English: A Georgian Language?

Posted on May 29, 2012 by


Over four months into my one year TLG placement in Telavi, I have noticed that although there are English speakers in this city, Georgian is the language of the majority.

When I moved in with my host family, my host mother was communicating with me in English mostly; nowadays, she uses more Georgian compared to English, which has ended up helping my Georgian language skills. Interestingly though, she is studying English online and everyday has a new expression to check with me. My host father has started to use ‘hello’.

During my visits to Telavi’s highstreet, bazaar and marshrutka station, I have come across some English speakers: a mature woman at a crockery store, a young woman at a computer store, a female university student on a marshrutka, a marshrutka driver, a 30-something year old male cake shop owner, an older café owner, a waitress, a restaurant owner, a young Tourist Information Point worker and Misha’s security guards during his Telavi visit. I have noticed that the general trend is that if people see that we do not know Georgian, the next linguistic enquiry is: ‘Rusuli?’ which has at times been followed by ‘Deustche?’ and ‘Italiuri?’

In school, I have noticed that a few teachers have started using English phrases that they learned in school many, many years ago; like, ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sit down’. Today, a teacher informed me that she has started taking private English lessons and will speak to me when she knows more English. Apart from teaching English in school, my main use of the language in Georgia and with Georgians, is conversing with my co-teachers. We always communicate in English; but, I have noticed that as English speakers, they do not always use English to communicate between themselves.

Whilst attending a weekly Peace Corps ‘English Discussion Group’ since the past few weeks now, I have had the opportunity to meet several adult English learners; they speak English well, and want to continue to improve their knowledge.

There is a linguistic attitude in Georgia which prescribes the learning and use of English: ‘you should know English as it will help you’; some Georgians conform to this linguistic goal. However, I find that this attitude is not generally supported by the media output. By discussing television habits with other volunteers, I have found that in many Georgian households, watching TV occupies a significant part of every day. Yet, I have only seen one channel that sometimes screens English films with Georgian subtitles. Otherwise, the TV language output is Georgian and Russian. Furthermore, I am still to find an English language newspaper or magazine here.

The Georgian government has invested a significant amount of money and labour into the TLG programme and every single volunteer and so it should try to ensure the continuing success of the programme by increasing the exposure of Georgian people to English.

Instead of broadcasting dubbed programming, for example, cartoons and documentaries, programmes should be broadcast in English with Georgian subtitles. In addition, as many Georgians enjoy watching the news, broadcasting English language news will be a great opportunity for people to learn English.

Most TLG volunteers teach in school, with some teaching university students and the police. The teaching audience needs to be addressed because it excludes the adult population. For children and youth, English is to some extent a regular part of their lives through academic exposure; whether or not they will continue learning English independently outside the formal education system or make use of their English skills remains to be seen; but for adults, coming by English seems to be more challenging.

As mentioned before, I know Georgian adults who can speak English, want to speak English and are learning English. This demonstrates that the adult population has the desire and motivation to learn English as well as the fact that they do not always have someone to speak English to. For any language learner, their motivations and linguistic goals are self-specific, but when I look at my local fruit and veg sellers, I wonder if these women want to learn English and if so, where could they go with their income to learn English?

The Government should implement an English language programme for adult learners, maybe as an extension of the TLG teaching sphere or as some other independent initiative. It should allow adults, especially local traders and business people to learn at least Basic English. The fruit and veg traders in my local bazaar come into regular contact with all types of foreigners including, TLG, Peace Corps and tourists. Learning English would allow a more effective exchange of information and an improved business experience; because right now, I can speak to these friendly women using my basic Georgian and then the conversation stops. If they knew some English, they could meet me half-way and we could both learn more about each other. The programme would also mean that adult learners of English would have access to native speakers in order to practise their English skills. (Ed. In September 2012, just such a program will be temporarily implemented!  Local English Teachers will be providing basic Computer Skills training and Beginner English classes for free to rural populations all over Georgia.  Anyone who wants to can enroll in these month-long courses to get a free tutorial in English and/or computers!)

In addition, if parents knew English, they would be better placed to support their children learn the language.

Many of the people I come across here, young and old, they all have one thing in common: they wish to go to America; but their lack of English and their lack of practical action to actually learn the language does not correspond to this lifelong goal. Maybe the learning guidance and structure needs to come from the top. More English TV, English newspapers and magazines and English learning opportunities for all ages will help to motivate Georgians to learn English and facilitate their learning of English. This will help Georgia to become a more culturally and socially fluid place.