The more foreign languages you speak, the better

ESPERANTO, the world’s most famous made-up language, is still alive and well in Slovakia and around the world. In recent years, the number of people who use the language has been growing.

Internet helps keep Esperanto alive

ESPERANTO, the world’s most famous made-up language, is still alive and well in Slovakia and around the world. In recent years, the number of people who use the language has been growing.

It was mainly the internet that raised interest in the international language, created in the late 19th century, by letting people worldwide communicate in Esperanto. There are more articles written in Esperanto on Wikipedia, the online information website, than in Slovak or Czech, Peter Baláž of Slovak Esperanto Youth told the ČTK newswire.

“There are hundreds of active Esperanto users in Slovakia,” Baláž estimated. “Slovaks who know the language can be counted in the thousands.”

Interest in Esperanto courses is also high, he said. A course held in Pribylina at the end of July was attended by more than 60 people from 11 countries.

Esperanto has a lengthy tradition in Slovakia. Its fans recently commemorated 100 years since the first book in Esperanto was published here.

Stanislav Marček, who edits the worldwide magazine of the international Universala Esperanto Association, thinks interest in Esperanto started declining after the regime changed in 1989. But the trend is not just limited to Esperanto, he said – after the Velvet Revolution, people have been more interested in earning money than in hobbies.

But the internet has helped revive Esperanto. Dozens of websites use this language, and it’s easier for people who use Esperanto to communicate.

The language has supporters among the country’s young people, as the Slovak Esperanto Youth group proves, the Hospodárske Noviny economic daily wrote on its website.

“These young people are well aware of the fact that an international language is needed, which could be used by people worldwide,” said Jarmila Rechtorisová from the Slovak Esperanto Association.

Esperanto was created 120 years ago as a neutral language that wouldn’t promote or disadvantage any nation. It sounds most like Spanish and Italian.

“Its core consists 75 percent of Latin languages, and the rest is from Germanic or Slavonic languages,” Rechtorisová said.

For example, Slavonic languages gave Esperanto its word order, which is not fixed but flexible, she said.

Anyone with an average amount of talent can learn to read and speak in Esperanto in six months, Rechtorisová said.

“It is the easiest of all languages,” she said. “It is a logical one, as it has no exceptions, and it is also neutral.”

People can learn Slovak online

FOREIGNERS who wish to learn Slovak can now turn to the internet. Studia Academica Slovaca (SAS) has created a Slovak e-learning course, available at, the SITA newswire wrote.

The Slovak as Foreign Language programme is meant for absolute beginners and beginners. Students join the main characters – Róbert, Carlo, Zuzana and Johanna – in town, at work, and with their friends and families.

“There are dialogues there and pictures,” said SAS head Jana Pekarovičová. “Learners can work interactively, be corrected immediately, get answers on whether they are right or wrong. It means this is a programme that can help them gain language competence in Slovak.”

The site also includes grammar, vocabulary, and facts about life in Slovakia. The primary language of the course is English.

SAS is a research and teaching institute of the Fine Arts School of Commenius University in Bratislava. The programme for all language levels is being created in co-operation with the Education Ministry.

Graduates can be compensated for language exams

SECONDARY school graduates who passed their A- and O-level graduation exams this year can ask the Education Ministry to reimburse them for their language certificate.

The ministry will subsidise those who took their language exams in English, French, Spanish or Italian at the most complex A-level, the SITA newswire wrote. Applications for subsidies must be sent to one of the eight Regional School Offices by December 10 at the latest.

Graduates must also place in the top half of the “success chart” to be eligible for the subsidy, placing in the first half out of all the students who take the exam. That means they must score at least 50 percent. The certificate had to be gained during this year.

The ministry will pay subsidies of up to Sk5,000 (€150).

Applicants can find the list of language certificates accepted by the Education Ministry on the ministry website, They include the English TOEFL, the German Zentrale Oberstufen-pruefung, and the French DELF.

Magazine helps kids bridge Slovak-Czech language gap

A CHILDREN’S magazine launched in Slovakia and the Czech Republic this October aims to help kids in the two countries overcome their language barriers.

The monthly Euro Školák (Euro Student) is aimed mainly at primary school students. Eventually, similar magazines for kindergarten children and senior elementary school students will also be created, the publisher said.

“Children in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are gradually losing touch with their neighbouring language,” Miroslav Bezděk from Plenkall company, the company that publishes the magazine, told the ČTK newswire. “Thanks to the magazine, children can playfully learn to know the absolutely different vocabularies of both languages.”

The monthly will be issued during the school year, he said. It will grow from its current 28 pages to about 40 pages in January.

According to Bezděk, schools in Slovakia and the Czech Republic have showed interest in the magazine, which can also be bought at newsstands. One issue costs about Sk19.50 (60 eurocents).

Some linguists say Slovaks understand Czech better than Czechs understand Slovak, as Slovak television broadcasts more programmes in Czech than the other way around. Czech books, newspapers and magazines are said to be more accessible in Slovakia than vice-versa.

However, the Slovak language has gradually started to appear in Czech schools. For instance, the Pedagogical Research Institute created a special project with linguistics experts that uses work sheets to teach Slovak to senior elementary students in an interesting and enjoyable way. Thus, children can learn about the life and culture of their neighbouring country.

In Slovakia, a similar project is not yet in sight.

Students learn English better than German

STUDENTS at Slovak elementary schools are doing better at learning English than they are at German, a poll of the State School Inspection office, which supervises teachers, showed.

Students had a success rate of 49.7 percent in German, and 63.7 percent in English, the head of the office, Mária Rychnavská, told the SITA newswire. The results of the poll are not satisfactory, she added.

“German also did worse because it is chosen by students with worse grades,” Rychnavská explained.

Insufficient language skills can be caused by language teachers’ poor expertise, high staff turnover, and an improper choice of teaching methods. After the results of this report are analysed, it will be clear how language teaching has failed, the office said.

The poll’s results will be submitted to the Education Ministry and State Pedagogical Institute, and they will be in charge of taking the necessary measures to improve the foreign language teaching at schools.

The first poll studying the quality of English and German instruction was made at 127 primary schools. The English test was taken by 1,746 students, and 1,129 students took the German test.

The Education Ministry plans to introduce a new model for foreign language teaching. Students would be required to learn a foreign language starting in the third grade, and they could choose another foreign language in the fifth grade.

According to the documents approved by the government, schools have about 1,800 fewer foreign language teachers than they need.

Erasmus programme has attracted 5,000 Slovak students

SINCE 1998, 5,000 Slovak university students have taken part in the Erasmus international educational programme.

Students and their tutors most often chose German and Czech universities for their scholarship stays or fellowships, the news website wrote on November 24.

According to the lecturers, one of the main reasons for that is students’ language limitations.

“It is vital for our universities to improve language education so that students do not lose time abroad learning the language,” Peter Osuský, vice-rector of Comenius University in Bratislava, said during a seminar about the Erasmus programme.

Slovak students taking part in Erasmus are most interested in scholarships in the field of management, all kinds of engineering, languages and medicine. They show the least interest in information sciences, communication, natural sciences and teaching.

Across Europe, a million and a half students and lecturers have taken part in the Erasmus programme in its 20-year existence. Experts expect that the number will double by 2012.

The average grant a student can obtain for a five-month scholarship is €296, which is about Sk9,400. The Slovak Education Ministry co-finances every student with an extra Sk2,700.

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