James Baxter is a British teacher of ´English Language´ and ´Science in English´ in the Lutheran Academy in Martin. How does he like it? And how does he like Slovak language? Read more in the following interview…
Do you consider yourself a strict teacher?
The students would probably be the best people to answer this question, but my sense is that there are stricter teachers than me. I think teachers, especially teachers of teenagers, are always looking for a balance between imposing rules, routines and deadlines and being human at the same time. It’s a difficult balance to get right.
Try to describe yourself. What kind of person are you?
Again, other people can probably answer that better than I can. I like to think I’m quite empathetic and understanding. I like to be physically active, so I like cycling, swimming, football….But I have some contradictions. I like both new surroundings and familiar ones. And I can be hardworking but I will never be workaholic.
Which differences do you see between teaching in an English-speaking country and teaching in Slovakia?
Well most of my experience is in Slovak schools, as I’ve been in this country ten years now. I suspect the quality of British schools is more variable than in Slovakia. The way the Slovak system is organized probably makes it more egalitarian. I don’t think there’s much sense that (for example) a school in one part of Martin would be significantly ‘better’ than a school in another part just because of socio-economic or demographic factors. There would be such a sense in the UK.
What are your students like?
For the most part, keen, creative, adaptable, and ready to try new things…. A few need to be more systematic. Most of them seem to tolerate me so far. My impressions are mostly positive.
What is the easiest thing for Slovak students to learn about the English language?
I think the basics of English are easy to learn. It’s an easy language to get a foothold in, and it’s not difficult to say a few simple phrases. The Slovak language isn’t like that. Just to say ‘good morning’, or ‘how are you?’ you need to know there are three different noun genders and six present tense verb forms.
What is the most difficult thing for Slovak students to learn about the English language?
I’d say tenses, phrasal verbs and, most of all, articles. I think Slovak students wish ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ just didn’t exist. And when you start thinking about the rules for when to use articles, you can’t blame them. But I want our students to understand that difficulty and absence of logic are part of learning a language.
Do you speak the Slovak language? Do you desire to learn the Slovak language soon? If yes, will you search for a teacher or will you prefer self-study?
I’ve been here ten years so I hope I speak something that at least resembles Slovak. I’ve also lived in the Czech Republic, so I occasionally get mixed up with the Czech language. I like to read Slovak newspapers and magazines, but I think I need a teacher to help me sort out the grammar. There are some things I fear I’ll never understand!
Do you have some favorite Slovak words?
I like the ones Czechs don‘t know – čučoriedka (blueberry), bocian (stork), cencúľ (icicle). Those are beautiful words. The Czech words for the same things are much uglier.
Which Slovak words have you learned during last days?
Four animals you might meet in the Slovak woods, if you’re unlucky; medveď (bear), vlk (wolf), rys (lynx), diviak (wild boar). The bear and wild boar populations are growing, so you read and hear plenty about them these days.
Have you met any native English-speakers while here in Slovakia?
Of course, there are more of us around than I sometimes think. But actually, I’m happy that I live in provincial Slovakia and not in a city with an expatriate ‘scene’ – like Bratislava. Life in a country is richer when most of your friends are locals.
Have you tried our Slovak national food – halušky? Did you like it?
Halušky is a wonderful food, but it has to be cooked right. This spring, I went to a restaurant near Ružomberok, where the halušky is supposed to be excellent, and it was so salty I almost couldn’t eat it.
Which kinds of food or things do you really like and cannot find in Slovak´s shops?
There are fewer and fewer things the longer I’m here. And now that Žilina has Marks and Spencer’s, you can get most British foods here anyway. But I do miss Indian restaurants – a great British(!) institution.
Do you miss home?
I miss my family and friends in Britain from time to time. And I miss the sea. But I’m more fortunate than my American colleagues in this respect, because Britain and Slovakia are relatively close. It’s not difficult to travel to Britain, or for people to come and visit me here.
What do you do in your free time here in Slovakia?
Since I came to work in Martin, I‘ve spent more time travelling, as I still live in Žilina and I have to commute. It‘s a scenic train ride so that’s not a problem. As I said, I enjoy sports. I love walking, and the Slovak countryside is perfect for that. I like reading and I go to occasional concerts and plays when I can.
Thank you answering!