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Learning through singing

SINCE the times of Plato’s Academy, thousands of papers have been written about the ways of keeping pupils interested in the subject matter in spite of all the temptations lurking outside the school window. Vojtech Kresťanko, the founder of the Bratislava-based Modern English Language School, did not wait for researchers or curriculum writers to do his job: he came up with his own method and the results speak for themselves.

SINCE the times of Plato’s Academy, thousands of papers have been written about the ways of keeping pupils interested in the subject matter in spite of all the temptations lurking outside the school window. Vojtech Kresťanko, the founder of the Bratislava-based Modern English Language School, did not wait for researchers or curriculum writers to do his job: he came up with his own method and the results speak for themselves.

A few days ago, the ninth album of the series entitled “English in Songs” was released by Slovak Radio Records. The project, in which Kresťanko has involved renowned composer Ali Brezovský, several colleagues from language schools and many young singers, was launched in 1999, having so far produced 54 songs with texts in English, as well as occasionally in Slovak, French, Hungarian or Italian.

An English teacher and amateur musician, Kresťanko started using a piano in his class when he realised it helped his students in memorising words and phrases. And he has had enough time to verify whether this really works, for neither dozens, nor hundreds, but five thousand students have attended his lessons over his 42-year career.

“By singing and repeating sentences in English, pupils unconsciously absorb correct pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar,” he told The Slovak Spectator. “Five-year-olds can thus learn, for example, how to use articles even though they probably would not understand the textbook explanation.”

Sidónia Horváthová, director of the Language School in Bratislava and one of the project’s advisors, agreed.

“This method propels teaching into a completely new direction,” she remarked. “Children usually expect that school only requires drill and hard work, and they of course appreciate finding out the contrary. One remembers best what one wants to remember, and these songs, being extremely catchy, are a good way to make pupils motivated.”

Indeed, the songs are remarkably melodic. Those on the recent release include originals written mostly by Kresťanko and Brezovský, and some traditional songs such as On Top of Old Smoky, Mulberry Bush and Jingle Bells.

But the songs do not resound only within the premises of language schools. After the release of each CD, a couple of concerts are usually held in the capital. Interestingly, the songs are not performed only by the voices from the albums, but also by the attendees themselves.

“The children rehearse some of our songs beforehand with their teachers and then join the performance,” Kresťanko said. “Since the beginnings of the project, a total of more than 12,000 pupils have taken part in these concerts. It is a wonderful feeling to see literally hundreds of these little learners singing and having fun together, on the stage as well as in the auditorium.”

In the years to come, Kresťanko wishes to promote his work so that more teachers can take advantage of his experience, and above all attract even more children.

“The last concert was also attended by several pupils of mine who are mentally challenged,” he said. “They sang and applauded and danced, and were obviously so happy that they forgot their problems for a while. I then reassured myself that a good teacher should be able to motivate all students, no matter whether they are gifted or not. This conviction fills me with energy to continue.”

English in Songs: Dancing is available through the Oxico bookstore at the State Language School, Palisády 38 or at the Modern English Language School (JŠMA), Sekurisova 25. For more information, call 0911/ 606-400.

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