Three Months and Improving Rapidly: English in Gurjaani

Posted on April 12, 2012 by

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Even though I’ve only been in Georgia for about three months, I’ve noticed spoken English improving not only among kids at school, but among people in town as well. For the most part, people in my Qartuli home, the town of Gurjaani, are accustomed to having foreign visitors. (I am the sixth volunteer English teacher at my school—after three Peace Corps volunteers and two TLG volunteers.) There are four public schools in town, as well as one in each of the surrounding villages, each of which has, or has had, a volunteer English teacher. That being said, every new foreigner is a novelty here, and many people go out of their way to speak to us, using all of the English they know. It’s wonderful to hear even the smallest attempts at English from random people on the street. (In one case, someone spoke Spanish to me—I was walking to the store with my host mother, and I got an “hola” instead of a “hello.” We still laugh about it, because I am just about the farthest you can get from Hispanic-looking. . . ! Still, I applaud their effort.) Overall, though, I’ve been impressed at the amount people know, and it’s so pleasant to be able to take a break from bumbling around in broken Georgian and switch to my mother tongue.

In my immediate (host) family, everyone is learning English for different reasons. My host mother is learning for her job—she’s a guide at our village museum (which I intend to write about in a future post; it’s a museum dedicated to Nato Vachnadze, a silent film star) so knowing English will benefit her as well as the museum. One of our big projects this year will be translating all of the museum’s annotations and informational materials into English. My host sister and cousin both want to do university or postgraduate study in the United States, so English is important for them as well. Both are nearly fluent already, but having a native speaker to communicate with on a regular basis has been excellent—especially for learning English’s nuances and subtleties. As for my host father, well, he’s learning slowly. He can say important things like “Come here!”, “Sit down!”, and “Eat ice cream!” I mean, really, that’s all the English you need to know, no? He’s enthusiastic, though, and he’ll get there soon. In the meantime, we’ll continue speaking what I’ve dubbed ქართულengский (Kartul-eng-skij), our hybrid language of Kartuli, English, and Russian.

I’ll be here until December (perhaps longer!), and I hope to see English use continue to increase. There are many days when I feel discouraged, and wonder whether or not English will actually be beneficial to some of my students in the future—especially if they’re from communities where little to no English is spoken in the first place, and thus have few opportunities to practice. It’s easy to lose a language when you don’t speak it often. But, I rest assured that as long as I help at least one student with speaking, or even simply get one interested in studying English in the future, I’ve made a difference.

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