers everywhere. I am hoping @EnglishLanguageBits not only will help learners improve their language, but also, bit by bit, will assist in making informed choices to better their lives, their communities, and the world we all share, bit by bit.
My thanks to Yuliya for contributing to this website and working so hard for Canadian newcomers and English students here and abroad. Cheers!
Thanks to you for visiting my site and reading this post! You may also be interested in reading this broader interview with Yulliya at the CCLCS website.