English - no longer a hobby

With the fall of communism in 1989, the social and political orientation of Slovakia shifted from the east towards the west. This shift brought in its wake a flood of language schools which taught little-known western languages and thrived on the free market.
In straw poll conducted by The Slovak Spectator this month, 90% of the language schools surveyed and now operating in Bratislava opened for business in the 1990's. Furthermore, all but one of these schools reported a dramatic increase in the number of students attending their classes since they opened to the public.


Serious business. Language schools say that almost 95% of their students learn English to help their careers, not as a pastime.
photo: Courtesy of British Council

With the fall of communism in 1989, the social and political orientation of Slovakia shifted from the east towards the west. This shift brought in its wake a flood of language schools which taught little-known western languages and thrived on the free market.

In straw poll conducted by The Slovak Spectator this month, 90% of the language schools surveyed and now operating in Bratislava opened for business in the 1990's. Furthermore, all but one of these schools reported a dramatic increase in the number of students attending their classes since they opened to the public.

Liz McCubbin, director of studies at Akadémia Vzdelávania, said that her school's growth has been significant. "When we started in 1991, we had only three English teachers. Now we have 25, and people are on waiting lists for classes," she said.

Simon Hunt, teaching centre manager for the British Council, has also reported a dramatic increase in attendance. "I believe that the increase is related to the fact that businesses are looking westwards," he opined.

Looking West

With the arrival of western companies on the eastern European market, employees were forced to learn western languages, mainly English and German, say human resources firms in Bratislava.

Stanislav Fančovič, currently a consultant for the human resources company Take It but formerly a sales manager for Berlitz language school, stated that knowledge of a language is very important in today's market. "English is a must, and German is a plus," he said. Other consultants from Jenewein International, H. Neumann International and Agentura Start all agreed that the ability to speak languages was not only beneficial, but even necessary for many jobs.

Language school directors have seen the results. Andrew Miller founded Slovpro school in 1995 and has since seen his teaching staff grow to over 20. Ten native English speakers teach over 200 students, mainly at large corporations. "People who speak languages demand and deserve more money. Even some German companies are switching to English. Our number of students has been increasing because we mainly teach at big companies, and these people have to speak English," Miller recorded.

Štátna language school, founded in 1954, is currently Bratislava's oldest and largest school in terms of students. Ironically, it is also the only school that has reported a drop-off in students recently. "During socialism, we had no competition," said school director Sida Horváthová. "Even with the competition though, we still have the most students."

Horváthová shares the belief that more people are learning languages as a result of professional aspirations. "People are looking for jobs, and when you want a good job, you need a language. In the past it was just a hobby or an interest. Now it is a necessity. And English is usually the one they need," she said. In fact, every language school surveyed reported that English was the most requested language.

"At the Academy, we ask all our students why they study languages, and I would say that less than 5% study just as a hobby," McCubbin said. "Students are studying for their future careers and others for their current professional careers."

The British Council's Hunt also cited professional motives as number one, but added "not only is people's professional focus shifting, but the focus in travel and culture is also shifting west." McCubbin concurred, saying that "this is particularly true among teenagers who want to join programmes like Camp America, for example, or go to Britain as an au-pair."

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