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December 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Bilingual Teaching

Jelena Peurača completed a Master's degree at the Faculty of Sciences  in Novi Sad, Department of Geography, Tourism and Hotel Management. For 23 years she has been employed in primary school "Petefi Šandor", Novi Sad where she was running the bilingual project.


I was flipping through the newspapers some time ago, thinking to myself: ’There are more and more job adverts in English!?!’ I was walking down school corridors, listening to the children chattering, and heard them use English phrases and lines from English songs. It was then that I promised to myself  that come Septembre I would start with a course of  English, at the same time hoping as hell that it would not be just an empty promise, like the Monday diet.  

That was running through my head when I arrived at school and heard that the Headmaster wanted me for a chat.  I quickly ran through the past few days in my mind, trying to remember what I had done wrong to be asked to the Headmaster’s office.  I was very nervous before I heard him explain that the school was starting a new project, a bilingual programme, and that students would study Maths and Geography in English. Then there was the question: ’Do you speak English?’ Did I speak it or not? I told him that I had been learning English in both primary and secondary school but that I was not very good at it but  I also told him that I was ready for this new challenge in my career.   

So the challenge started. My colleague and I started attending classes of English in a private language school Anglia where we found teachers who were extremely patient and knowledgeable in teaching adults. We studied together and slowly covered our teaching curriculum bit by bit. Our teachers helped us find  suitable materials that we would later use with our students in the bilingual project. 

And then it was Septembre, the official start of the project. There I was, feeling as I was stepping into the classroom for the first time to teach.  I was feeling butterflies in my stomach; was really nervous.  I was not confident in my English language knowledge, there was no suitable literature in English to back me up, the curriculum was extensive, Geography was one of the obligatory subjects in the school leaving exams – all of this was swirling in my mind. Would we be able to learn everything? What did I get myself into?  Hundreds of questions pop into my head, without answers. I step into the classroom and see the eyes and the smiles of my students. Suddenly I am not nervous any more and I have all the answers that I need.   

Off we went into our challenge. The first lesson contained 32 geographical terms. We agreed that at  first we would learn the words in English but the definitions of those terms would  be in Serbian.  Later on in the course I doubled everything, both terms and definitions were in both English and Serbian. I spoke so fast to fit everything into the 45 minute lessons that it felt like I was ready to make TV commercials.

My one big support in my school was English language teacher Žana Damjanović. She took it upon herself to teach the Geography terms from my lessons additionally in her classes. She also  doublechecked if the geographic terms were correctly translated into English and made sure my pronunciation was good.

As time went on, students started greeting me in English when they passed me in the school corridors. English was used more and more in classes as well.  Our lessons were  frequently funny  as we started from terminology in English and when we got stuck Serbian words would creep in. There were peels of laughter during the lessons. We learnt the language through songs that had geography as a topic. We wrote recipes and made food to memorize the names of fruit and spices. 

To make it easier to learn all the terminology we created a dictionary of geographical terms but the pinnacle of our work came  when we wrote a play that was all about the United Kingdom of Great Britain an Northern Ireland.

The entire bilingual project lasted for five years and included four classes of students. While not all the students were prepared to put in the extra work, majority  regarded the project as a privilege and an opportunity to expand their knowledge. 

This project required enormous effort and huge amount of time; hours and hours of searching for the suitable materials, of rehearsing the correct pronunciation, of memorizing songs, of designing quizzes. On the other hand,  it meant extra time spent with the students and with the colleagues involved with the project and that time was precious. It created new bonds.

If during the project I asked myself what I had let myself into, now that it is finished and I remember  the learning, the laughter, the rehearsing for the play, students falling in love.. I do not regret a minute of that time. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 


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Tagged  Voices