Learning the language is one of the biggest challenges and most rewarding achievements of living in another country. That’s especially true of a minority language like Slovene, with little global presence, a very limited supply of media, and even less motivation to learn if you live in a place, like Ljubljana, where you can get by in English. So we sent some questions to Bojana Petkovič, of the language school Jezikovno Mesto, with branches in Ljubljana and Maribor, to find out more about her work and how she teaches people to speak Slovene.
How long have you been teaching Slovene, and when did you open your school?
I started to teach Slovene six years ago. I started to give lessons to Spanish and Czech speaking students, as I studied those two languages at University. Then I had opportunity to teach students who came to EVS exchange, and had two groups in two years that I really enjoyed teaching my native language. I am very touched when I hear my students talking in Slovene.
I’ve taught languages for 12 years. I started when I was student. I had great opportunity to teach in six private language schools (at the same time) and also in four public schools (primary school and high school). So I gained a lot of experience how to teach and I also observed how are courses organised in different schools. Then I decided to open my language school in 2016.
I want to offer good experience with learning languages, a lot of opportunities for communication and to get rid of their fears talking in a foreign language. I am very happy the school is growing so fast and so many people trust us and continue learning in new semesters. Some students have been with us for three years, always improving their language skills.
People say that Slovenian is one of the hardest languages to learn. What are your thoughts?
I partly agree. Every language has its difficulties. As a polyglot (I’ve learned seven languages) I can compare them. For example, in English what’s difficult is spelling (speaking and writing are not the same), in Slavic languages we have declination (skloni), in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French it’s difficult to choose the right past tense or conjunctive mode.
So while it’s is true that in Slovene are a lot of combination of endings but it is not impossible to learn. It takes time to improve by speaking.
Can you tell us about the typical experiences of foreigners who come to you to learn Slovenian as total beginners, what are the main problems they face?
It takes time to improve by speaking the language, by using it in everyday situations. Maybe it is also difficult to get the stress (which is not always on the same syllable). Students can quickly learn words from everyday vocabulary – what they need (beer, one more please, coffee, bus, …). So we start with topics they are familiar with. Words we use in a context. In our school we prepare materials for playing games and activities and so students are learning in fun way.
When people stop learning on a course it’s very important that they find people to talk with them in Slovene. It doesn’t matter if they don’t use the right endings, it’s about communication in the language. So besides regular courses we also provide courses for conversation, so they can practice and lose their fear of speaking in Slovene.
So many foreigners seem to have a mental block about learning Slovenian, especially if they can live and work here without learning the language. How do you 'unblock' that mentality?
We all face with this situation differently. It depends a lot on individual situation, but the learning process is very important. We start with the basics, with simple words, and then we put words together in a sentence. Later we make simple dialogs.
It’s also important that there’s positive feedback from teacher, so that students gain confidence. Teachers also appreciate instant feedback from students, so they can adapt the lesson to them, as maybe they just need a different explanation or more exercises to understand something.
We use a lot of visual material, such as pictures, movies, PowerPoint, colours, cards. I think the most important thing is that our students feel comfortable in their group. So we laugh, we joke and such positive vibes are very important.
Finally, students need to feel a need to learn a foreign language, otherwise they don’t have motivation. And some of this can be done by the teacher, who creates different, useful and interesting tasks for the class and homework.
What do you find difficult about speaking English?
I think the spelling and writing are pretty difficult, as well as the pronunciation. English has a lot of synonyms and use a lot of phrasal verbs (look for, look forward, look out, look up …). And different accents -- British English, American English – and a lot of non-native speakers with their own versions.
Learning Slovene is a serious business. Why should people sign up for a course, and what’s on offer with your language school?
First of all, they need a desire to learn, they need to feel that they need this language. To go to good language course is a shortcut to learning a new language. It’s awesome that students can learn language from their experiences – and we also very much support learning outside the classroom, looking at signs, listening to people, reading articles in Slovene, listening to the radio – but it is easier if someone prepares material for you and guides you through the learning process.
In my language school, Jezikovno Mesto, we organise group and individual courses. We have courses for beginners, intermediate levels, we prepare for certificates A2/B1 and B2/C1, and also very popular is the conversation course (Pogovarjajmo se po slovensko). We are teaching in small groups (4 to 8 students) so the teacher can dedicate time to every student. As I mentioned before, we use communicative methods, and we prepare activities, so students can learn by playing games and trying to do different tasks in pairs or smaller groups. The material we prepare is based on everyday situations and it is for all three types of students: Visual ones (they need to see), Kinesthetic (they need to move or to touch material, “words” on cards) and Auditive (they need to hear).
What’s your advice for people learning Slovenian and thinking about giving up?
They can find out what they already know and can use this as a basis to encourage themselves that it’s not impossible to learn. Stop comparing themself to other students, everybody has their own path). Find new reasons to continue with learning. Maybe find some new person to talk to, watch TV in Slovene, watch your favourite movie and read the subtitles in Slovene. It’s important to have good attitude towards the Slovene language. And of course go to group course, so the group will support you and teacher will lead you to the next level. In short, try and have fun with Slovene.
What are some Slovenian cultural products that foreigners who learn the language should be aware of?
I like the book of Noah Charney – Slovenologija (they should read it first in English and then in Slovene). It’s about his experiences becoming a Slovenian husband. Now there’s also a also very popular book called Belo se pere na 90 (Bronja Žakelj). For youngsters there are the books of Desa Muck. But in fact there are many good books, it just depends on the age of the reader and the level of their Slovene.
I also think we have a lot of good music in Slovene, and we listen to Slovenian songs on the courses, such as those by Nina Pušlar, Tabu, Alya, Siddharta, Vlado Kreslin, Big Foot Mama, Kingston, Dan D, and so on.