When borders opened in 1989 Czechs took to learning languages with a vengeance. Foreign books and magazines, the possibility to travel and meet with foreigners -both here and abroad -fuelled interest in acquiring these skills. Foreign language schools mushroomed and a vast number of people offered to teach a foreign language as an additional source of income. Czech schools, which mostly had Russian teachers on staff, jumped at the opportunity to employ native English speakers - most of whom were not qualified to teach but made an impression on parents with their accent and friendly and liberal approach. Thirteen years on, Czechs are becoming aware of the need to learn foreign languages properly and acquire some sort of certificate at the end of the road. But how do you pick the right school, among so many? The newly established Association of Czech Language Schools aims to act as a watchdog and guide in this process. Andrea Krizkova is the associations' chairwoman:
"Quite a lot of Czech people try to find a language school, try to find a teacher, or simply someone who would teach them, but it is rather sad - although understandable - that the first question is: how much is the course? How much would I have to pay? We are able to provide that information but we also say to our students: mind you, you have to ask who will teach you, what books will be used, what will the entrance exam be like, what will the final exam be like and will you receive some sort of certificate at the end of your studies. These are questions that Czech students still do not ask."
How have teaching techniques changes over the past ten years and is one of the conditions that you stipulate for quality language schools that they should employ native speakers?
"Well, native speakers are really important to provide students with the right accent, with the culture of a country, with its literature, but it is very important -a must - that the native speaker should be a qualified teacher. They must have a teacher training course. It is not enough to just be a native speaker of a language. In the early 90s the so called "communicative approach" to language teaching was very popular. It was considered vital for students to learn to speak. But what many people failed to realize is that communication is reading, writing and listening as well. A good school actually teaches all four language skills and if you want to get an internationally recognized certificate you are always tested in all four language skills."
It seems that you set up this organization at a very appropriate time. With the country scheduled to join the EU next year, more and more Czechs will be working for foreign companies and will need to speak foreign languages well. Are there similar associations abroad - in the EU states or Eastern Europe?
"Yes, there are. In fact we are the last country in the post communist block to establish an association of this kind."
Why do you think that is so?
"Czech people are not fond of joining organizations you know, because under communism that sort of thing was obligatory. I remember that in the early 90s we tried to set up an association of English teachers within the Czech Republic, but at the time there was no response whatsoever, no interest in the plan. I think people felt that such an association would restrict them but I think that by now people will have realized that there are good restrictions, restrictions which guarantee quality. I think people now realize that it is a must to join an association of this kind in order to prove that they are a quality language school."
For more information about the association please go to: www.ajscr.cz
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