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Evgenia Karlova: Building a Language Bridge

Evgenia Karlova

A child of the 60s, born in Saint-Petersburg, my parents were both geologists, who spent much of their time exploring for the energy reserves Russia now depends upon.  Back then, we lived in the center in a long, dark, communal flat, which was shared by five families of different nationalities. So, that was a miniature USSR, where different nations lived peacefully side by side. Remembering those times now, my perception then was that I was lonely an unhappy, but now I know how happy I truly was. 

Our family never had much money, and very few possessions. Still, all the children in my neighborhood played together in the backyard, and there were no class distinctions made, or any other differentiation between us for that matter. Kids back then spent most of the time outdoors, playing games, running, jumping, and living quite dangerously, to be honest. If only our parents had known of our endless running across the rooftops there. Well, perhaps they did after all? 

Vosstaniya Square
Vosstaniya Square, around the corner from where we lived. (Alex Florstein Creative Commons)

Speaking of friends and living conditions, our family only had two small rooms at the end of the corridor, but I was allowed to have all the pets I wanted. Beyond these companions though, I had ultimate freedom to do whatever I liked, owing to my parents having to work all the time. I would typically arrive from school, eat some bread with jam or condensed milk, and then run to the street to join my friends. The memory of Winter in St. Petersburg, and of arriving home with my feet so frozen I cried, haunts me pleasantly now. My feet were so frozen that the floor felt like a heated oven,  and I sometimes cried of pain stepping on the floor. But the next day I would be out playing again. 

Our family lived in the center in Goncharnaya Street, overlooking Nevsky Avenue. I am a 5th generation Petersburger, my great grandfather being  the government inspector of all the public schools of Petersburg, and my grandparents having been opera singers, I guess it's fair to say I also know a little about refined 19th century culture too. I fondly remember mom singing me opera arias instead of lullabies, as well as reciting poetry by heart.

1960s Leningrad
An example of so-called "ship architecture" still visible in 1960s Leningrad (The Charnel-House)

From my first recollection, curiosity, and wanting to study played a big role in my childhood. I was so lucky in this regard, as our school was just across the street. Much of my motivation for study came from my desire to fulfill my mother's dream of attending the university. Mother could not attend college, for her family was far too poor. I did well in my studies, and was accepted and able to attend the University. My love for history was a compelling major, but once again my mother's dream demanded me to remain a "good daughter," so I studied English language instead. Thinking back on my parents, the generation of the 60s so loved American music, American literature, American movies, they loved the USA as a whole, and they transmitted this love to me. For them, America was a beacon of hope, of freedom and of progress, and English was a gateway into this Western paradise. As further indication of my inclination toward English as a means of bridging societies, at about 14 I discovered the Beatles. It was love at the first note. So, this too prompted me to learn what they were singing about, and furthered my desire to learn English. 

St. Petersburg State University corredor
A corridor at what remains of the famous Twelve Collegia, St. Petersburg State University (Public Domain)

So I went to university with an open heart, filled with love for the West, ready to learn, and assured of the superiority of the Western system, culture, economy, and certain that Russia should become part of the Western civilization. For most people in the USSR back then, there was a duality of thinking with regard to our world. On the one hand we were taught to understand and respect our collective past, culture, history, and the ideals upon which our society was based. On the other hand, we were aware of our own isolation from many things, culture and other societies represented by so-called "pop" culture in the West. We did not suffer much from the lack of these things though, we were all too busy you see. 

Book titles by Evgenia Karlova
A few of my English language books

Today, like so many Russians of my generation, I regret being so naive. I've came to the realization of the uniqueness and great value of the Russian civilization for the world. I reason these days of my generation’s (and my own) responsibility toward our country, and the future of my people. I now understand that Russia is not just a country, it's a self-sufficient civilization. It can't be a part of anything and doesn't need to copy other cultures. At the same time I like all other cultures. I believe in diversity! I believe every person matters, every country matters, and it’s diversity that makes the world such a wonderful place to live in. I also believe in English as a bridge between nations, a stepping stone that leads us to understand each other better. When I studied languages at the university, I somehow never thought of becoming a teacher.

Pre-school children hitched together
Pre-school children hitched together about the time I was at this age (Vintage Everyday)

I remember wanting to be a guide, or an interpreter, but since my first year of college,  I had to give private lessons to children to make some money to work my way through school. Ironically it was my work as a guide  that made me love my country! As a guide I had to learn a lot about Russia, its history and culture. I had to attend folk shows that otherwise I would have never gone to, and I discovered the beauty of the traditional Russian dancing and singing. I traveled around the country with my tourists. All this awakened in my heart a great love for my country and a pride for my people.

Leningrad in the 60s
Leningrad in the 60s (Vintage Everyday)

After the university I usually worked as a teacher during the school year and as a guide in the summer, finding time for both things I liked doing. I worked in different places, from schools to language courses, I covered the gambit of experiences and advanced learning. At one point I was sent to Moscow to study the Kitaygorodskaya teaching method. This afforded me a boost, for I worked for a few years within a frame of this method, and then, gradually, developed my own way of teaching. I had never planned to write textbooks, but I discovered by chance I could rhyme anything effortlessly, and this propelled me to write quite a few books to help students overcome the language barrier. 

Fashion in the 80s
By the 1980s we fashions and a lot more changed in the USSR. (English Russia)

My idea was shortening the time to English proficiency, raising the efficiency of teaching through giving information organized in rhymed dialogs, games or short poems. I was trying to appeal to sub-consciousness, to activate the reserves of memory, and to raise the motivation to learn. This was not a brand new idea, to teach through poems and songs,  but I created a system of teaching English from three-year-olds up to advanced learners. This is what makes the system I developed unique, simple, and accessible to the individual student. The method is also "freestyle", inexpensive, and easier for many learners. While my books are not as popular as some, for lack of advertising, they are filled with love and a desire to help students grow. My books are loved my many, and, as a teacher, I have helped build a bridge to another culture for my students. In this way I have served the cause of peace and friendship. I have also served my mother's ultimate dream well too, to have done something good with my life! 

What else can I wish for?

Evgenia Karlova
That's me, the tiny person third from the left

More About Me:

I am the author of over 20 textbooks, and the Creator of a unique suggesto-rhythmic method of teaching spoken English. A graduate of the philological faculty of St. Petersburg State University in 1985, I have worked for over three decades as a translator and teacher of English. 

Additional photo credit: Thanks to the Soviet Era Museum, Vintage Everyday, English Russia, and to The Charnel-House.