Motivation to learn comes in many forms. When speaking about language learning, the inspiring factors for secondary students are clear. Many students in Bratislava intensely study languages motivated by the idea to eventually work, live or study abroad. With a substantial amount of self study and classroom experience for the average student, another key to reaching higher levels of language knowledge is communication with foreign speakers.
Among Slovak teachers in Bratislava can often be found native English teachers. Interaction with native speakers during school years can greatly enhance the cultural and social understanding of students when considering the home country of native teachers, whether it is the U.K., U.S. or South Africa.
“Many native speakers come from areas of the world that students admire and would like to visit someday,” Brooks Guetschow, an American lector at the private secondary school Česká 10, told The Slovak Spectator. “Getting to know a native speaker is one way that they can feel like they better understand the distant land from which he/she originates.”
This creates an initial rapport and interest, essential factors in a positive teacher-student relationship, said Guetschow.
The benefits of learning with a native teacher include the teacher’s ability to give more confidence to Slovaks in comprehension and colloquial usage of English, according to the lectors.
“Books and Slovak teachers can teach all the structure and grammar of English, but a native teacher can teach how the language is really used, simply by modelling normal English when they speak,” Travis Seitsinger of Spojená škola Novohradská told The Slovak Spectator.
Students can pick up on all aspects of the language when listening to a native speaker - the flow, intonation, rhythm, correct pronunciation, idioms, and slang, said Seitsinger. Having practice understanding a native speaker also gives students more confidence in their comprehension of English.
Division by ability
Throughout all grade school classes teachers will find differences in abilities, which is to be expected. In a language classroom this can mean student talk time diminishes along with positive interaction, especially if a students’ overall level of English is falling behind that of classmates. To solve this fundamental problem in education and particularly in a language classroom, Guetschow has some suggestions.
“There seems to be a determined force against categorising individuals according to their performance — and/or talents — in the educational system in Slovakia,” Guetschow said. “I would suggest that those who are failing, or in danger of failing, be given remedial classes, which could include students of varying ages.”
Another option would be, according to him, to offer three levels of study: basic, average, accelerated. There could also be less emphasis on points and tests, he added.
“When conversing with adults who have serious difficulties in English despite five-10 years of it in school, I have found that the vast majority of them were not provided ample speaking time in the classroom," Guetschow said.
Division according to ability is not a new concept; rather it is well-rooted in many Western education structures. But as Guetschow suggested, there seems to be some forces which do not see this option as a solution to solving deficiencies in learning. Instead, allowing students to stay with their class even if his/her language ability is not up to par while in-class behaviour steadily becomes worse is the current solution. Along the chain of command hands seem to be tied when it comes time for making changes to benefit the student(s), Guetschow said.
Additionally students learn in various ways, those falling behind are not necessarily less-able, “an entirely different approach should be taken for those who have great difficulty adapting to a “normal" classroom environment: e.g., a Direct Method, online learning games, online interactive lessons, etc, according to Guetschow, implying that success and functionality must come with flexibility and creativity regarding the learning process.
Secondary education must strive to prepare students for the challenges they will face upon leaving, whether university, work or travel, the benefit of language studies cannot be understated particularly when placed in a global context.
“For Slovaks or anybody really, it is very important to learn a foreign language, with English being the most useful,” said Seitsinger. Adding that outside of Slovakia you will not find many people who can speak Slovak, so it's really necessary to know an international language.
Schools even with limited resources can successfully put students on the right track for their future endeavours. Indeed Slovak society seems to understand the importance and implications of global communication as Guetschow emphasises, “I feel as though the Slovak educational system understands that a strong standing within the EU and the world community means a society fundamentally prepared for the future.”
12. Dec 2014 at 0:00 | Raub Murray