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Learning Slovene: An Interview with Bojana Petkovič of Jezikovno Mesto

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Learning Slovene 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 6 years ago. I started to teach 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, I had two groups in two years and I really enjoyed teaching my native language. I am very touched when I hear my students talking in Slovene.

I teach languages for 12 years. I started when I was student. I had great opportunity to teach in 6 private language schools (at the same time) and also in four public schools (primary school and high school). So I gain a lot of experiences 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 fears talking in 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 are with us for 3 years, 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 learned 7 languages) I can compare them. For example, in English is difficult spelling (speaking and writing are not the same), in Slavic languages we have declination (skloni), in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French languages is difficult to choose the right past tense or conjunctive mode. It 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.

Tell us about the typical experiences of foreigners who come to you to learn Slovenian as total beginners – the problems they face, the things they find easy, when people stop learning, etc.

It is true that in Slovene are a lot of combinations of endings but it is not impossible to learn. It takes time to improve by speaking, by using language in everyday situations. Maybe it is difficult also the accent (which is not always on the same syllable). Students learn fast 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 in the course it is 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 is about communication in Slovene language. Besides regular courses we also provide courses for conversation, so they can practice and loose 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 face with this situation differently. It depends a lot on individual situation. Learning process is very important. We start with basics, with simple words, and then we put words together in a sentence. Later we make simple dialogs. It is important positive feedback from teacher, that students gain confidence. Teachers also appreciate instant feedback from students, so they can adapt lesson to them, maybe they just need different explanation or more exercises.

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 this positive vibes are very important. Students need to feel need of learning foreign language, otherwise they don’t have motivation. And some of this needs also teachers create with different tasks on the course and after the course (useful homeworks).

Language errors can be funny. Are there any common one’s that make native speakers laugh?

Oh, there are plenty of them and they are cute. For example, word “krožek” (circle meeting, or after-school activity for children in school) is sometimes mixed up with “krožnik” (a plate).

What do you find difficult about speaking English?

I think the spelling / writing is pretty difficult. Also pronunciation of words is different as in many European languages. 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 foreigners speaking English has its 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 learn faster new language. It is awesome that students can learn language from their experiences (and we also very support learning outside the classroom, observing 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 courses and individual courses.

We have courses for beginners, intermediate levels, we prepare for certificate A2/B1 and B2/C1 and also very popular is the course of conversation (Pogovarjajmo se po slovensko). We are teaching in small groups (4 - 8 students) so the teacher can dedicate to every student. As I mentioned before we use communicative methods, we prepare activities, so students can learn by playing games and trying to do different tasks in pairs or in smaller groups. The material we prepare is based in everyday life 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 they can use this as a basis, to encourage themselves it is not impossible to learn. Stop comparing themselves to other students (everybody has its own path). Find new reasons to continue with learning. Maybe find some interesting TV serial, some new person to talk to, watching TV in Slovene, watching your favourite movie and reading subtitles in Slovene. It is important to have good attitude to Slovene language. And of course go to group course, so the group will support you and teacher will lead you to the next level. Have fun!

learning Slovene
learning Slovene

What are some Slovenian cultural products that foreigners who are learning Slovene language should be aware of? (especially books, music, TV shows, etc)

I like the book of Noah Charney – Slovenologija (they should read it first in English and then in Slovene).

It is about his experiences becoming Slovenian husband. Now is also very popular book “Belo se pere na 90” (Bronja Žakelj). For youngsters were popular books of Desa Muck. But here are many good books – also depends on level of slovene language and the age of reader. I think we have a lot of good music in Slovene. Of course, we are listening slovenian songs in courses. For example: Nina Pušlar, Tabu, Alya, Siddharta, Vlado Kreslin, Big foot mama, Kingston, Dan D, …

Več o slovenščini pa tukaj: www.jezikovno-mesto.si/slovenscina

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