Friday, September 9, 2011

Multilingual Czech Preschool

When my daughter's preschool sent out an e-mail earlier this summer asking which parents were interested in forming an English class with a native English speaking teacher this fall, I wrote back saying not interested, thanks, we have one at home.

I guess they end up forming not a full time class but a twice a week lesson with an external American teacher coming in, and the first lesson was yesterday. K was apparently exercising with the kids who don't attend the English class - but when I went to pick her up, the head teacher asked me if I would mind terribly much if K attended the class for 45 minutes twice a week. To help the teacher.


Apparently the kids spent most of the class staring wide-eyed and not really participating, since English is so new for them. The head teacher asked the English teacher if he thought it would help to have an English-Czech speaking child in the class to smooth things over, and he apparently said yes. So she asked me if K could join in.

I have mildly mixed feelings about it, but I suspect that most of my concerns would apply more to elementary school and Czechs teaching English. They aren't learning grammar that K already knows, the American teacher won't be threatened by her superior grasp of the language, and I don't THINK that kids this age will give her social problems if she knows all the answers and they don't - three things that can easily happen with older children in a similar position.

So I said ok, as long as it's helpful and not distracting and not more than those two lessons a week. Frankly, I get the impression that K enjoyed the "English lessons" they had last year, which I believe were mainly the regular teachers singing a bunch of English songs. It was/is her chance to be a star since she knows all the songs, can count to 10 in English, and whatever else they practice. Which I guess is not detrimental at this point.

A stickier problem will be what to do with mandatory English lessons in elementary school, where K will either be conspicuously at the top of the class, ridiculously bored, forced to choose between biting her tongue at the teacher's wrong English ("This is my k-nee") and correcting an adult in front of the class, or even put in some special position over the other kids (this is where I think "teacher's helper" can really backfire). I think I'd like to send some worksheets or a book from home for her to work on instead, or if there are multiple English-speaking students in the class, it would be awesome to bring in an external teacher for an hour to do a native-English class - language arts, learning to read, whatever. It'll depend on how open her elementary school administration and teachers are, I imagine.

But for the moment, K will be singing along with English songs, counting in English and generally playing along with whatever the teacher is trying to do. Which will ideally inspire the other children to follow her lead, haha. I'd be interested to see how that plays out!


K's teacher also commented a few times recently on how her Czech is improving. It's more grammatical now and more flexible. I found it interesting that her teachers claimed she never mixed Czech and Slovak at school as I described her doing at home, but then one day I was witness to the following:

Teacher: "Kde máš obrázek?" (Where's your picture?)
K: "Já nelobila" (nerobila - SK - I didn't make one)
Teacher: [insert several guesses as to what K means, including "Ty jsi rozbila?" - you broke it??]
K: "Já nelobila!"
Teacher: still not getting it
Me: "Chce říct "já nerobila" - nedělala." (She's saying 'I didn't make one' in Slovak)
Teacher: "Jo tááááák, to je ta slovenština..." (OOOOHHHHH, it's Slovak, didn't expect that...)

I've also heard K use Slovak at school other times, I think, where I had the feeling the teachers didn't realize that's what she was doing. So I'm thinking she may be mixing more than they realize and they just don't hear it! Actually, now that I think of it, I remember a conversation between a teacher and a Slovak-Czech little boy last year, where the boy was talking about his "babka" and the teacher kept asking what/who he was talking about. I mentioned we have a babka in Slovakia as well.

To be fair, I guess you really don't hear or understand the mixing unless you are used to it or expecting it somehow. I may be more sensitive to children's language mixing (whether CZ-EN, SK-EN or CZ-SK) or language-related misunderstandings/disobedience (the two-year-old isn't trying to be naughty when continuing to kick the gravel after being told not to - he may well not know it's called "gravel"!) than your average grown-up. You know, being occasionally prone to them myself...

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