Sunday, 21 June 2009

Saved from oblivion?

Yesterday on my way home from the last English class, passing by the estate of housing blocks in Mysiadło I spotted a middle-aged man, having a tracksuit on, carrying a pile of old books towards the bins… That very view aroused a bit my curiosity, I’ve always wondered why people trash out books. One doesn’t throw books away, one needs to have respect for books, I was taught it by my parents, who amassed more than one thousand volumes during their lives – it was even hard to fit all of them into our terraced house, I’m even afraid to think what will happen, if one day I want to sell the house and move to a smaller flat. I won’t dump them – I’ll give them away, sell off for a song on allegro, put them on consignment or donate to local libraries, in case I don’t want to keep them.

I approached the man and asked what was he going to do with the books. Throw away – he replied bluntly. I persuaded him to let me glance through the heap of books, before they wound up in the bin. Actually there was nothing really worth attention, nothing, apart from the one item (real jewel!) which I took and probably saved from being recycled and turned into lavatory paper (unless someone else wouldn’t root about in the bin and wouldn’t rummage it and take it away). The English textbook I found (on the photo below, on the left) was published in Poland in 1968 (clicking on the photo you’ll see some details) and was destined for the university students.

I flicked through it and in a way it met my amazement. I was raised on the different type of books for learning foreign languages, prepared by the methodologists from English-speaking or German-speaking countries (mostly from the UK, in case of English), with lots of pictures, various exercises, plays, etc, meant to facilitate memorising new words, structures, etc. The one I procured yesterday brings to my mind one word – “austerity”. This book is a kind of embodiment of austerity. Pages are already faded, on some there are notes written with a navy pen, there’s a picture of a witch flying on the broom on the back of the cover, also made with that pen. As all the scripts from those times (późny Gomułka, wczesny Gierek) it’s typewritten.

The method of teaching is also utterly different – every word is translated into Polish, rather than explained in English, there are scores of practical exercises, including phrasal verbs and idioms, after each chapter there’s a glossary. As the title suggests, it’s indeed somewhat of C1 (Effective operational proficiency) level, I’ll surely go over it, I’m sure I’ll learn something new from it (when learning any language one’s mind can absorb new knowledge endlessly) and perhaps I’ll find a few errors to pick on.

The new find made me mull over the evolution that took place in the methods of teaching within lat forty years – compare with the current book I’ve been using for the last few months. Probably those methods have been improved but after getting it into my hands I feel like turning back the clock and checking out those out of ark approaches – the book doesn’t leave much room for fancy exercises, it focuses on ‘hard learning’, I’m somehow craving for – a thorough exploration is still ahead of me!

I also thought over the issue of learning English in Poland, which I’m going to elaborate on one day (inspiration, come over! Please come over!). Today every Wyższa Szkoła Wszystkiego i Niczego (EN: university of everything and nothing), as I call those private universities which mushroomed after the downfall of communism and for huge sums of money produce lousy and under-educated graduates, offers studying English philology. In the People’s Poland learning western language wasn’t a big distinction as it is sometimes thought (my both parents learned English, my father after five years of learning in technikum, forty years ago, would still communicate in basic situations, to my astonishment), however, as my parents say, there was no incentive to learn. As I’ve read in the Internet one could study English philology on only few biggest universities at the time, people would declare it was “sleazy” (PL: zapyziały – any better translation of that word into English? / updated on 22th June - indeed, dodgy fits better, thx), except one, at the University in Poznań, where the head of that faculty was professor Jacek Fisiak – who by the way collaborated overtly with communist secret service (PL: SB) and expelled everyone who hadn’t fallen into line with the system (mostly in the 80’s for membership in Solidarity), but falling into line allowed students to spread their wings, go on the scholarships abroad, etc. I have a dictionary, the chief editor of which was Mr Fisiak – it’s “sleazy” nonetheless. Today every school gives the opportunity of studying English philology but I’m bitterly disappointed with the level some graduates represent, many of them let me down, some even know English worse than me. Maybe I should say “we all have feet of clay”, but if I decided to spend five years focusing almost only on exploration of foreign language, I would strive to reach a level of proficiency which features a well-educated native speaker. Sometimes it appears to me that their studies could have been an endless binge with some breaks taken for the exams…

That must have been a stroke of fate – one book which accidentally changed hands evoked so many thoughts and reflections…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'zapyziały' is better translated as 'dodgy'. Did we really say this about them? Cool. I keep hearing that all the Eastern Europeans are 'dodgy'.
'Sleazy' is used to describe Tory politicians, more to do with 'przekręt' and porn affairs.