A while back I published this post summarizing an interview with Milan Šácha, a freelance Czech teacher of English. Recently, on the same website, there has been another interview on an ELT related topic, this time with Bronislav Sobotka, an English and methodology teacher, a popular YouTuber, and a busy conference presenter. This ‘enthusiastic teacher from Brno who helps people to fall in love with English‘, as Bronislav likes to call himself in his YouTube videos, also shares his views on teaching English in the Czech Republic.
There are many similarities between what Bronislav and Milan say in their interviews, but I sense a big chasm between the ways they present themselves and their views on teaching. The former interviewee seems much more humble and also more mindful about what he says. For example, he doesn’t explicitly say that what others do is deficient or wrong in some way. In other words, he doesn’t claim that his teaching style is the best. To the contrary, he believes in a variety of teaching styles, which should primarily suit the students’ needs.
He’s a truly nice fellow (I once had an opportunity to meet him in person) and the crowds (read: female conferences attendees and his YouTube fans) love him, which actually makes me pretty biased right from the start. So don’t expect any harsh criticism from me this time. Seriously, I can’t really disagree with anything he says. So, let’s start singing the praises …
What I really appreciate about this person is the fact that he is so terribly optimistic and enthusiastic but still pretty serious. This is something you discover when you see him in action (I attended one of his workshops) or when you carefully listen to what he has to say. Also, his honesty is disarming. He claims to be so excited about teaching because he has a dream job – probably the best job he could ever get. And I totally believe him because, based on my own experience, it is possible to feel this way about one’s job. By the way, his definition of a dream job is ‘something you would like doing even if you didn’t get paid for it’. Sweet.
It comes as a shock when he calls himself a dummy with lots of learning disabilities. Yes. But this, he says, is one of his strengths as a teacher because he can easily put himself in his students’ shoes. In other words, he understands what they are going through during the learning process. What is also interesting is the fact is that he started learning English at the age of twenty, which, I reckon, must be quite motivating for all those people out there who feel too old to take up another language. It’s never too late, is it? Actually, now that I think about it, I was a late bloomer too; I started my English lessons when I was 15, which by some is considered too late if you want to acquire a near-native level of English, especially in terms of pronunciation. But this is not what Bronislav is promoting anyway – his aim seems to be to help his learners communicate fluently and efficiently (and to fall in love with English).
There’s no doubt that Bronislav is a very supportive teacher. Through his videos, he tries to make people feel more confident about learning English. I’ve never met any of his students but from what I’ve seen and heard, I bet they adore him. This is probably due to his generally optimistic mindset; he subscribes to the hypothesis that anyone who has acquired an L1 has the capacity to acquire an L2 provided they make the necessary effort and are motivated enough to keep going. He acknowledges, however, that some people just can’t help giving up along the way.
He also adds that learning (and teaching) must be enjoyable. Later on, in the interview, he describes what happens in his lessons: through challenging and fun games and tasks, he tries to lead his students into the flow state. During speaking activities, some music is usually on so that people don’t get distracted by the fact that what they say is heard and possibly judged, and thus they may feel more relaxed and comfortable. The best-case scenario is when the students don’t even notice that the lesson is already over. He adds, however, that it’s important to explain to students why they are doing what they are doing. This is a way of reassuring them that the lessons are not a collection of random activities but carefully planned units. Also, it’s essential to ask students what they want to learn. This way the students feel that they matter – that somebody takes into consideration their needs.
The most interesting point in the interview is when Bronislsav courageously but respectfully disagrees with the alleged claim of a highly regarded linguist Josef Jařab (a former rector and professor of American literature at Palacký University, Olomouc in the Czech Republic) that the best way to learn English is through reading. Bronislav’s response is that people who love reading will indeed learn best through reading – simply because they enjoy it. But those who hate reading will probably give up once they are told that reading is the only way to learn English. He mentions more suitable alternatives, such as learning through mobile apps, movies with subtitles, and PC games. He adds that to him, being able to use English means feeling comfortable in those situations when you need to use it. According to him, the fear of making mistakes is the main reason why so many people fail to learn to communicate fluently.
At one point, the interviewer, playing the devil’s advocate, is a little doubtful about Bronislav’s enthusiastic methods and their place in the state sector of education, particularly in regard to assessment. Also, according to the interviewer, not every secondary school student is highly motivated and wants to learn. Bronislav is not easy to discourage though; he strongly believes in positive feedback and lots of encouragement on the teacher’s part and step-by-step improvement on the student’s part. In his mind, Bronislav tries to picture all students as motivated. He always imagines the best possible future ‘version’ of a particular student which, he believes, they will gradually grow into. At this point, he mentions The Golem effect (a psychological phenomenon in which lower expectations placed upon individuals either by supervisors or the individual themselves lead to poorer performance by the individual), which is something he wants to avoid in his teaching.
What I also appreciate is the fact that he doesn’t dismiss coursebook completely. This, to me, would be just another publicity stunt (which there are so many of out there) and possibly over the top, given the fact that he is also a secondary school teacher.
Towards the end of the interview the reporter, in a futile attempt to find some weak spots in Bronislav’s theories, suggests that it may actually be him, the teacher, who is the weak spot since it’s clearly not possible to be enthusiastic all the time. Well, as I said before, it’s not easy to shake Bronislav’s convictions; he maintains that upon entering the classroom, it’s his obligation to take on the role of an enthusiastic, supportive teacher. This is how it should be in other professions too. So, if you have a bad day, it doesn’t mean your students (or customers) should have it too. It’s not faking it – it’s only professional.
Anyway, I was glad to hear that his students are doing well and have passed the standardized final exams (which is the ultimate proof that alternative methods and approaches work – even in the state system of education).