Jihlava primary school teachers bring creative approach to the classroom

Lukáš Heřman, photo: archive of Lukáš Heřman

Getting young children interested in learning a foreign language is not always easy, but two teachers at a primary school in the town of Jihlava appear to have done the trick. Lukáš Heřman, an English and gym teacher, and Lukáš Javorek, a math and geography teacher, are producing fun video clips in which they themselves are the main actors. The English vocabulary video clips called MonkeyEnglish are posted on the school’s website and have been getting more hits by the day.

Lukáš Heřman,  photo: archive of Lukáš Heřman
I spoke with one of the teachers, Lukáš Heřman, and asked whether they had been taken aback by the interest their simple video clips generated.

“Absolutely, it was a surprise for us. The success of the pilot episode, which was The Fridge, motivated us to understand the project MonkeyEnglish as a real project, a long-term project and we were absolutely amazed by the initial response and the fact that the number of subscribers grew from one day to the next.”

Can you explain how it works?

“Well, the way it works is that every week we post a new video –every Sunday – in which we show the items and name the items, so viewers see the item and hear what it is called in English and how they should pronounce it correctly.”

It seems to have generated an enormous interest in learning English among school children at your school –what do you think is the secret behind this success? What is it that they find so attractive as opposed to regular lessons at school for instance?

“I think the attraction lies mainly in that fact that the videos are short and available for free online. Viewers can play them over and over, as often as they want, at whatever time suits them best. So they are learning in the comfort of their own home and there is no teacher. So, the answer is comfort and convenience.”

Who is your audience?

“That was a big surprise for us. At first we targeted students from our own school, but when we put out the first few videos we realized we were reaching an audience of adults and seniors as well.”

And what kind of feedback are you getting?

Lukáš Heřman,  Lukáš Javorek,  photo: Czech Television
“After we first shared the videos with the children at the very next lesson I checked to see how many words they had learnt from the video and we were surprised by how effective it was. Most children had learnt 10 to 12 words from the 20 words presented in the video. That was the first feedback, which motivated us to continue with the project. And there is also feedback from Facebook and Youtube, with the most frequent comments being Good video! I have learnt some new words! Great video! But there are critics as well.”

Yes, I noticed that some viewers correct your mistakes. Does that bother you? Or do you see it as positive since they are paying attention and learning?

“Yes, mistakes really happen and we appreciate the fact that they contact us because then we can correct the videos uploaded online.”

You are involved in this project with a co-teacher. I don’t think he teaches English, does he –who is he?

“Yes, the co-teacher I work with on this is actually a friend of mine and he teaches math.”

Was he not worried about getting involved in an English language instruction video when it is not his subject?

“Yes, he was afraid at the start and it was hard to persuade him to take part in the project. He had great ideas how to make the videos, but he was ashamed to speak English. But that is what MonkeyEnglish is about –you don’t need to be perfect. You just need to make an effort and speak simple English.”

There is clearly demand for more from your students – do they ask you to cover special topics? Do they make suggestions as well? Is it interactive?

Lukáš Heřman,  photo: archive of Lukáš Heřman
“Yes, we get inspiration from the children. And we can select the videos as we want because we are our own bosses. That’s great and the children definitely help us in putting together the list of videos.”

Do you feel that language lessons at school may not be entertaining enough? Could that be why your pupils have latched onto this?

“I don’t think so –every teacher uses his favourite activities to make the lesson entertaining but at the same time also effective. So it depends on each teacher how they go about it. This method could help, but it is not the only way.”

Do you feel that other school subjects would benefit from a similar approach?

“Yes, absolutely. Some teachers are already using videos available on the internet for this purpose.”

You are a foreign language teacher. Do you feel that Czech children are motivated enough to learn foreign languages and that foreign languages are taught as well as they can be in schools or is there still a lot left to be desired?

“Nowadays the children still do not understand that this is a great time to learn English. But I can see that this project has motivated at least children from our school and maybe a few children from other schools and I think it is a good time to come forward with new methods such as this and others of course.”

From your own experience as a teacher –what do you think is most important when you want to spark interest on the part of a child in learning a foreign language?

Photo: archive of Lukáš Heřman
“Indisputably it is the teacher’s own involvement and interest. When I enter the classroom and the children can see that the teacher likes English you can involve them wholly. That is what works.”

You do this in your own spare time and on your own finances –do you have support from staff and the school management?

“Yes, we make the videos in our own free time, usually at night because then we can work undisturbed. MonkeyEnglish has received a lot of support from our school director and our school. We are on the school’s website, which really helps, and I have to say that we are really proud to be teachers at this primary school.”