THE SUMMER months are upon us. For some it means a trip abroad or a holiday retreat in Slovakia's mountains for a few weeks. Others refuse to give in to the lazy days of summer, however. They spend their vacation in class, anxious to improve on their foreign language skills.
Of those who enrol in summer classes, some go abroad and immerse themselves in a foreign culture, putting their language skills to the test in every day living situations. Those who prefer to stay on familiar ground now have a variety of schools and teachers to choose from.
Intensive language courses are growing in popularity, according to Zuzana Sehnalová from the Canadian Bilingual Institute. "People in Slovakia appreciate that speaking at least one foreign language fluently is essential within European and global integration," she said.
Summertime is a particularly favourite time to enrol. With summer holidays at their disposal, students can dedicate themselves to learning a language and make vast improvements in a relatively short period of time.
Foreign language institutes in Slovakia face competition from institutes abroad that offer summer intensive courses as well. But time and money is a factor that persuades people to stay home. "We must not forget that language is learned over a period of time. An investment of at least four to six weeks is required," said Marek Poisel from the Education Academy.
Because of the increased competition at home and abroad, the quality of education at Slovakia's language schools has improved.
It used to be that any native speaker could find employment at a language school. Today, however, students are more informed and demanding. They require professionalism and want results. Consequently, institutions have raised the calibre of their instruction, and now gear their curriculum towards internationally reputable certificates.
Learning a foreign language is no longer the sole domain of young people.
People of all ages are enrolling in summer intensive courses. Some well into their career take language courses to enhance their earning potential. Others enrol as a first step in taking a trip abroad.
"The language skills of the older generation Slovaks who previously were only able to learn Russian have significantly improved in last 15 years," Poisel said.
Young Slovaks often speak more than one foreign language. For one, it is easier for them to travel abroad and get exposed to various languages. It is also no longer exceptional for Slovak children to start learning a foreign language in preschool.
Individuals have, in the past, mostly paid for their own language education. As time goes on, however, corporate involvement is pushing to the forefront.
"Some firms finance language courses for employees as a bonus or as an investment strategy," Poisel explains.
Firms often engage language schools to teach specialized courses on site. They are learning that language facility often helps their employees save time, which results in a return on investment.
Still, few argue that the most effective language courses are those that require a financial investment.
The numbers of Slovaks who can afford to enrol in language courses is growing every year. And as firms become more willing to finance their employees' education, more Slovaks are gaining access to foreign language learning.
For those readers considering taking a Slovak language course this summer, here are a few hints from the experts:
Sehnalová: "Total beginners should choose a group course led by an experienced Slovak teacher who is happy and able to explain how the foreign language works. Students don't need to be afraid of learning as everybody in the group will be at the same level and the teacher will engage each student equally. It is never too late to start learning."
Poisel: "I advise beginners to get rid of fear. Language courses are no longer the sole domain of 'young' people, either. Classes are designed to be fun and reduce learning stress. There are also special courses designed for seniors."
27. Jun 2005 at 0:00 | Magdalena MacLeod