Number one for English language teachers

Czech Republic: An overview

A Czech teacher gives an honest account of life in Prague.

The Czech Republic is situated in the middle of Europe and has a population of 10 million inhabitants. There are many spots of great natural beauty in our country. Czech costume jewellery, glass and spas are world-famous. The capital of Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and is highly popular with tourists. You can call it a museum of all possible architecture styles. Cultural heritage is very rich and it can offer the world many outstanding values. Since the "velvet revolution“ in November 1989 our republic has been going through a lot of changes from the "socialist“ era to become a member of the European Union. Unfortunately, the country still suffers from a lack of political and moral culture.

The government has to solve a lot of social and economical problems but it is also trying to pay attention to education. The government is supposed to transform the educational system within a few years. However, the old system seems to be very resistant to changes.

School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 or 7 and 14 or 15. Pupils of that age attend mainly comprehensive basic schools, which can be state, private or church. Some pupils at the age of 11, who pass a special examination, go to grammar schools. The school day lasts from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. The school year begins in September; it ends in June and is divided into two terms. At the end of each term pupils or students get school reports with marks from 1 to 5 (1 is the best). Each class has 20-30 students and, for some subjects, each class is divided into two groups (for English for example). Plenty of children take up extra after-school activities such as learning to play a musical instrument, dancing classes, crafts or ceramics, doing sports or attending extra language classes.

School education has a long tradition in our country. Basic school attendance has been compulsory since 1774. You may know the name of Jan Amos Comenius who can be called Father of Modern Pedagogy. He lived and worked in 17th century and wrote a lot of books on education. His opinions on foreign language teaching were very progressive. He used pictures and also the mother tongue for little children and for beginners. His most famous works were Orbis Pictus and Didactica Magna.

Unfortunately, despite a long tradition the education in our country is a little old-fashioned. The most widely accepted method is rote-learning and pupils have to memorise a lot of facts.

New teachers are prepared at Teacher Training Colleges and they get Master‘s Degree after 5 years. Not every newly graduated teacher fires his or her enthusiasm for teaching at schools. Well-qualified teachers often look for better-paid job opportunities, for example as sales representatives for business or medical companies. Relatively low salaries in our education system make a big problem for young people. They are often not able to make a living for their families. It has been even a theme of a few comedies on TV recently. Therefore there is chronic lack of foreign language teachers. Many of the teachers are untrained in EFL. They might have graduated from the Teacher‘s Training College in P.E., Russian or other subjects and they have to teach English.

As our country borders Germany and Austria, parents and children preferred German to English only a few years ago. However, English has become the number one language recently.

In most schools children begin to learn English (or German or French) at the age of 9 or 10 in form 4. By that time children are supposed to be good enough at Czech. Some schools offer foreign language in form 3 or even 1. The beginners often start with audio-oral programme. They listen to tapes, learn by heart chants and short conversation on everyday topics. They draw and colour pictures with family members, with school and house objects and sing songs. After that a textbook is used.

Every school can choose between home or foreign authors. There are bookshops dedicated to teaching materials with a wide choice from various foreign publishers. Local representatives of the publishing companies organise seminars on EFL methodology and new textbooks. However, some teachers do not attend these seminars because they are afraid of speaking English in front of an adult audience. Many Czech teachers used to learn solely from textbooks. They had minimum contact with native speakers and they feel that their aural and oral skills are weak. The grammar-translation method prevailed in Czech schools not long ago and students strove to make no mistakes and therefore they are scared of speaking. These teachers often learn only vocabulary and grammar, they use mainly mother tongue in class and textbooks and workbooks with a lot of exercises are their safety belts. The choice of books depends on the finances of schools and these are not optimal.

Another problem seems to be the lack of lessons for foreign language in our school curriculum. In most schools there are 3 lessons in a week, each 45 minutes long.

In my opinion, the results of foreign language teaching are not very satisfying and this situation is getting better only very slowly.

Many teachers in our country are working in unfavourable conditions. Despite these conditions, there are many teachers who experiment with new approaches to the teaching of foreign languages. Now more and more schools can use computers and Internet and thanks such a project as onestopenglish our teaching seems to be easier and more amusing for students.

Greetings from Prague

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