Speaking English on Gulbanis Kucha

Posted on April 20, 2012 by

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As we have written many times in the past week, record numbers of Georgian students are choosing to study English as their primary foreign language.  I have definitely witnessed this in my host family and in my school, but I must admit that my first two drafts of this post were just plain boring.  I wrote about how my school has hired more English teachers and now has five English teachers compared to just one German and one Russian teacher.  I also talked about how my host sister, brother, and mother all learned Russian before English.  Then it occurred to me that if I wanted the post to be more interesting, maybe I should just ask my host family why they’re studying English now instead of Russian, German, or some other foreign language.

I actually only talked to my host sister about this, as she’s the only one who knows English well enough to really explain her motivations for learning English to me.  She’s 19 and currently studying Arabic studies (including Arabic and Turkish languages) at Ivane Javakhishvili University.  So, she isn’t technically still studying English, but she’s at least getting practice with conversational English with me.  I mentioned that my school now has five English teachers, but when my sister attended this school, English wasn’t an option.  Every student studied Russian and German.  No exceptions.  So, how did my host sister learn English?  Well, on top of her Russian and German lessons in school, she took private English lessons and ended up taking her university entrance exam foreign language segment in English.  When I asked her why she wanted to learn English when it meant extra lessons and work, she gave some pretty straightforward and probably pretty common reasons.  First, English is the language everyone is now learning in Georgia.  Second, it’s the main world language today.  Third, it’s easier to learn than German.  (Hey our spelling might be crazy, but at least our grammar is easy – minus our multitudes of verb tenses, of course.)  It should also be noted that while we were having this conversation, the tv station Rap.Ru was on in the background playing American hip hop.  She didn’t mention the influence of American pop culture, but it would be hard to deny that it also probably played a role.

Just a few years ago, a student at my school in the outskirts of Tbilisi would have had to pay for private lessons if he wanted to learn English.  Now, English is mandatory in all Georgian schools.  It’s no surprise, then, that the number of Georgian students studying English has increased.  Considering the interest in learning English that I’ve personally experienced here, that is definitely a step in the right direction for Georgia’s schools and its pupils.

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