I had the pleasure of spending over 3 weeks with a dear friend of mine, Lucy this summer.
Oh boy, I never realised what a “treat” I was in for. Lucy’s visit has opened my eyes in a very unexpected way when it comes to language education in schools.
Let me explain! Lucy is an English language teacher in a small primary school in the Czech Republic. She came to stay with me in England for few weeks to gain back her confidence and improve her language skills after nearly 5 and half years off work on maternity leave.
Prior to her visit I have arranged for my friends, acquaintances and clients to meet her and talk to her.
I have also found primarily speaking radio station ( you know, the one where they talk about books, politics, movies, plays and other stuff that I personally find mostly boring. But hey, they use nice and proper language and the use of slang or dialects is somewhat limited, so it was kind of fit for the purpose) and I’ve lined up a wide range of movies and programs of various levels of difficulty.
On the day Lucy arrived, I offered to speak only in English to her to allow her to get fully immersed and to get the most of her stay.
I figured, when you come to a country to practice language that would be exactly what you would want, right?
However she politely refused and stuck to our mother tongue – Czech.
Not a problem. There will be plenty of other opportunities for her to get immersed, I thought.
Well, as it turned out there was not. Or rather Lucy was reluctant to make the most of them.
She was shy and afraid of making mistakes.
Three weeks later she left for home and I was left bit unsure whether her visit actually made any difference to her English at all.
To be fair, she did get more confident and she had started to communicate more as the time progressed.
But was that enough for someone who was, upon her return home, to start teaching young minds their second language?
I was not convinced!
This experience had got me thinking and reflecting back on our conversations about the educational system and their approach to languages.
To cut the long story short, in Czech educational system, the main emphasis is on correct use of grammar. The vocabulary is second whilst listening and conversation in the language are often overlooked or there simply isn’t enough time to practice it.
When Lucy was here, she struggled to understand native speakers, because she didn’t have a sufficient vocabulary and on top of that she was over-analysing their use of grammar.
She was certainly not afraid to tell them, if they have made a grammatical mistake and she was comfortable in explaining what mistake they made and how was the sentence supposed to be structured ( after all that is her job, right?)
She missed the point however. Whilst she analysed the sentence, she failed to understand its meaning. That, of course, then led to her inability to respond to it.
It took several grammatical imperfections from my native English speaking friends, for Lucy to finally realize that until she lets go of her quest for perfection, she will struggle to move forward.
However, that still left her in despair. Now she has to go home and teach young children language in accordance to national syllabus, whilst knowing that conversation and ability to understand are actually far superior to grammatical perfection.
Whilst her grammar was perfect (or close to it) she was not prepared to take a risk of making a mistake and speak.
What if she uses the wrong form of the word? Or incorrect ending? What if the succession of her words in sentence is wrong?
Would they lough? Would they judge her?
This is a teacher! If she is afraid to use her skill, how can we expect young kids to go on holiday abroad and perform a conversation in a language that they may have studied couple of times a week for year or two?
But they should! They should be able to speak, to get their point across, to ask for direction or order food in a restaurant.
This experience has prompted me to take action. To, at least, try to do something about it.
Would you guys please help me with it?
I would love to know your experience with learning languages in a school?
Were you able to go out and speak after few lessons or are you stuck with few random phrases and still unable to understand, many years later?
What worked for you and what has put you off?
With your experiences, a bunch of case studies and a bit of research amongst my polyglot friends, I should hopefully be able to put together an appeal for the educational system to improve their way of teaching language ( perhaps not only in the Czech Republic but in other countries also)
Please go wild in comments bellow and ask your friends too. The more the merrier 😉
And don’t forget to subscribe, so that I can keep you in the loop on the progress 😉