All of our Continuing Ed instructors are teaching remotely this winter as we continue to offer virtual classes, but Vsevolod (Seva) Rzhondkovsky will be especially remote. He was travelling overseas when lockdowns went into effect and now finds himself in Porthoustock in Cornwall, England. Come January, this may very well be from where he welcomes students into his Zoom classroom for Italian I. But while many of us got a crash course in Zoom calls and online learning in March, Seva has been teaching virtual classes for a few years and made the transition with ease. We checked in with Seva and learned more about the benefits of virtual classes, as well as how he approaches the challenges.
From what I understand, you’ve been overseas since the pandemic began. Is that right?
Currently, I am in a fishing hamlet Porthoustock in Cornwall, England. I’m staying put because it is a lockdown, so no way out of here, but also to avoid the risk of travel. English lockdown is supposed to end in December.
You will be teaching Italian I virtually beginning in January. What can students expect from a language class taught over Zoom?
Teaching on Zoom has its advantages and disadvantages. I started teaching on Zoom long before the pandemic! Some teaching devices improve with Zoom: whiteboard, screen sharing, exercises. Naturally, there are challenges. The lack of a physical classroom inevitably affects language learning as human communication is not just words. Luckily for my students, adults are less affected by Zoom teaching than children and my classes are geared toward adults who already have some knowledge of English grammar terms.
Establishing contacts for practicing the target language is harder during the pandemic. I pay close attention to interactions in the class and help people to establish study groups. During the pandemic, the opportunities to interact diminish but the desire to communicate and interact increases, so it’s a mixed blessing.
Even before classes transitioned online, some students feel a particular kind of nervousness about learning a language. What advice can you offer students to help overcome that nervousness?
Nervousness is only natural when people start learning a new language. I easily can relate to that and I always keep it in mind. A delicate balance between excitement and calmness is quite productive. A little nervousness is a kind of excitement and, therefore, a lack of indifference. Too much nervousness, on the other hand, can lead to all kind of blocks and impediments. My strategy is to find the productive balance between joyfully excited and calmly self-confident. I try to diminish students’ feelings of vulnerability in a classroom.
You have been teaching with Continuing Ed for over a decade. Generally, how have your classes changed over that period of time?
I feel more connection with my students now. I developed a more empathetic approach over the years as I know how difficult it is to become vulnerable in a class environment. Strangely enough, the pandemic gave people more free time and focus. I have noticed that people who started studying recently tend to be more serious and dedicated. For example, in March of 2020 I started working with an elderly German who has lived most of his life in Australia and the United States. His goal was to learn Italian but lack of formal education, lack of time and lack of focus were impeding his learning process. The pandemic helped him to start working on his “bucket project,” as he put it. Six months of hard work and he is capable of conversing in Italian now!
Top image: Harbour in the Village of Coverack