Jokes aside, English teaching has progressed
I read your article on expat teachers ["Strange beasts: A decade of expat teachers," By Tom Nicholson, Vol. 6 No. 2, Jan. 17-23] with great interest. I appreciate the sentiment of fondness in which your article was written and I realise that the focus of the article was on expats who have passed through Slovakia in the past decade, but I feel it would be unfair to current practitioners not to add a postscript about the state of play today, which would lend your article more balance.
We have moved a long way from "the joke lesson plans, the laughable grammar explanations, the bumbling improvisation, chaos and confusion" you mention.
It is one thing knowing how to speak a language, another thing knowing the rules under which it operates, yet another thing being able to communicate these to speakers of other languages and yet another thing still being able to do this in an interesting and motivating way. And this does not take into account the special needs of children or those who require English for business or other specific purposes.
You write that in the past, teachers "received little guidance from their employers." However, over the last decade the number of institutions in Slovakia who only employ highly qualified, professional and experienced teachers and are also committed to continued professional development of their staff has grown enormously. This is due partly to increased competition within the market, but also to increased customer sophistication and expectations.
At the British Council, we aim to offer English classes of the highest possible standard to meet these demands, but more importantly we also have a number of programmes and advisors throughout Slovakia working in the area of public sector teacher training. This activity has been highly successful, to the extent that there is now a cadre of extremely good Slovak teacher trainers who are well respected in the region and are often called upon to deliver training in other countries even though English is not their native language.
There will always be cowboys in every industry, but luckily there is now enough regulation in this one for customers/students not to feel that they are gambling with their money or wasting their time when they decide to learn English.
Teaching Centre Manager
The British Council, Bratislava
Expat's teaching experience deeply enriching
I have just read your article on us "Strange Beasts," the expat teachers, and found it very amusing. I had the privilege of teaching for a year in Banská Bystrica, and was made to feel very welcome in spite of my shortcomings. While some of my colleagues were a bit eccentric, there were also many diligent and talented people among them.
I hope more people will be able to share the same experience that I did, as it was one of the most enriching of my life.
Slovakia should make entry conditions easier
A Slovak from Texas wrote about how America was no different in making it hard for foreigners to stay there [Letters to the Editor, Vol. 6 No. 2, Jan. 17-23].
This is true, but here in the US we have no shortage of people trying to get in (many of my Slovak students had the goal of coming here). Plus, Slovakia could obviously use a bit of the expertise foreigners bring. They should be encouraging such immigration.
Los Angeles, CA
Tax incentives law explained
Two weeks ago, The Slovak Spectator published a front page article on tax incentives for foreign investors as approved in the new Slovak income tax law effective January 1, 2000 ["Tax incentives fail to inspire investors," By Keith Miller, Vol. 6 No. 2, January 17-23].
The new law has indeed brought in a few favourable changes. It now supports not only firms making goods for export, but also businesses making goods that were not manufactured in Slovakia before. In addition, businesses other than joint stock companies now qualify for the incentives.
On the other hand, the new tax credit rules, in keeping with the aims of the previous law, do not actually stimulate companies which have operated in Slovakia for a longer period of time.
Even though the law now states that the tax holidays apply to companies established before December 31, 2002, it also states that "the 100% reduction of the tax declared in the tax return shall be granted for five consecutive tax periods, starting from the one in which the first tax base and tax due were declared by the taxpayer following the effective date of the law."
This condition can be interpreted in two ways, as confirmed by several experienced lawyers. Firstly, it can imply that the tax credit is available only to entities which have so far not been paying any Slovak corporate income tax. Secondly, it might imply that once the qualifying corporate entity declares a positive tax base any time in the period after January 1, 2000, it is able to apply for the tax credit. Unfortunately, the first interpretation is the one preferred by the Ministry of Finance.
The main reason for this is simply that the main aim of the foreign investment tax incentive remains attracting new foreign investors to Slovakia, while maintaining the current economic and tax potential of investors already present in the country.
As a result, businesses that have been operating in Slovakia for a longer period (such as the Emerson Electric firm mentioned in the article two weeks ago) will not be eligible for the tax holidays unless they have been declaring only negative tax bases in their corporate income tax returns until the year 1999.
tax advisor and partner,
BMB Partners, Bratislava