Russian English Speakers are taking part in the Toastmasters International ”Beat the Clock” membership drive. The aim is to attract 5, 10 or 15 new members to the club in May and June.
The leader of the club’s membership drive is Oliver Fish who interviewed the Club President David Marks to get more background on Russian English Speakers and what it means to be a member.
Oliver How did the club come into being?
David The story goes back to the second half of 2011. I had been a member of several Toastmasters clubs in London for a few years, and kept meeting Russian speakers in various English speaking clubs. The thought popped into my head: Would also these people like to extend their Toastmasters experience to Russian?
I have been a fluent Russian speaker for many years, and find it a very expressive, musical language, ideal for powerful speaking. Then I met Anastasia Sherbakova, a member of the ACCA Members club, working at KPMG in Canary Wharf. We had a chat and came up with the idea of a bilingual club, meeting fortnightly at her offices. We had our first ever meeting in January 2012 and quickly realised we had a winning formula. Expat Russians, people from all parts of the former Soviet Union and Russian learners from the British Isles and many other countries were keen to see what this was all about. We grew steadily through 2012, and in June became a Chartered Toastmasters Club with over 20 members.
Oliver Bilingual? How does that work?
David The original concept is that the club is primarily a Toastmasters club, promoting the mission and values of the worldwide organisation. The difference was that our members are free to speak either Russian or English, or a mixture of the two, at every meeting.
Oliver Isn’t that a bit confusing?
David You would think so! However, it works out quite well in practice. We are generally happy when a meeting is 50/50 Russian and English, though sometimes it goes more towards one or the other. We began with the principle of the meeting functional roles and evaluations being in English, so that our General Evaluator, often a non-Russian speaking visitor, will understand the sections to be evaluated. But even that is not a hard and fast rule, sometimes an evaluator will give feedback in Russian. Several times the Toastmaster of the Evening has conducted the meeting exclusively in Russian, whilst the prepared speeches, other roles and evaluations were in either language. I don’t think anyone has complained.
Oliver So what should I expect when I come to a meeting of Russian English Speakers?
David The best way to appreciate a Toastmasters meeting is to experience it, so we don’t like to describe the meeting in too much detail. However, the first thing you will notice is our friendliness. We aim to greet everyone warmly, ask them about themselves and their interest in public speaking. Many friendships have been formed in Toastmasters, and not a few marriages! The activities at a meeting are speaking, listening, thinking and giving feedback. Our members follow a programme of learning in all these areas, and our visitors get a taste of this, and obviously are able to listen to everything. We aim to have three or four prepared speeches and we have heard some hilarious, informative and inspirational contributions. Visitors often look forward to the Table Topics section, which challenges the speaker to give a mini-speech lasting up to two minutes on an unknown topic.
Oliver What else is there to look forward to?
David The meeting takes place in a classic pub which makes it ideal for socialising after meetings. We also have various kinds of MeetUps with a Russian twist. For example, we have had Table Topics festivals, country hikes, picnics in the park and we plan to kick off our membership drive with a Russian language comedy evening. Some of our members get together for weekend trips away to explore British cities and countryside.
Oliver We are looking to welcome up to 15 new members during May and June. Who are ideal candidates for membership of Russian English Speakers?
David Groucho Marx famously said – “I would not join any club which would have me as a member”. We say the opposite; anyone who feels at home with us is an ideal member. To be more specific, we welcome:
- Existing or former Toastmasters members who speak Russian or have an active interest in Russian language and culture
- Native Russian speakers who are working in London and would like to extend their circle of friends and improve their English
- Learners of Russian who would like to stretch their ability to speak to a group in Russian, with helpful feedback from native speakers
- Anyone, native speakers of Russian or any other language, who would like to overcome shyness and develop their presentation skills
- Native Russian speakers and advanced learners who aspire to deliver beautiful and powerful speeches in Russian.
Oliver One Russian guy I spoke to said he really wants to practice his English
David A lot of our native Russian speaking members felt this way when they first joined, and found the environment perfect. Most of their early speeches and contributions were in English, and they got very helpful feedback from native English speakers to correct their pronunciation or extend their vocabulary. Later, they tried making a speech in their own language and it was an interesting experience for them. Of course, just because you grew up speaking a language it does not mean you are an effective speaker. After all, most of the500,000 Toastmasters members round the world are using their native language!
Oliver Do our members need to be advanced Russian learners?
David Of course not. Since the beginning we have always had some members who are beginners or intermediate learners. Some of our outstanding members very rarely speak Russian, but they listen to a lot. I believe that listening to people using a living language is step one tobecoming fluent, and our club gives a lot of opportunities for this. We have occasionally had members whose English is very basic, with very little confidence. This is also fine, as long as
everyone respects the principle of the bilingual nature of the club.
Oliver So what is the next step?
David Our existing members should put the word out to Russian speakers in other clubs and among their friends and invite them to our May meetings (Mondays 16 and 23). Anyone who hears about the club should sign up on Meetup, Facebook or our website, and just come along to our May meetings. They can be sure of a warm welcome!
Oliver Thank you David, or should I say – Mr President!