The Word On The Street

Posted on April 24, 2012 by

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Georgia has a fairly fresh-faced drive on, to make English the official 2nd language of the country, when I say fairly fresh-faced, I mean it’s a matter of 2 years really, give or take a few months, since they gave it a name. Which seems like a lot of time, but really no time at all. How is it possible to measure the improvement of the English situation in Georgia over such a short space of time?

I have been mulling over it, trying to think of a logical way to determine whether there is a marked improvement or not. My obsessive brain wants to see pretty colours on a graph and lines with dots showing a general upward trend towards a big flashing sign that says “ENGLISH: WE’VE GOT IT”. Of course this is illogical and a little strange. There are statistics and I am sure somewhere there is a graph, but these things are theoretical research, so there must be another way of determining whether myself, my co-volunteers, and other English programmes are actually having any effect. There is. It boils down to the word on the street. Or, if you prefer the more “researchy” sounding word, it boils down to empirical research.

I work at a hostel when I am not teaching, so I get the opportunity to speak to a lot of tourists who have made their way through various parts of the country, and usually, when I tell them I am an English teacher here, they offer an opinion. Just last week, a Greek couple said to me, after hearing what my other job was;“Well you will be pleased to know that what you are doing is working, because this little boy came to us, said hello and helped us with some directions.” (I am paraphrasing, but that was the basis of what they said). When I hear things like that, it makes my heart glad. I think, “well, there is a really good chance that some of what he learned was taught by one of my colleagues.”

One of my theories, and please note, this is a theory, not based on any research or actual data, is that shyness is a huge factor when it comes to speaking English. I say this because I have tried to learn a little bit of German, and when I am speaking to an actual German person, I will pretend I don’t know a single word, because I am scared of making mistakes or mispronouncing words.

I have been surprised on many occasions by the amount of English a student or a co-teacher knows, once they have gotten over their initial hesitancy of speaking to me, in my home language. So the theory is: English is more prevalent than I/we might think it is, simply because people are timid in their use of the language. The resource officer (you may hear them referred to in Georgian as “mandaturi”) at my school can speak English but will only talk to me through my co-teacher, in Georgian. He understands what I say, but will not utter an English word. My co-teacher says it is because he is shy. (Could that be the case to my point?)

My last little anecdote to suggest that English is in fact thriving, albeit underground sometimes, in Georgia, is that when I first went to my new school, I was given an address, and had to find my own way there. I was supposed to be in one neighbourhood and ended up in another nearby neighbourhood. I found a likely looking high school student and took a chance by asking her for directions in English. In really good English she explained exactly where I was supposed to be, and how to get there. She was the first person I asked for directions. Perhaps it was a “slip of the odds” that it worked out in my favour and in the favour of my opinion about English in Georgia, but I think it is pretty impressive and exciting that I could get directions to somewhere without having to use a single Georgian word.

There are other small things, in which I see Georgia embracing its new language, things that are evident when I compare my experiences here in January last year, to now. The metro has an English-speaking lady as well as a Georgian speaking lady on the loud-speaker. There are signs up in both languages all over the place. When I first used the metro back in January, my friends and I were out with our dictionaries, trying to decipher letters so we could figure out which line we were supposed to get onto and where we were supposed to get off. Now that I have mastered the Georgian alphabet, I don’t need it, travelling has become so easy.

If there were a graph it would be showing an upward trend towards the sparkly “ENGLISH: WE’VE GOT IT”, sign. Don’t get me wrong, there is a way to go yet. If nothing else, we need to work on overcoming the shy-factor, but the point is, is that efforts are being made and there is evidence of those efforts, in the word on the street.

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