Excuse me, this brain seems to be faulty.

Sometimes I feel like I’m really quite stupid.

The thing is, technically – technically! – I’m not stupid. I mean, clearly I’m far from being a genius – but still, I never really struggled at school. I was the nerdy one who was devastated if she got a B+ instead of an A, and who actually looked forward to getting back test results and marked essays. I wasn’t one of the super-smart kids who could sail through with straight As without doing any work, but nor was I one of those who half-killed themselves studying and only barely managed to scrape through. I had a fair amount of intelligence and a fair amount of desire to learn and do well. A good combination, for a student.

Honestly, though, put me in a scenario where there’s no essay to be written and no exam to be taken, and I am a complete burbling idiot. I really, truly am. I say and do more embarrassingly stupid things in a week than I expect the average person does in their entire lifetime.

Today, for example. I had my trial/probation period observation, where my Director of Studies came to one of my schools to watch me teach a class, in order to decide whether or not I get to, you know, keep my job. No pressure or anything. But here’s the point: I was fine. And I knew I’d be fine. I was doing my job, I’d studiously planned the lesson, I was in control, I was confident. Back at the office, she gave me a glowing review in my feedback session, and we left the room together, smiling.

Now.

This is always the sort of moment where it flips around. Put me in an interview, in a teacher-student situation, in an exam or test, in a classroom, and I swear you’d think I was a normal, intelligent, professional, functional human being. But the second the ‘official’ bit is over and I sense the conversation moving into the dangerous area of small talk, chit chat, or polite conversation, something happens to my brain. I don’t know…. maybe it gets scared. I can practically hear it going “errr, hang on, this isn’t what I’m here for, see ya!” and slamming the door on its way out. And I’m then forced to carry on the conversation without a brain. Which is not easy, let me tell you, and frequently humiliating.

In the classroom with my 25 pre-school students this morning, I was a confident, enthusiastic, calm, professional teacher. In my feedback session with my DoS, I came out with so many thoughtful, considered, reasoned opinions about teaching children that you’d think there wasn’t a more confident and self-assured person on the planet. But the second we opened the door and walked out into the corridor together, and my brain did its nervous “oops, small talk, toodle-pip then dearie!” thing, I turned into the burbling idiot described earlier.

“It’s a lovely group of kids,” said my DoS casually as we started down the corridor back to the staff room. “You’ve got a bilingual child there, too, I noticed?”

“Yes, that’s Maruska,” I replied. “She’s great. Although she’s not really bilingual. She speaks much more Czech than English. Her parents are both Czech.”

“Are you sure?” asked my DoS after a brief pause. “She has some really natural speech patterns… seemed bilingual to me. One of her parents must be a native English speaker.”

“No,” I insisted, recalling my conversation about this with the child in question. “Her grandparents are American. But they still live in the US. She just speaks to them a lot on Skype, or something.”

Another brief pause. DoS looked confused.

“Yes, but… if her grandparents are English-speaking Americans, then surely they raised their child as an English speaker?”

“Yes,” I agreed mildly. This is what I mean. I knew something was a little off, but I couldn’t figure out what it was, as my brain had abandoned me and I was back to my normal social behaviour of just opening my mouth and letting words come out, with no filter whatsoever.

We both paused again, and you could actually see her regretting the aforementioned glowing report. This woman is incapable of logical thought, she was saying to herself, since there was clearly no point in trying to have any further conversation with me.

We actually got to the staff room door without saying another word. The walk seemed interminable, and the whole way there I was struggling with my recalcitrant brain, trying to cram it back into position and make it do its job, figure out why what I was saying was stupid, and let me know so that I could rectify this.

I thumped it into submission just as my DoS keyed in the code to the staffroom door. Look, said my reluctant brain, sounding pissed off at being dragged back into service outside of its office hours, clearly her point is that if the American couple speak only English, then their child is a native English speaker, and their child is either Maruska’s mother or father, as they are her grandparents, and therefore your statement that Maruska’s parents speak only Czech makes no sense whatsoever. 

“Oh, right!” I said dopily, “If her grandparents are American than both her parents can’t be Czech! Err… yes, that was kind of stupid, sorry.”

Bearing in mind neither of us had spoken since we were at the other end of the fecking building, this ridiculously delayed reaction only prompted an incredulous gaze and a smile that I can only describe as a blend of curious, amused, and sympathetic. I spent a good few minutes dully thudding my head against my locker after she left, which probably didn’t help the whole brain situation.

This happens to me on a daily basis. Has done since I was a child. Incapable of expressing a non-academic thought without sounding like evolution’s missing link.

Unless I drink vodka, but even then I’m not really sure whether I make more sense to those around me or just no longer notice my own burbling.

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Miaow!

Just another small embarrassing moment to report.

I still haven’t gotten used to this schedule, you see. If I get up before sunrise, I will most likely fall asleep before sunset. I sincerely hope that it won’t always be like this, and that I will, one day, be able to have something resembling a life outside of work, but for now my days go something like this:

– get up in the dark

– spend day talking in 3-word sentences and elaborate mime performances with 5-year-olds and their non-English-speaking teachers

– return home, cook, eat, read, fall asleep with book

And repeat.

Today, between schools, I left a little Pound Shop kind of place feeling all pleased with myself for successfully managing to mime and purchase drinking straws, fly swatters, and an ice cube tray. I am bound to be at expert level in charades by now. I am also quite possibly losing the ability to have real, meaningful, adult conversations using vocabulary beyond that of a small child.

Stuck my head around the accommodation office door before I headed home, as I needed to get back my deposit for something or other from Alana (I can’t keep track of anything at all, in my sleep-deprived state of befuddlement, and so am relying mostly on her beautiful honesty in all things financial), and she pointed out that I had a small orange cat puppet on my hand. I looked at my hand, vaguely surprised, and wondered how long I’d had it there. Since my last class? Like, on the bus and everything? Or did I just absently pick it out of my bag when I was waiting my turn for the photocopier 10 minutes ago? These are the great unanswered questions of my Monday.

Unable to switch out of Entertain All Of The Children mode, I made Cookie the Cat sing songs and say funny things in the background, while looking all cute and shy, as Alana filled out my paperwork and laughed the nervous laugh of one who doesn’t know whether to be amused or concerned. You’re very welcome, she said politely and uncertainly when Cookie accepted the deposit money in his paws and thanked her. I think she was quite relieved when I shuffled on out of the office.

I only live across the road from the school, so there didn’t seem much point in going to all the hassle of taking off my backpack, opening it, squeezing Cookie into it, zipping it up, and hoisting it on to my back again. I just kept him on my hand, and practised a little dialogue with him as I walked, putting the finishing touches to tomorrow’s lesson in my head. A little girl tugged on her mother’s sleeve and pointed at us. I made Cookie wave and say “Miaow! Hello!”, and the child nearly fell over with delight. Being near me is basically like being at Disney World, these days.

Met The Neighbour – you know, deliciously scruffy and poetic-looking guy upstairs, who – just to recap – has now seen me in the following scenarios:

  • falling down the stairs with a suitcase while swearing like a docker
  • wandering out of the building at 7am with an armful of rubbish and an empty vodka bottle
  • scrabbling around in a mud puddle with bizarre, swollen, lumpy arms

He was coming out of the building as I was about to open the front door with an orange cat puppet on my hand.

This in itself would probably not have been all that embarrassing, given our encounters thus far, but it was more the fact that he smiled a heartbeat-skippingly sexy smile and said hello, and I blushed, got flustered and confused, and replied “Miaow!”.

He looked at me with depressingly little surprise on his face, indicating that he has already decided that I am Actually Insane, and that there is nothing more I could do that would make him think “well, that was a little weird”. I half expect him to give me a lollipop and a pat on the head next time he sees me. My wistful daydreams of an encounter of even a slightly more adult nature are a mere blur of a memory at this point. When you’ve replied “Miaow!” to a friendly hello, then gone bright red and literally run away, there’s really not a great deal that can be done to salvage the situation.

I have put the stupid cat back in the bag. There’s a reason people are always saying it should never be let out.

Death by hanging vs. being eaten by a shark.

My students in Korea loved playing hangman.

I used it regularly as a way to revise vocabulary and practise spelling, and they often begged me to play it if I suggested another game or activity in its place (it bored me to tears after a few years). Here, though, hangman is frowned upon.

Now, I must admit, although I wouldn’t call myself a politically correct person (maybe another post in its own right, but in short I do tend to be irritated by the PC police – the ones who jump down someone’s throat for saying something “offensive” when it’s clear that the person had no intention of offending), I have always had my concerns about the appropriateness of a game that is basically the students trying to stop their teacher from completing a picture of someone being murdered. Still, it’s a game that’s recognised the world over, and the kids didn’t seem to be particularly traumatised, so I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Over the past couple of months, however, I’ve spent uncountable hours in teacher training sessions, both as part of CELTA and mandatory teacher development seminars at my new place of employment. They model and demonstrate a wide variety of teaching techniques and useful activities – one of which is a hangman-style game. I’ve seen it over and over again, despite never having encountered it before moving to this country. I don’t actually know whether it originates in the Czech Republic, or I just never heard of it until I came here, and a Google search has given me no clues, so I’ll go ahead and assume you don’t know of it either.

Dashes are written up on the board to represent letters in a word or phrase, just like in hangman. However, instead of drawing the gallows, you draw a set of stairs, with a little stickman standing on the top step. At the bottom, there’s a wavy line to illustrate water. And in the water… there’s a shark. You may see where this is going.

So, the kids guess letters as per hangman, and you fill in the correct guesses as normal, and write the incorrect ones at the side. The difference is that instead of drawing a stickman piece by piece, you penalise each incorrect guess by moving your mini stickman down one step closer to the shark’s waiting jaws. If they fail to guess the word in time, the hapless stickman takes the final step into the shark’s mouth, where he is obviously going to be torn to pieces.

Now, I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this is any better than the original version. No, it is certainly not pleasant to play a game based on capital punishment by an outlawed and barbaric method, when you think about it. But really – really – is it any better to send a poor, innocent, trembling stickman down a short staircase to die a presumably even more painful and gory death at the teeth of a Great White?

I have heard a variety of reasons, which I can boil down to two main ideas:

Hanging is a visual symbol of a cruel and painful death, which is inappropriate for children. Oh, I completely agree. But I fail to see how the obvious child-friendly alternative is to push the victim into the sea to be eaten for dinner by a hungry shark. I mean, seriously. What child is going to develop a fear of being hanged, in all honesty? It’s not relevant. A fear of the ocean, on the other hand, seems much more plausible to me, as someone who loves swimming but panics uncontrollably at the sight of an unidentified object approaching in the next wave. And that’s only because I think it might be a jellyfish or some kind of crawly thing. I imagine that the fear would escalate quite considerably had my teachers consistently reinforced the subconscious association between being in the sea and being eaten by a shark.

Fewer people are likely to have been affected by shark attacks than by hanging. This is a much more valid point, in my opinion. The last hanging in Czechoslovakia took place as recently as 1989, and capital punishment was then abolished in 1990 – a decision which obviously remained in place when the Czech Republic was established. It’s crazy to me to think that this sort of thing was still going on during my lifetime. I genuinely cannot get my mind around the idea of modern, Western countries deeming this sort of practice acceptable – I read up on it tonight, and was shocked to discover that in many European countries, hanging was legal until the 1950s and later. I honestly saw it as an “olden days” kind of thing – you know, not much more recent than burning witches at the stake. [I am deliberately leaving America out of this, because I will unintentionally go into a full-on disbelieving rant about the fact that the “new” country still ritually murders people as punishment, now, today, in the 21st century… no, no, no, must not get started on capital punishment! It is Friday night.]

Erm, sorry, got sidetracked. The point is, as one of the teacher trainers pointed out today, hanging is a potentially emotive subject. She knows a few teachers who played hangman in classes of adult learners, and found that a member of a student’s family had actually been hanged. It’s still too recent. Like playing Lethal Injection Man in the States, perhaps.

Anyway, I suppose that’s a valid reason not to play hangman in the Czech Republic, although I really doubt that a 9-year-old is going to make a connection between the hanging stickman and a family member they never knew and probably haven’t been told about. And yes, I suppose children from a landlocked country can afford to develop a phobia about the sea, since they’re not likely to spend much time swimming in it. Can’t imagine that first trip to a coastal resort will be much fun, though.

And so, with some confusion and decidedly mixed feelings, I have waved goodbye to hangman. From this moment on, it shall be known as The Shark Game.

Being a teacher is, like, so political and stuff, innit?

Oh, for crying out loud.

Look, seriously, at first glance, what would you say this was?

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No, no – not even just at first glance. I’ll allow you a good, long stare, and also tell you that it is found in the dairy section of the supermarket.

The first time I threw it into my basket, I didn’t even think about it, as it was so clearly, evidently, and obviously a carton of milk. It even has a little picture of a milk jug on the front! Never mind the fact that it was also surrounded by lots of similar cartons of different colours, as one is accustomed to seeing in supermarket dairy sections.

I did notice that it glugged rather… gluggily, for want of a better word, when I poured some on to my cornflakes, but as I currently exist in a dreamlike, semi-conscious state due to minor difficulties with adjusting to the concept of getting up before sunrise, I didn’t have the energy to process this observation. Not until I took the first spoonful of said cornflakes, that is, and promptly spat them out in abject horror.

I checked the expiry date, which was fine, so I could only assume that the packaging had been damaged or something, because the milk was no longer fit to be called milk and I had to go without breakfast that day.

Bought a replacement one on the way home from work, and, like Bill Murray, I found myself having the exact same experience the following morning.

It was only when I was mentally composing a strongly-worded letter of complaint to Lidl that I recalled the slightly gluggier glug of the milk, and poured some into a glass to investigate. I discovered that it had more of the texture of yogurt. I tried an experimental sip and nearly threw up in the kitchen. No… not yogurt.

I have no idea what the hell this vile trick milk is, or what on earth it could possibly be for, but obviously I then inspected the cartons at the supermarket more carefully, and discovered that the word for milk actually looks vaguely similar to the English word. Hurrah! I successfully purchased Normal Milk  three times in a row.

So why, WHY have I just done the exact same thing again? Pour milk on cornflakes, have vague, fuzzy, sleepy thought about gluggier gluggishness of the glug, dismiss thought, taste cornflakes, spit cornflakes everywhere.

I mean… this is meant to be the definition of insanity, isn’t it? Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. I am extremely tired. But why, why, WHY do they keep this vile and horrific liquid in the middle of all the nice, normal milk, deceptively dressed in an almost identical outfit? Buying milk is one of those things you’re not even really thinking about – you’re not reading labels, especially when they’re in a language you don’t know. Your brain sees the familiar cartons, reminds your hand that you need some of that, and sends it out to quickly grab a carton and drop it into the basket. It’s not even a conscious process, for me. I now realise that it will have to become one.

And also, who the hell is buying cartons full of stuff that literally tastes like milk that’s gone off? What are they using it for? And why? Honestly, my mind is boggling.

[UPDATE: finally bothered to put it into Google Translate. Result? “Acid buttermilk”. That’s ACID BUTTERMILK, for those who missed it. ACID. BUTTERMILK. I’m sorry, but my who, what, and why still stand, and I’ll throw in a how as well.]

No, I can’t speak Czech.

Here is the entire list of things I can currently say/understand in the Czech language. Aside from the first three items, it’s probably the most oddly specific, limited, and essentially useless beginner vocabulary I have ever had in a foreign country, ever.

Hello / Hi.

Please.

Goodbye.

This train terminates at __________.

Next stop.

Exit/entrance (which look ridiculously similar).

Transfer to line A.

Lie down on your back and kick your feet in the air, then get up and do star jumps.

Jellyfish.

Please stand back from the doors.

Request stop.

End of compulsory ticket zone.

That’s it. Not even “thank you” has made it on to that list, and I’ve been here since the end of July. Lest you think I’m rude and ungrateful, I must point out that I have, in fact, learned the word for “thank you” approximately 50 times per week, and promptly forgotten it within about 2 minutes each time – what’s that about??? It simply will not stick in my head. Even when I do remember and try to say it, I can’t pronounce it, and the vowel sounds of the syllables inevitably come out in the wrong order – the equivalent in English would be a foreigner mumbling something like “thunk yeh vary mouch” and then scuttling off in embarrassment.

Alternatively, I gape blankly for a moment, panic, and somehow accidentally say it in Korean.

Fortunately, most people in Prague immediately switch to English the second I open my mouth, but still.

Czech lessons begin on Friday.

 

Tell me why?

Fecking Mondays. I really, genuinely think I somehow offended the Universe over the weekend, you know. Today was nothing but a series of ridiculous and/or unfortunate events.

7am – left flat. Took rubbish bag with me to dump in outside bin on way. Arse fell out of rubbish bag halfway down the stairs.

7.06am – sexy, dishevelled, grey-haired-and-stubbly writer-type upstairs neighbour looked at me in surprise and undisguised derision as I met him with a load of manky rubbish in my arms while clutching an empty vodka bottle in one hand and a set of kindergarten colour flashcards in the other.

7.16am – dismally watched my bus whizz merrily past as I waited endlessly for the green man.

7.19am – realised green man was broken.

7.20am – Almost got flattened by a lorry. Tripped on a loose cobblestone.

7.32am – Got attacked by angry and frightened wasp which had become trapped on crowded bus.

7.45 – 7.55am – a pleasant 10 minutes spent drifting hopelessly up and down multiple flights of stairs searching for my classroom.

7.55am – found an English-speaking member of staff who informed me that the school I wanted was across the road.

8am-11am – successful morning with 25 pre-schoolers, with exception of 3 separate wasp invasions, which I dealt with in a (mostly) calm and mature adult fashion for sake of children. Am organised, energetic, enthusiastic and responsible teacher, hooray!

11.05am – soaked to skin, obviously had no umbrella, world evil and uncaring place. Broke into run.

11.06am – tripped over another loose cobblestone. World evil, uncaring, and increasingly painful place.

11.40am – back in town. Cheered self up (and dried off) by spending an hour in my most recent Favourite Place On The Planet, a vast bookshop with “Palace of Books” in huge letters over the entrance. Accidentally spent a tenth of my monthly wage on books for the third time in under 2 weeks.

12.40pm – had a triple espresso and an ice cream in place of lunch due to tiredness, pain, and general state of woe. Felt simultaneously sick and hungry for rest of day.

1.15pm – on bus to next school, with plenty of time to spare for finding said school on arrival at Unpronounceable Bus Stop. Joy short-lived as found self being repeatedly attacked by wasps. What is going on? Am suddenly the Pied Piper of wasps. Have decided to stop using fruity berry shower gel, which is annoying as recently took advantage of 3-for-2 special offer at Lidl.

1.20pm – confused as to why bus stop announcement thingy went directly from the stop before my stop to the stop after my stop. Where was my stop? Hopped despondently off bus at next stop and found self on a desolate roadside. Crossed road but obviously could not find stop for bus going in other direction.

1.35pm – on bus going back in direction I’d just come from, after wandering around like a little lost hobo randomly asking people if they spoke English. Wasp incidents on bus: 2.

1.45pm – 5 minutes late for class. Reached hurriedly into backpack for flashcards and lesson materials. Obviously, had left entire folder at previous school in distant area of city. 23 little faces looked expectantly at me. Began to sweat slightly.

1.59pm – small girl fell over and cut her chin during hastily improvised action activity. Tears, blood, general despair.

2.07pm – wasp entered classroom.

2.40pm – left school after winging it for an hour, drenched in sweat, accompanied by wasp.

2.45-3.30pm – made wearisome trek-bus-tram-bus journey back to first school for folder.

3.40pm – stood banging head against locked classroom door. Utterly despondent by this point.

4.15pm – finally left school with my folder, after a completely ridiculous set of events including miming keys and locks to an irritated caretaker, speaking on said caretaker’s phone in English to an unknown Czech person who spoke no English, and eventually having complicated four-way, two-language conversation involving myself, the caretaker, the unknown Czech person, and a Czech friend.

4.23pm – homeless man got on tram to escape rain. Chose to sit next to me despite presence of approximately 7,000 empty seats. Smell of stale booze, stale smoke, stale B.O., stale rat, and general staleness lingered for 3 stops after he got off. Feeling very sick now.

4.35pm Everyone who got on tram clearly thought overpowering odour of the unwashed was me. Tried to wear exaggerated expression of disgust but became distracted by wasp crawling on leg. Flicked it away several times, having run out of wasp-related patience.

4.36pm – stung by wasp.

4.38pm – entered new world of excruciating pain and blinding agony. Trying to look brave and remain disgusted at smell, but wasp pain became too overwhelming as arm turned red, white, and alarmingly lumpy. Lower lip status: trembling.

4.40pm – got text from work telling me I have to sub tomorrow afternoon at the exact time the man is meant to come to set up my wifi. Have been on a connection slower than dial-up for over 2 weeks now. Is like living in the Dark Ages, and I can’t download TV or watch YouTube. Now have to reschedule internet man for the third time. Unspeakable woe.

4.50pm – staggered on to metro clutching lumpy discoloured arm and blinking back tears of pain and general misery. Stressed-looking businesswoman immediately spilled coffee on my other arm. Could not even howl in pain by this point.

5.10pm – dropped front door key as tried to open door using horribly disfigured arms. Was extracting key from puddle of mud and trying to hold back bawling when was suddenly, unexpectedly, rescued by sexy upstairs neighbour, who apparently does not think less of me after all for skulking round the halls at 7 in the morning with a vodka bottle and armfuls of eggshells and onion skins. He removed my key from mud puddle, cleaned it on a tissue, gave it back to me, opened the door, and held it open for me, all while looking irresistible.  Day was clearly turning around, hooray! He remarked upon the state of my arms (one swollen and lumpy, the other scalded and blotchy). “What happened to you? Are you OK?” Surprised at hearing English, asked how he knew I wasn’t Czech. He grinned (he also has a sexy grin in addition to the stubble, the tallness, and the dishevelled hair – I swear, all he needs is a pair of glasses, the ability to speak French, and a pen behind his ear in case overcome by the sudden urge to write poetry). “I heard you cursing in English when you fell down the stairs last week,” he said politely. Dang it. He looked amused, intrigued, and pitying all at once.

8.35pm – discovered a cricket in my room. Chirping. Chirping. Forever chirping. And being massive and scary.

9.53pm – have finally evicted angry and ginormous cricket, with much screaming, swearing, thumping, and sliding of Ikea catalogue pages under Tupperware boxes.

9.54pm – going to bed, because sod this.

Školky

Školky.

It’s not a word I’d ever heard before last week, but now I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t a major part of my life.

Školka (the “s” with the thingy above it is pronounced “sh”) is the Czech word for pre-school, with the plural – školky – being the name of a major part of my school’s English teaching programme.

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As one of the main školky teachers, I will be spending the majority of my time travelling to pre-schools around Prague, where I am paid for 3 hours of my time spent thusly:

8am-8.30am: playtime. Hang out with 3-5 year olds, basically, while they play with toys, or in the sandpit.

8.30am-9am: observe/assist while Czech teacher does games, exercises, or activities with them in Czech.

9am-9.15am: snack time.

9.15am-10.15am: lesson with English teacher (that would be me).

10.15am-11am: outside playtime. Go out and chase leaves, play hide and seek, go on the see-saw, swings, etc.

Seriously.

Love it.

I spent an hour this morning building cars with cool magnetic pieces, and playing with a dollhouse.

However, my favourite thing so far happened when I was called into the office to discuss the final hours that would make up my timetable. I’d been wondering about that big gap in my schedule. Turns out they were saving me (fresh from Korea with 3+ years of kindergarten experience – and so it paid off!) for their own, newly-established pre-school on campus. This is a truly amazing little place, and is – in another cheerful coincidence – right next to the school cafe/restaurant. I went in yesterday morning for a caffeine boost, had a typically baffling conversation with Happy Chef, drank my coffee and read my Kafka (when in Prague…!), and then went next door to the pre-school to see what the craic was. What do you know – one of my new colleagues is Happy Chef’s wife!

She’s the Czech teacher in charge of looking after the kids. You know – bathroom, nap time, food, tears, nose-blowing, the general childcare things I really can live without. Then there’s the main teacher, a Czech lady with good English, who drifts in and out, oversees things, and sets the agenda. Then there’s me – present as an English speaker – so far just there to get to know the children and “be with them in English” with no formal teaching whatsoever. Look, I spent a whole 20 minutes yesterday cuddling a couple of sweet little 4-year-olds on beanbags and reading Mr. Men books to them, for goodness’ sake! :) In addition to me, there’s a German guy who is only allowed to speak German to them, and a Russian girl who must only speak Russian to them.

It’s pretty incredible to me. Knowing what I do now about child development (compared to my previous, non-existent knowledge on the subject!), from my various studies and training and experiences, I am a huge advocate of exposing kids to languages from infancy. Some of these children (thankfully not in my group!) are so tiny that they even sit in high chairs at lunch time, and have to be spoon-fed.

I watched the German guy feeding a little boy and talking away to him in German – and the child was not perturbed in the slightest. He even answered in German a few times – and I’m fairly certain he can only recently have started saying words in his own language. The Russian girl went past at one point and accidentally bumped his chair. She said what I presumed to be “oops, sorry!”, and this Czech baby instantly mimicked her Russian before switching back to German. If I’d gone over, he would probably have spoken to me in English. This is mind-blowing to me!

Kids are amazing. If you put an adult in that situation – me, for example – they’d be completely freaked out. It was nerve-wracking enough when I arrived and they had the “Let’s introduce Hayley!” session in a big circle, in Czech. I copied all the actions and guessed what was going on as best I could, but most of the time I looked helplessly at the Czech head teacher for translations.  This language is still just gobbledegook to me – I can’t even differentiate between individual words, at this point.

Happy Chef’s Wife and I took our group to the park down the street, and I taught them up, down, yes,  no, fast, slow, stop, and go, just while playing on the see-saw and slide. Back at the school, the head teacher insisted that no formal English lesson would take place, as she wants them to get to know me first. I simply helped out with serving lunch (and randomly saying things like “Look! Spoon!” in enthusiastic tones), played with them and their toys, and helped Happy Chef’s Wife settle them down for nap time.

That was my day. I won’t lie, the teacher in me is really eager to get started with actual English lessons, but this school is totally different from anything I experienced in Korea – and I love it. There’s no pushing the children. They are actually being given the freedom to be children, to the extent that I’ve been warned never to try to teach them to read or write in English. I can help them with writing their own names at some point if I want, but that’s it – all English teaching must be done via games, picture flashcards, stories, actions, songs, and conversations, to the extent where I’ll actually get into trouble if any of my story pictures or flashcards have letters or words on them. Yes, yes, and YES! This is an issue over which I clashed so many times with my Korean employers and colleagues, who had those little ones reading and writing in 3-4 different languages/systems (Korean, English, Mandarin, and Japanese) by the age of 5. We had a 6-year-old girl drop out of kindergarten for 6 months due to stress. It was just wrong. These kids are being allowed to fully enjoy their childhood, yet still having the exposure to foreign languages that will set them in good stead for the rest of their lives. And you know what? The level of English amongst young adults here is light years ahead of Korea’s. No one’s stressed, no one’s committing suicide over exam pressure… but people are learning to speak English, and to speak it well. I can understand them, they can understand me, and we can have friendships/conversations after a few days that it took me years to find in Korea.

I think the Czech Republic’s education system is somewhere in the middle, between the UK and Korea, said Lovely Accommodation Lady to me on Friday night at the staff night out, after listening to my tales. From what I’ve seen to date, I’d say she’s spot on. Each of the pre-schools I’ve been to so far has a casual, fun, laid-back approach, focusing on letting the children be children and simply throwing in a bit of contact with an English speaker to get them used to it. It’s pressure-free, and the children are sweet, fun, yet incredibly well-behaved.

It’s all sounding fantastic to me, so far. I genuinely hope it continues. Right now, it’s one-up for the Czech Republic!