21 October 2009
Why learn English?
I have been teaching English in Tbilisi for over one month now, and am beginning to establish a pattern for teaching privately and for groups of students. While all my students are very different--they have different abilities, tendencies and preferences when learning English, they all have one of two reasons for learning English: They want a good job in Georgia (and this requires a knowledge of English) or they have contacts in the USA/ UK and want to travel with ease.
Whereas with my Russian students, they all hoped to learn English so they could leave, many of my Georgian students are learning English because they want to stay. I am currently learning Georgian, and trying to dust the cobwebs off of my Russian and French. While I easily recognize the need to communicate in other countries as an impetus for learning a language, I cannot fully comprehend the need to learn a language to have any type of employment. While it is helpful in the U.S. to speak Spanish for specific jobs, there is no prerequisite to speak anything other than English to be a waitress--and yet, I have been to many restaurants and cafes where English is required of the servers.
That said, the level of English is less important than the fact that you know some basic English. Even though most of my group students say they need English to get a good job, they do not study as much as they should to be successful--they kind of ride it out. I can understand that. Time moves quickly here, with public transportation, long working hours, and other delays, it is time for bed before you know it. I myself have arrived rather unprepared for several Georgian lessons. But if it really was essential to have a comprehensive knowledge of English for regular employment, I have a feeling the majority of students would be more dedicated. I think it is more of a boolean stystem: Do you speak English (check one)? OYes ONo.
An acquaintance pointed out the other day that while restaurants insist upon having English menus, there are always mistakes. The same is true of signs on stores or casinos. I always enjoy seeing the "Beauty Saloons" that are pictured in an earlier post, and there is a casino I see when I ride the bus to Vake which publicizes its very own "Clot Club."
I am always a little ashamed that my language was chosen to be so universal (how is that fair?). But I sense that the national dedication to learn English is only half-hearted, and strictly limited to the capital and surrounding regions. Perhaps it is too early to tell. We may see some advertising grammar corrections even while we are here.