Teach English in GuAnkou Zhen - Huanggang Shi

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Being an English teacher for people with a different mother language is certainly a rewarding experience. It is a unique opportunity to be the partner in a journey during which you can build something tangible that was not there before. When teaching students from countries like Italy, Spain or France, a teacher may not experience huge challenges in explaining the grammar. Many concepts are similar to the ones you can find in Italian, Spanish or French hence there is a logic already in place in the mind of the students and they can simply apply it to the English language. An interesting surprise may raise when teaching students whose mother language has, for example, Slavic roots. The Czech language belongs to this category. Let`s start by having a quick look to few of the major problems Czech students may experience, then review a number of best practices or tips to support a class (or an individual) during their learning journey. One of the initial challenges a teacher may face is introducing and explaining articles. Czech language does not have any article so “the” or “a” don`t have any equivalent and the students have to understand and accept that, in front of nouns, they have to add something more than what they would normally do. This new concept results in a number or typical mistakes, which are mainly grouped in these two opposite categories: missing articles; putting articles also in places where they are not allowed (e.g. THE Prague). Double letters are, as well, creating some difficulties. This constructs is rarely used in Czech hence not immediate to grasp. Once more, this may result in using doubles inappropriately (e.g. BeLLow). Czech alphabet has 42 letters, few of which specify particular nuances to apply when pronouncing a sound. Furthermore, normally Czech people read every single letter in a word so the concept of “mute” letters is not natural to apply. The two considerations above explain why Czech learners have difficulties in reading English words or write them correctly. The completely different vocabulary is an additional challenge. As a simple example, the Czech word for “computer” is “pocitac”. These large variations often prevent students from understanding even the general context of a reading or listening exercise, which may result in frustration or demotivation. One last aspect I would like to highlight before going thought tips and recommendations is related to culture and history. Czech Republic was part of the set of communist countries connected to Russia. The second language learned in school was primarily Russian so teaching and studying English is a relatively new activity and the number of qualified teachers and supportive parents knowing English (in case of young learners) was, and probably still is, not at the level of other nearby countries. Now that we named some of the main pain points, it is time to look at some good news and share some best practices that could be used by a teacher working in Prague or one of the other cities in the country. Tip number one: familiarize yourself with the Czech language. By knowing how the Czech grammar is structured, what are the main differences compared to English and few key words related to a specific subject, the teacher can plan a number of activities to overcome the predicted difficulties. If the grammar rule or the vocabulary are not too different from Czech, going through the lesson may result relatively easy and fast. If the rule doesn`t have an equivalent in Czech or the vocabulary is completely different, the teacher may integrate additional simple examples, leverage some well-known English songs where the concept/words are utilized, search for additional fun and simple material on the web to practice in a relaxed atmosphere. Tip number two: motivate the students to come with their own tips. Sometime teachers think they are alone in dealing with the class. In reality, many students are very happy to share with the schoolmates tips or intuitions they found particularly handy. A Czech student knows best what are the difficulties a Czech speaking person can face in learning English, so he/she is the best placed to share how he/she overcame the pain. This is rewarding for the person with the good idea, and useful for the rest of the group (teacher included). Tip number three: leverage the way cinemas work in the country. In Czech Republic, it is very easy to have access to movies played in original language. This is not the case in a number of other European countries. A teacher may encourage students to watch movies in English and follow the sub-titles, to understand the general context. This can help tuning the pronunciation, enlarging the vocabulary and understanding the mechanism behind some specific grammar rules. Last tip: provide simple schemes. If you happen to visit a Czech book-shop, you will find a number of schemes or cheat-sheet you can buy. Seeing the Czech grammar is pretty complex, people are used to work with tables or simple representations to summarize a rule and some crucial examples. An English teacher may leverage these kind of working tools, and prepare similar artifacts to summarize key rules, typical mistakes and critical concepts. To summarize the key messages for you to retain: 1) Czech students learning English face a number of challenges, mainly related to the root of their mother language. 2) Acknowledging the challenges is critical for a teacher in order to prepare an effective syllabus with difficult areas highlighted and covered with additional activities. 3) Leveraging additional tools beyond a course book (e.g. movies, peer tips sharing, cheat-sheet) can have a very positive effect on the motivation of the class and the effectiveness of learning. There is only one thing left to say: if you have the chance, go to teach in Czech Republic. You will be amazed by this beautiful country and will have great opportunities to foster your skills as English teacher.