WITH the rush for Slovaks to perfect their knowledge of western languages in the run-up to EU entry, foreigners seeking to similarly improve their Slovak are finding it increasingly difficult to find courses for more than a basic level of Slovak.
At first sight, language schools appear to offer a wide variety of classes for learning Slovak, with most schools offering courses in Slovenčina pre cudzincov (Slovak for foreigners).
In Bratislava, the Caledonian School reports that all its Slovak classes last year were full.
However outside the capital, few schools are able to offer such courses regularly, due to the low number of potential students. Those classes which are held tend to be only for beginners and do not offer anything for more advanced students.
"After being in Slovakia for a year, I decided that it was about time to improve my Slovak past the [basic] communicative level I had reached. I called several language schools in my town that offered classes [in Slovak] but all said the classes were not opening that year because there were not enough students. In the end I gave up and took individual lessons," said Andrew Holt, an English teacher.
Elena Vargicová, head of the VAGeS Language School in the western Slovak city of Nitra, explained: "In Nitra, for example, you rarely find the four to six people who are at the same level necessary to form a group, that is probably the problem.
"Normally, companies call asking for lessons on the basis of another language, such as Italian, while another company wants the lessons based in English, so we can't put them together in one group."
In the last ten years her school has never managed to form a group for learning Slovak, but has taught many individuals.
The lack of demand for lessons means that in smaller towns and cities students can expect to pay up to Sk500 (€12) for a 45-minute individual class. Vargicová said that foreign students have unrealistic expectations of the cost of Slovak lessons.
"A lot of the people who phone up wanting individual lessons think that Sk300 (€7.20) is too much for a [45-minute] lesson. Slovaks would not be surprised at paying that price for learning other languages."
Perhaps the best-known provider of Slovak for foreigners is the Institute for Language and Academic Preparation (ÚJOP), a part of Comenius University. It holds courses from a basic level up to that required for studying at university in the Slovak Republic.
For the last thirteen years, the institute has held three-week summer courses in addition to its year-round academic preparation courses, mainly for students studying Slovak in foreign universities. The courses are held in Bratislava and the eastern city of Košice.
Most of the students travel to Slovakia especially for the course. Many have Slovak parents or grandparents.
"The teaching here is unlike that in other schools. The students come with strong motivation. They alone have decided that they will use their holidays to sit in school and learn, or to perfect Slovak," ÚJOP teacher Eva Maierová told Bratislava local evening paper Večerník.
For those who progress to a higher level there is a state examination available for Slovak language and culture. It tests speaking, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, and grammar, as well as knowledge of basic facts about Slovakia, its culture, and literature.
Both ÚJOP and Štátna jazyková škola (State Language School) offer courses leading up to the general state exam in Slovak. The examinations are at an intermediate level and take place twice a year (usually in June and December).
"I would love to take some form of recognised exam in the Slovak language, but having seen Slovak exams for English I dread to think what I'd be expected to know," said Holt.
18. Aug 2003 at 0:00 | Conrad Toft