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E-Slovak for foreigners

ALTHOUGH learning the Slovak language is not usually necessary for those who want to enhance their career prospects or seek business opportunities, many people have a reason and desire to learn the language that some have called the “cleanest” of all Slavic languages. A new, free online course may help these motivated individuals reach their goal.

ALTHOUGH learning the Slovak language is not usually necessary for those who want to enhance their career prospects or seek business opportunities, many people have a reason and desire to learn the language that some have called the “cleanest” of all Slavic languages. A new, free online course may help these motivated individuals reach their goal.

The www.slovake.eu website was officially launched on March 13 and its level A1 Slovak Online course has been available since April 27. The course is free and provides registered users access to course exercises, a dictionary and detailed grammar notes as well as various games to practice the language in a less serious way.

In addition to Slovak, the website is available to learners in five other languages: English, German, Polish, Lithuanian and Esperanto. The project’s coordinator, Edukacia@Internet (E@I) civic association, has experience of providing online language courses: since 2002 it has offered the world’s largest internet portal for learners of Esperanto, www.lernu.net, which operates in 30 languages and has nearly 100,000 registered users.

The A1 Slovak Online course has generated quite a bit of interest after its launch was reported in the domestic media. On the day E@I held a press conference to launch the course over 5,000 people visited the website. As of April 30 the site had 390 registered users and the project had about 500 fans on Facebook.



From Esperanto to Slovak



“Our experience with teaching Esperanto inspired us to try a similar project for national languages too,” Peter Baláž of E@I told The Slovak Spectator. He admitted, however, that personal motives also drove him to pursue the project: his Lithuanian girlfriend had found it nearly impossible to learn Slovak in her homeland.

Her situation illustrates the likely target groups for the online Slovak course: foreigners living in Slovakia or tied to Slovakia in some other way; people living in border regions; ethnic Slovaks living abroad who want to learn or brush-up on their native language; and tourists with the desire to learn the basics of the language before visiting Slovakia.

The coordinators plan to include more exercises on the website and also hope to develop intermediate and advanced courses if finances permit. An A2 level course should appear on the website soon.

“We’ve got a lot of plans but they depend on the finances,” Baláž said, listing the group’s intention to launch B1 and B2 level courses, add new games, exercises and virtual lessons with a lecturer, as well as to include new language mutations on the website.

Foreigners who have attended Slovak language courses have often said that learning Slovak is quite difficult. Nevertheless, Baláž believes it is possible to learn the language while working independently online.

“It’s a question of motivation,” Baláž said, while admitting that there is a difference between online learning of Esperanto and Slovak as he noted that Esperanto is designed to be simple and logical and is therefore easier to learn via the internet.

“But that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to learn national languages in this way as well,” Baláž said. “It just takes longer.”



Still an unexplored area



Good-quality online language courses are quite rare, according to Baláž.

“It’s also a bit sad that states don’t support these things too, especially in the case of less-used languages,” Baláž said, adding that “education, foreign affairs, and culture ministries should care about the promotion and teaching of their own language”.

He told The Slovak Spectator that 75 percent of the costs of the association’s project were covered by a grant from the European Commission.

The budget for the project is assured until October 2011. Then the coordinators will seek new financing possibilities, possibly advertising on the website, sponsorship or other kinds of institutional support.

Baláž told The Slovak Spectator that his association intends to create websites with similar online language courses, saying that E@I has filed a project proposal with the European Commission for online learning of German and that Czech and Polish sites are under consideration as well.


Baláž added that the technical side of an online learning project is not very difficult after the issues of financing are resolved.

“It’s more of a question of enthusiasm, abilities and finances,” Baláž said. “When these three are joined, a good project can be born.”


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