Tereza was one of Steve’s first pupils. She began learning at the age of 4 and her parents now consider the decision to be one of the best they could have made in terms of their daughter’s education.
Tereza is now 16 and was one of the first children who learned English with Steve in the Czech Republic. She began with the Wow! method in kindergarten at the age of four and looking back now, her parents see it as being one of the best decisions they could have made for their daughter’s education. Tereza’s mother, Lenka Vrátná, tells us her daughter’s story.
When our four-year-old daughter started learning English at the age of four, there were plenty of people shaking their heads. They said she was too little for us to weigh her down with a foreign language, that we were just muddling her head and that she should enjoy her childhood. Another of the arguments we heard a lot was that she would later learn English at school anyway, so she had plenty of time. Sometimes I appeared to be a strange, ambitious mother, but Tereza did not even notice she was learning. She was having fun, playing.
And we didn’t pressure her in any way. No questions like, “what words did you learn today and how do you say such and such?”. It gradually began coming together on its own: “Mummy, we played this game. There was “Put your hand on the apple. Put your leg on the orange.” So I put my hand on the apple and my leg on the orange, but it didn’t work because Diana already had her hand there, so we didn’t fit.” Sometimes when she was playing at home she would sing in English and when we put on a video she would repeat everything right away.
When she was almost six, we went to Copenhagen on holiday and found out in practice that our child had no problem ordering juice in a restaurant or buying ice cream. When she went to the hotel reception and came back with a postcard and stamp, the receptionist came over with her mouth gaping and asked us how it was possible that such a young girl could speak such good English. We were delighted and so was our daughter – she was independent and felt really important. So important, in fact, that she started correcting my own pronunciation and that of my husband. And rightly so. We had both learned English at secondary school from Czech teachers, which you could obviously hear from the way we spoke. Our daughter, on the other hand, speaks like a native. The fact that she heard English from Steve, either in person or from videos and songs, meant that her pronunciation was flawless.
And this showed us once and for all how important it had been to start so early and that our gamble on Wow! had been the right one. Apart from great pronunciation, she used the right grammar – entirely automatically. This came as a massive surprise to me – she was using the right prepositions, the plural, she was responding very quickly, needing no time to process what she had heard and not needing to prepare an answer. The Wow! method works only with English and in English and so the children learn in a natural way, listen to whole sentences and say he has instead of he have, for example, absolutely routinely without even knowing why. What is more, the sentences are set into specific situations and spoken by a native speaker. It’s almost as if everything is stored on some inner disk, from which everything starts to come out automatically when needed. The method does not work with translation at all. The children think in English, it is natural to them. They don’t worry about perhaps saying something wrong, they simply fire out a question or an answer and it works. This also gets rid of any shyness about speaking a foreign language. The thing is, they don’t see English as being a foreign language – that is how they communicate with Steve and Maggie and that’s it.
English became an entirely normal means of communication for Tereza. Later on she began learning Chinese too and when she was twelve we decided in favour of a first Chinese course, in China. When we picked her up from school on the afternoon of day one, she began telling us that there were four of them in the group. Three Americans and her. She talked about what they had learned and what they had done during breaks and it was only then that I realised what our child was able to do at the tender age of twelve – learn one foreign language through another. Learn Chinese in English. All grammar explanations, exercises and explanations of what new words meant were in English. And she managed. It wasn’t easy, but she managed. There is no doubt that the only reason she did was that she was used to thinking in English. After all, if she had had to translate the English information from the teacher into Czech and then remould that into work with Chinese, it could never have worked. Simply because it would have taken her twice as long.
The fact that Tereza was involved with English from such a young age made sure that she speaks fluently, thinks in English and has excellent pronunciation. And above all, it saved her so much time. If she had started at primary school or learned using the standard methods, there is no way she would have got so far at her age. She is sixteen now and is still going with English and Chinese. And she is actually making a bit of money from it – she translates articles about China for a Czech blog and writes them in English for an English one.
As for me? Wow!English got me hook, line and sinker and I decided to start teaching a six-year-old girl with it. But I’ll leave that for next time…