One-On-One Conversation at the American Center in Moscow
To find out exactly what a one-on-one conversation is, I spent half an hour with Alexandria Musser, one of the native speakers from the United States who volunteer for the American Center, and this is what I learned …
Olga: Hi Ali, how are you?
Ali: Hi Olga, I am fine. How are you?
Olga: I am fine too. Did you celebrate Halloween this weekend?
Ali: Yes, I did. I went out with my friends.
Olga: I wonder, where you celebrated Halloween last year.
Ali: Last year, I spent Halloween at my University in America. Almost all of the students live on campus, and on Halloween night, most students dress in costumes and take part in various traditional Halloween events and parties.
Olga: That’s amazing that today you are volunteering for the American Center in Moscow. How many one-on-ones have you already conducted?
Ali: Hum,… about 25 or so.
Olga: That’s a lot. It’s definitely one of the most popular among other workshops which the American Center in Moscow arranges for its patrons. And what makes you so excited about it?
Ali: I like helping people to work on their English. I understand these students very well because I am also a student and I learn Russian, and I do appreciate it when people at my University help me the same way when we sit and have conversations in Russian.
Olga: Please, say a few words about your University. Do you mean any Moscow University? What are you majoring in?
Ali: No, it is not a Moscow University, it is an International private University located in Moscow where I major in Russian culture.
Olga: Do you speak Russian well?
Ali: No, I don’t (Ali smiles). I began learning Russian two years ago and here in Moscow it becomes better and better. It is definitely easier with the Russian atmosphere around, but it is quite a pressure at the same time.
Olga: Did one-on-one conversations help you to understand the Russians more?
Ali: Yes, they did absolutely.
Olga: Do you keep in touch with people who came for a one-on-one with you?
Ali: Yes, I do, I keep in touch with a few people I have met through one-on-one conversations via email and the Internet.
Olga: What’s the average age group of the one-on-one speakers?
Ali: Well, half of them were students and half adults.
Olga: What language level should the patrons have to come for the one-on-one?
Ali: It really does not matter, I would say. I had one person who was a beginner, and it was quite a challenge for him to understand what I was saying. At the same time it was a very valuable experience for him. My belief is that anyone can practice conversation skills. Of course, the higher the person’s level in English is, the easier the conversation will flow. Again, I am saying that it is worth doing one-on-one for anyone who learns English no matter how fluent they are.
Olga: The average one-on-one conversation lasts for 30 minutes, does not it? What helps you to keep the conversation going in case the speaker gets stuck?
Ali: It is not a problem for me. I have some questions for such cases, and these questions help me to keep the conversation going. For example, if a conversation starts to slow down, I usually ask some general questions about life in Moscow, the person’s hobbies, or why the person is interested in learning English. From the answers to these questions, I can usually sense what the person’s interests are, and can then formulate further questions and topics based on his or her interests.
Olga: What would you recommend to our patrons who are interested in one-on-one conversations? Should they come prepared or it is okay to come unprepared, and what can help them to overcome the language barrier?
Ali: It is really not required or important to prepare for the one-on-one. If you feel less confident, it would be great to prepare some topics and a list of vocabulary beforehand.
To get more information about what Ali recommends to one-on-one speakers, listen to this extract of the interview:
Olga: I also came prepared and I have some questions of my personal interest to ask you. I am the member of the Student Council here in the American Center in Moscow. Our organization is very young, and, besides, the idea of the Student Council is not popular in Russia at all. It is way more popular in the United States, which is why I would like to ask you if you have any experience of being a member of any Student Council?
Ali: Yes, I do. At high school I was a Secretary of the Student Council and I am running the position of the Vice President of the Russian Cultural Club as a University student today.
Olga: Sounds awesome. Our Council consists of five positions, among which is a Secretary which is still vacant. There is a wrong thinking about this position due to the Russian mentality. People think that Secretaries make coffee and do much running up and down, bringing things from here to there, photocopies, shredding paper, picking up lunches and answering phone calls. But the responsibilities of the Secretary position in the Council have nothing to do with that. This is a very high, though, yes, still administrative position. Am I right?
Ali: I totally agree, this is not the same absolutely.
Olga: Can you share your experience in the position of the Secretary, please?
Ali: Yes, sure. One of my responsibilities was writing a newsletter every second week and I was responsible for emailing it to all the students to keep them in the know about the coming events at school.
To learn more about Ali’s responsibilities as the Secretary of the High School Council listen to this extract of the interview:
Olga: Do you mean that you used a newsletter as a form of notifying people about the events which already stood on the school’s calendar?
Ali: Yes, I do.
Olga: I think, it is a great idea to use newsletters to refresh the memory of the patrons about the coming events and probably providing more detailed information than the calendar’s layout allows on each of them.
Olga: I am very interested in the management of the Student Council and its routine. Could you give a rough description of how the Council works, please. How often do the members of the Council meet and how do you realize your projects?
Ali: Our Council consists of four members, and they are President, Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary. We usually plan events for the big holidays for the whole year ahead in the beginning of the year. Then we meet once a month for a brainstorm meeting to talk about the details of those events and to think about smaller events as well. We also plan the budget for each event. As the Vice President I am responsible for submitting all the information to our Professor who approves the funding for the event and then we proceed.
To learn more about Ali’s responsibilities as the Vice President of the Russian Cultural Club listen to this extract of the interview. Apologies for the poor quality of the recording, as it was done at the American Center in the working atmosphere.
Olga: As a marketing student, I know that 50 percent of the event success depends on how well you promote it. It can grow out from a brilliant idea, and you can get the necessary funding, but if you promote it too late or use the wrong channels, you can screw it up. How long before do you usually start promoting the events?
Ali: I agree that proper promoting is important, and we usually start promoting our events at least two weeks before the event to have as many people signed up for the event as possible.
Olga: How many events do you usually do each month?
Ali: We try to organize at least two events each month.
Olga: Can you give us some examples of the events which your Student Council organized in the past and how you used the funding?
Ali: Funding is needed to purchase tickets to exhibitions, or cover the transportation fees if necessary, we also invite speakers who we pay for coming or we can buy some drinks and snacks for other events. Once we invited a Russian Philharmonic band.
Olga: Can members of the Council be reelected?
Ali: Yes, of course, they are usually reelected, and those who have been in the Council for a long time can shift from the position of the Secretary, for example, to another position, such as the Treasurer or the Vice President and even the President. The more experience you have working with the Council the higher you raise when somebody leaves the Council.
Olga: Ali, thank you so much for this interview. I think we’ve been very fortunate to have first hand information and advice about the one-on-one conversation, and I am sure it will help our patrons to understand what to expect from this kind of a workshop, how to prepare for the one-on-one, how to overcome their fears and lack of self-confidence in their English level. My personal thanks to you is for sharing your absolutely unique and so valuable to us experience as the Student Council member. I shall definitely use your tips in my work as the Outreach Coordinator and what you told about the Secretary position will help us to promote this position in a new light and, hopefully, after reading this interview there will be more people interested in this position and in what the Council is doing as well.
Thank you Ali one more time and I hope to see you again in the American Center.
Ali: It was my pleasure talking to you too, Olga. Thank you very much and Good Luck with the Council.