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“Silly Girl From a Village”, the Brain Behind an Epic Birthday Video

Karma. A Buddhist concept that translates to the English saying: what goes round comes around. Julia started learning English in a small city in the Ukraine, Hola Prystan, receiving support from her first mentor. After being away from her town, and after a nine-year break from learning she returned to give the positive energy back — to her new mentor and teacher, on HelloTalk.

By Julia Kazhan

First Mentor: Lucky Strike

Like many people in Eastern Europe I started learning English at school and never had an opportunity to practice it elsewhere. However, perhaps unlike many other learners, I was lucky in one respect. My first teacher, Vladimir Efimovich, built the foundation of my English, and I remember him to this day.

The source of his competence? Combining personal attention and language expertise. Because, he had been educated in the USA, he also had an impressive accent. His classes were centred around listening and speaking. During class we would listen to songs and fairy tales on tape.

What’s more important, he always helped the students with his kindness. I’d say he was a joker, but the truth is he wasn’t just funny, he made each lesson like an engaging comedy movie. We never felt bored.

He also gave all students nicknames. Mine was Maruska — a name associated with a simple, silly girl from a village.

When I did something wrong, he’d exclaim with a sigh: “От Маруся/Маруська!” – “Such a Marusya/Maruska!”

During class we only spoke English, but after class, there weren’t any opportunities to practice speaking. I’d watch TV, and even though the foreign shows in Russia are produced with a voice-over, I still feel it helped me improve. At least I could hear native English pronunciation in the background.

After ten years, when I finished school, I took a nine-year break from leaning. I only restarted a year ago. Interestingly, it happened when I moved back to Hola Prystan, the same small city where I went to school.

Motivational Kick

One day my husband, Vladimir, and I decided we wanted to move abroad. It’s obvious English is necessary for that, even if it’s just to travel. Without knowing English it’s impossible to communicate, and I want to travel to so many places. The Netherlands fascinates me culturally, Switzerland with its beautiful nature… I want to go everywhere!

So, we started reviewing and learning together.

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First we focused on grammar. Without a grammar base I wouldn’t want to try talking. I’m using a couple of apps to learn grammar, LinguaLeo, Polyglot16 and Polyglot32. Whenever I watch any English-language shows or films it’s only with subtitles. At the same time I know that without trying to speak and use the grammar, any knowledge would disappear during a conversation.

After we felt more comfortable with grammar, we started looking for occasions to practice. Our town is very small, there are no native speakers here. When Vladimir found HelloTalk it was an ideal solution for what we are looking for. We were both surprised how convenient it was to chat, translate, save — all in the same app.

A couple of days after installing the app I posted a Moment which got corrected by someone called Arcady. I visited his profile and saw he not only posts very informative Moments, with pictures and audio recordings but also knows Russian really well. I noticed he runs a teaching group. So I joined it.

That’s the Moment when the connection started between Julia and Arcady started.

Second Mentor: Hello Arcady

From day one I felt welcomed in the teaching group, both by other members and by Arcady. His English tasks are designed to help us build stronger connections and get to know one another. For example, once we were all asked to share a funny story related to our lives.

Through sharing personal stories people quickly build strong connections. We have members from Russia, India, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, the Ukraine, China, Vietnam, and from England! But, sometimes I forget the geographical difference among us. It feels like we’re so near, so close.

Arcady supports every conversation and helps people on different levels participate. He always repeats we should not be afraid of speaking and, just like my primary school teacher, he jokes a lot. His gift is to make people feel comfortable.

He is also pretty strict and can kick people out from the group. They miss an assignment, they disappear forever! And, we don’t know where they go…

Giving Back

Maybe I‘m a little crazy, but now HelloTalk is the first app I check in the morning and the last one I check before I go to bed. All my free time now is spent in the HelloTalk group!

My life now is: work, HelloTalk, bed!

The learning group, and the connections I have built through it have an important place in my life. So, when I learnt Arcady’s birthday was coming up, it was important to me to honor him. He made an effort to connect us all in the app, and so we decided to unite to do something for him in return.

We created a secret group. It included all members except for Arcady. We decided to jointly produce a video with birthday wishes. The preparations took three weeks, and as we got closer to the date, we had to discuss so many things! There were many ideas regarding the choice of a song, and the role each person would play. It was a collaborative effort where everyone used their talents — Stas brought the clips together, Luda made a photo collage, other people suggested music.

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I spent a lot of time individually communicating with group members and updating everyone about the plan. It was essential to make sure, everyone was on the same page, and no one would confuse the teaching group with the birthday one! The project occupied my mind a lot. So much so, I even had a nightmare what someone added Arcady to our secret group!

Most exciting was the moment when we congratulated him. We sent the collage at midnight, and wanted to wait until the morning to share the video. But, we could not wait that long! He was awake anyway, celebrating.

We pressed sent and waited.

His reaction was incredible, better than we could have imagined. He sent several video replies, was surprised, grateful, and moved. It was the best reward for our efforts.I was happier on his birthday than I was for my own. His response charged all of us with positive energy, I was smiling the whole day!

Having a community of people to speak with motivates me a lot.

I would usually be lazy about speaking, but interacting with the group forces me to think in English, and to progress. Preparing the birthday surprise was also an important challenge, as we had to explain our decisions to each other in English.

This HelloTalk group is my greatest opportunity to talk to people and to hear different accents. In each part of the world people have different ways of speaking, and if I want to travel the world, I need to get used to it. Where I live is a very small city, I wouldn’t find it here.

Looks like Julia will not leave HelloTalk for a while! We spoke to Arcady too, he does indeed have a lot of charisma to keep people engaged. We’re keeping fingers crossed for Julia and Vladimir to soon leave Hola Prystan and use their English skills to explore the world.

For a fun finish, here is Julia’s cat Toby.

Interviewed (through HelloTalk video call ?) and written by Marta Krzeminska

? Follow Julia on HelloTalk.

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