When I told others about why I decided to pick up and move to Prague, the unanimous response was “What language do they speak there?” I would respond, slightly dumb founded, “Well, they speak Czech.” This would then snowball the conversation into scrutinizing remarks and blank face stares, puzzled by how someone could possible teach another person a foreign language with complete and total language barriers inhibiting any communication. Words are powerful, but when I was immersed into the first Czech lesson at TEFL, I quickly learned the importance of communicating through gestures and body language and how powerful this is for communication.
I remember getting off the plane and feeling surprised by how much English I was hearing. TEFL Worldwide had arranged for a taxi driver to take me to the student housing and the driver spoke perfect English. At this point I hadn’t even heard Czech yet. I remember laughing to myself thinking about how nervous I had been, truly believing I would be incapable of communication. The following day after I arrived and got settled in the villa I was staying at (arranged for students by TEFL Worldwide), I decided to venture out on my own and do some exploring. Then came the shock. I had never heard a Slavic language before and it sounded as foreign as I felt on that first day wandering the city center by myself. I remember trying to use Google Translate (this app is awful for Czech to English by the way- I encourage my students not to look at it at all). I was pronouncing all of the words so incorrectly people couldn’t even understand what I was trying to say. But, when I caved and started speaking English, the majority of people in the center were able to help me and give me the information I needed. This was comforting to me, knowing I could communicate at least basic English and have a successful conversation with virtually anyone. Praguers are learning English more each day. With the influx of international businesses expanding to Prague and tourism rising exponentially, people in Prague are flooding the language schools looking for teachers to help them improve their English. Because of this, speaking Czech is not essential to succeed here in Prague, but it is beneficial.
Three TEFL Czech lessons later and I soon was able to ask natives for directions, order food from the deli at the grocery store and ask people about how their days were. Czech is considered by many to be one of the top three most difficult languages to learn. I still feel a sense of intimidation when I attempt to speak simple phrases, but the more I work at the language the more confident I feel when I use it. These initial classes during my first month of living in Prague gave me so many tools for “language survival.” While many people in Prague are capable of speaking basic English, Praguers truly value when newcomers attempt to speak Czech. These lessons from TEFL helped me to connect and build friendships with different shop owners, waiters, bartenders, and other locals in the city.
Learning Czech, during the TEFL course, not only helped to expose me to a language I have never heard before, but it also helped shape my style of teaching. These few lessons we recieved over the course helped us understand the importance of learning through contextual meaning, rather than through translation. When a teacher can give students skills to consciously recognize the effects of body language, it in turn forces them to reflect and to become cognitive of how meaning is communicated through their demeanor. This skill is powerful. When a person is capable of morphing their physical language in different ways to communicate, they bridge communication gaps and gain the ability to connect with various cultures.
When we think of learning through immersion, it seems very daunting and overwhelming. This vision I had of immersive methodology to introduce students to a foreign language has shifted to one where students are able to derive basic phrases and create conversations with one another without receiving initial translations. It’s this idea of learning through meaning and context that moves communication forward. Learning through translations blocks and inhibits a person’s ability to communicate effectively. Our human connections stem from physical expression, from body language. Some people are more attentive and in touch with this than others are, but essentially we all have this skill on some level. Training ourselves to reconnect to this form of communication in turn trains us to adapt to language faster and more effectively; as I have experienced first hand with Czech and through watching my students become more effective English speakers after every lesson.