Alena Sunavska is fluent in six European language with an understanding of a further four. She works as a professional language tutor and linguist. She teaches Czech, Slovak, Italian, Spanish, English and Greek. We have conducted a short interview with her.
When did you start advising people on how to learn languages to a fluent level?
When I first started to teach in the United Kingdom I realised, to my horror, why so many English students struggle with languages. They DID NOT learn English grammar in school. How is this even possible? How can such subject be called ENGLISH? I knew that if I don’t start to address this fundamental issue there is very little chance my students will achieve fluency. And this is how I work towards fluency; I explain how languages work straight from the first lesson and I make sure my students understand at all times, what and why they are doing or why there are learning certain things.
What is your motivation in learning and tutoring people in languages?
My own motivation when learning various languages was in fact very simple; when I hear people talking, I like to understand them. And not just their language but also their mentality, which often comes with it. I chose to teach languages because I felt like I have a lot to share, and I like to share knowledge. I worked hard to understand how languages are learned and I feel very fortunate I am able to transfer this knowledge to others. Teaching languages is my vocation.
Someone told me that having learned 7 languages from different language families can make a person very versatile in speaking any language? What is your personal opinion about this statement?
Correct. The more languages one learns, the easier it becomes then to learn another one. And that’s for a simple reason. The languages might be different, but the learning patterns and language structures are very similar. After two or three languages, acquiring a new one becomes a routine.
Do you consider someone who speaks a certain language with an accent not being fluent? How do you help someone overcome an accent issue during speaking?
I don’t find accents particularly important, as long as the speaker can be understood, and unless it becomes something the student worries about himself. I hardly ever correct accents, as it can be incredibly discouraging for the learner. Some students just don’t have the ear for it and are literally unable to sound like native speakers. Fluency is not about accent and correctness. It is about confidence in speaking, understanding and mastering of a language to a good enough level, where one can communicate and convey the appropriate message, feels comfortable to take part in any conversation and most importantly, knows how to deal with lack of vocabulary.
Which are the languages you teach/tutor? How much does it cost to master one language, assuming from basic to intermediate level?
I teach Czech, Slovak, Greek, Spanish, Italian. I don’t teach English.
I don’t like to categorise people into certain prescribed levels and I hardly ever use textbooks in my classes, so measuring progress is something incredibly individual for me. Languages are not learned over night and require massive drive and time commitment. However, I have seen that under the guidance of a qualified private tutor, a very dedicated student can become fluent in a few months. Which is fantastic, given many people spend several years attending language courses and yet can hardly find the confidence to spell their name.
From the courses you offer, can a new language learner assess how well he/she has progressed? Is there a guideline/progress chart provided?
Our tutors prepare highly individualised lessons which also provide ongoing feedback. We make sure students are aware of their progress, or any difficulties. We ensure they are comfortable with the path of their lessons, their course topics and their tutor’s teaching style.
As I mentioned earlier, we do not categorize people into prescribed language levels and don’t make them face benchmarks, unless they request a particular type of tuition (i.e. exam preparation etc.) in which case formal assessment becomes necessary.
We want our students to feel free and unrestricted, comfortable, confident, without having to achieve, compete and deliver. We want them to have fun and to learn fast, in the right way; we want them to learn languages naturally.