Romanian Language Learners of English

I have been teaching at the British Council now in Bucharest for about three months and have throughly enjoyed this period so far.  Naturally, I have learnt various areas of teaching and extended my knowledge and experience of teaching closed groups of monolingual learners.  Prior to arriving in Bucharest, I had very little experience of teaching Romanian learners and had no previous contact with Romania.  Nevertheless, it has been an incredibly interesting and educational period having decided to take a risk and teach a new group of nationalities.

The biggest thing that I have noticed, with to regards to learner expectation, and I do not wish to tarnish all Romanian language learners with the same brush, is that there is a tendency between selected learners having pre-conceived ideas of how a language lesson should be directed/taught/focused.  For example, with a particular group of learners, there is one learner that is constantly willing to vocalise that they wish for more fluency based speaking, yet in 5 minutes the same learner is asking questions about grammar and accuracy.  However, many students are very accommodating and are keen to develop their language learning, are readily available to take risks with English and are genuinely communicative.  The Young Learners that I have been teaching are incredibly enthusiastic and a joy to teach.  They are keen to please the teacher and have some basic grasp of English.  Compared to adult learners, Young Learners are wiling to try various activities but I have noticed one thing about the acquisition of the English alphabet when it comes to Romanians.

Young Learners have a tendency to spell particular words with the Romanian alphabet.  The Romanian alphabet is phonetic with each individual word pronounced.  Romanian spelling sounds very similar when I was learning the English alphabet as a child and even more so when my son was learning to spell.  In English, children learn to spell in two different ways: one variation would be (for A, B, C) aye, bee, see, etc and another would be ahh, bu, su, etc (hopefully you recognise the point I am getting at).  So when I hear Romanians spell in English, with some interference from Romanian, it sounds very strange and just like a very young child.  It is interesting to hear how quickly Romanians can spell words: I heard one student spell a word in half a second.  For English speakers, it would take a little longer to spell the same word.  Naturally, there are some errors between letters (which are more common from other European languages): Romanian learners have a tendency to get confused between ‘g’ and ‘j’, ‘o’ and ‘u’, or ‘e’ and ‘i’, some problematic letters include ‘h’ (and they pronounce like the French ‘h’ – ‘hash‘), ‘y’ (pronounced again like the French or Spanish).  It was interesting today, I had an intermediate adult learner ask how to spell a particular word and after spelling it (albeit quite slowly), there was still some hesitation about the spelling and the selection of particular letters.

Nevertheless, I have noticed that Romanian learners have previous experience of English language learning but was informed that within the public schooling in Romania that learners are often taught in teacher-centred classrooms, focus more on grammar and less on fluency and have also had experience of a grammar-translation method of language learning.  Saying that though, some Romanians have experience of learning English through the medium of television.  For example, there is the Cartoon Network that is aired (I believe this is still the case) within Romania and the cartoons shown keep with the original audio. Thus, there are selected learners that have greater listening skills, a wide breadth of vocabulary but have little formal teaching of the English language and expect grammar to be taught explicitly.  Naturally, with any learners, there is a balance between satisfying learner expectation and balancing between fluency and accuracy in the classroom.  When I went to a conference at the Romanian American University last week, I had a Romanian English teacher who I chatted to for about 20 minutes about language learning and she offered these wise words about teaching Romanian learners: “I was always told that English teaching is more creative than other traditional subjects but there is an expectation for English to be taught much like traditional subjects”.

Finally, the experience that I have gained so far inside and outside the classroom has offered me a new perspective with language learning and teaching.  I am starting to learn in more detail how a ‘balanced approach’ to learner expectation could develop into something more progressive in the future.  One thing that I have not considered, or read in much detail, is learner expectation of the teacher.  It would be really useful to undertake some form of action research to gain a greater understanding of learner expectation of teachers in Romania, the students’ experiences of language learning as well as develop a personal and greater awareness of the individual learners in the classroom.

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