Last month an interesting announcement was made in Georgia regarding English language education: almost 75% of students opted to take the university entrance foreign language exam in English, a marked increase over previous years. As a TLG teacher placed at a university, there is definitely a different attitude about English between even university freshmen and upper class students.
I work at Shota Rustaveli – Batumi State University (BSU) in the Tourism Faculty. In the United States I had spent several years in the tourism management field, consequently, I work specifically with tourism majors to help improve their English language abilities while discussing tourism as it relates to them and Georgia. Moreover, I arrived in Georgia in July 2010 as a part of Group #1. Needless to say now almost two years after I arrived in Tbilisi on a hot and humid, blindingly sunny afternoon, I’ve seen a lot of changes regarding both TLG as a program and attitudes towards English.
At BSU, I work with two groups of students: a group of freshmen and a group of juniors. The freshmen have English 7 hours a week, while the juniors have English 11 hours a week, though I am only with them for 5 hours a week of conversation practice and tourism discussion. Take a guess as to which class is better? If you said the freshmen, you are correct. Even the students who struggle in that class are still better than the best students in the junior class.
Not until I read this article did I really ponder why such a difference would exist between students just 2 years apart. Several reasons come to mind which might help to explain the disparity.
- TLG in Schools: Despite being in 12th grade when TLG began, these students saw first-hand the value that the government is placing on English education. Moreover, many of my freshmen students didn’t even have TLG teachers at their schools, but still recognize the importance of the program.
- Motivation: Students who entered university as freshmen in 2011 must now pass an English language proficiency exam to graduate university, a large motivator for sure. Moreover, personal motivation is also important.
- Career Opportunities: Batumi, Ajara, and all of Georgia are banking on the tourism sector to become a major part of the economy, and development has occurred at a rapid pace. Consequently, employees possessing foreign language skills (especially Russian, English, and Turkish) are vital for the success of such an endeavor. The freshmen students readily acknowledge that fluency in English is vital for their future careers. I’ve attempted to discuss this topic with the junior class; however, such discussion is often met with a shocking amount of silence. They seem to understand the need, but really don’t want to admit it.
- Responsibility: Lastly, personal responsibility is a crucial element. The freshmen students recognize that they must do a large amount of the work for language education. Their time with me is limited each week, and they are responsible enough to do their work. The juniors seem to want to learn English with minimal effort on their part. Perhaps this is the true reason for the disparity which exists. They grew up without the promotion of English education, and never felt it necessary for their success.
Ultimately, many differences exist with students just two years apart at university with regards to their views on English. As TLG continues its work, it will be interesting to see what will happen in two more years. While past performance can never truly be indicative of future results, it’s likely that English will continue to grow in popularity and respect, allowing Georgian students and the country itself to be more competitive in the global realm.