Could you, for our readers, describe the place you grew up and lived in?
I grew up in Southampton which is an industrial port city on the south coast of England. It used to be a quite nice old town but basically, because it was an important port, everything was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. It’s still quite nice because instead of replacing all the old historical buildings with new ugly buildings, like they did in some cities, they’ve replaced all the old historical buildings with parks, so you have a kind of port and lots of parks where the city centre should be. It is a very green place and also it is by the sea, which is nice.
Have you studied there? What was the subject of your studies?
No, I’ve studied in London at St Mary’s University which is like a teacher training college. Ive done a degree in English there and then I did some more teacher training at other colleges. The subject was English as a Foreign Language.
Why have you moved to the Czech Republic?
(smiling) That’s an interesting story. When I lived in London before I came here I used to have a Czech girlfriend and basically every holiday we would come to Czech, because she wanted to be with her family. I was studying Czech to be able to communicate with her family and then I got to like the place and I got to like Prague. We broke up about six years ago so I wanted to do something different. I have been going to the Czech Republic regularly and I have been studying Czech, so it made sense to come live here. Also, there are good jobs for English teachers here.
Who had taught you Czech language?
While living in London I was studying Czech – the Westminster University does classes in Czech. There are three places in London where you can study Czech and I went to the cheapest (chuckle).
How long have you been living in the Czech Republic? What cultural differences have you noticed so far?
For six years. Hmmm, there is a lot. You know it is one of those things it’s hard to put your finger on. I think the culture of the people is not one thing; it consists of a thousand different things and you have to add the composites together to create a culture. So whenever someone says the cultural difference, they take out one composite and focus on one thing and then you kind of miss the rest – and so it is tricky to do. I mean, the obvious thing everyone notices is that in England, in opposite to Czech, everybody is smiling in the service industry. In England everybody smiles all the time whereas in the service industry in the Czech Republic, everybody looks very serious. I think visitors from England or America get put off by this kind of serious attitude.
For example, what was the strangest thing you came across here?
(thinking) I have been having some interesting experiences with Czech bureaucracy (laughing). I would not say it was strange but probably the most challenging of the things. I had to do lots of things here because I live here. (Editor’s note: the journalists are from Slovakia, so they understand this point very well and are amused). It is kind of crazy. Just to see the difference, there is a lot of bureaucracy in England as well as there is in Czech. But in England there is a system that is standardized and everyone adheres to it. But what is interesting about Czech bureaucracy is it just depends on who you talk to on any given day and everything is like entirely fluid. You know everything can change from one moment to the next, which can make it difficult to deal with.
How have you ended up being at our faculty?
That was kind of by accident as well (chuckle). I used to work for a really good school called Bel school and they closed unexpectedly. They were like an international organisation. Basically the main company shut down the Czech franchise because they were losing money – the industry is not so good now. So I had a good job there and this job disappeared. Obviously I was looking for something. My colleague here, Irena Dvořáková is friends with the former director of Bel school and she was looking for people – my predecessor had left kind of in the middle of the term. So she contacted Bel school and asked if there was anyone from the ashes of the school – so they send me across and I got the job.
For how long have you been teaching here? What are your impressions?
Since 2010. It is a good job, I like it. Actually I was thinking about it the other day, it is the longest I have ever been in any job because I tend to move jobs quite often all the time, you know for different reasons. I don’t like staying in one place so this is a very good advertisement for FJFI. It is very nice here (smiling).
What are the differences between studying in England and the Czech Republic?
Well, what is becoming more fashionable in England is the more student-sensed approach and student’s autonomy. While there is the idea that students have to be given independence and learn to think, here you see the more traditional approach which is kind of teacher centred. The teacher is dictating the knowledge and the students must absorb it and then dictate it back later. It is becoming more fashionable in England to give students the responsibility for what they learn. They have to figure out what the important thing is and they kind of learn to study and learn to think, which is part of the process. Every university in England has a compulsory studies skills course, so every student has to learn how to write essays, how to study, how to read books, how to do research. I have never seen anything like this in Czech. You either learn to study or you fail. It is your problem you know.
It is said that nobody ever received an A from you from the oral exam. Is it true?
(laugh) No, it is not true. Ah, that is funny. Every year there are two or three. (laughing again)
So what are the requirements?
Well you see, for testing basically the student’s ability usually goes on the bell curve so the good test should produce the bell curve of results. Most of the students should be on the top of the curve which is kind of C-B and then a few bad on the left side and a few really good students on the right. This, in my opinion, reflects the ability of students in the faculty. To get that A they should do lot of the stuff that non-native speakers don’t do which is like producing long connected ideas, referring back to what they said before and structuring what they say and kind of organising the speech and coherence of the answers. Also they should have really accurate and really advanced English. I want students to take risks – there are lot of students who kind of learn a lot of stuff and they stick to the same things they know and they never take any risks and then you just turn to get a C. So you got to take risk and use new and more advanced stuff.
Has anyone failed?
Yeah, but you get 3 tries to retake it so by the time they come 3rd time they usually sort it out.
Do you like Czech cuisine? What about beer?
Yes, but I am a vegetarian so I miss a lot of it. I am a big fan of beer. I have been here long enough so I like it more than English beer. You see, there is a difference in taste. English beer is very bitter, Czech is much sweeter. I think I have developed a taste for it since being here.
We know that you are married, where is your wife from? Is she living here with you?
She is from England and yes, she is living here.
Did she move voluntarily?
(laughing) Was she kidnapped? That is the logical implication. No, we met here in Czech.
Do you have any children? Are you planning to teach them English, Czech or both languages?
Do you plan to stay in Czech Republic?
Yes, I have one son. His name is Alex and he is 15 months old. Right now I speak to him in English. I did use to speak to him a bit in Czech but it just feels weird. We are going to send him to a Czech „školka”, (asking himself: what do we call that in English?) so hopefully he’ll learn Czech that way. Yes, we are planning to stay here for sure. We don’t know for how long but we’ve got no plans to leave.