An interview with eltforum.sk presenter: Soňa Kondelová
An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
Every idea has the potential to grow and make something of itself. However, this often requires overcoming serious obstacles. Soňa Kondelová, who is giving a workshop with Andrea Billíková and Ľubica Piecková at the ELTForum conference this weekend, knows that often the best way to deal with the difficulties is to cooperate. Read her thoughts on the maturita exam, her YES! coursebook, and her life teaching. Ideas are perhaps the most powerful of all weapons.
SCET: You teach at the Department of Translatology in Nitra. Have you always wanted to teach English?
Why did you decide to teach translation instead of becoming a freelance translator?
Soňa: English (and French) was a clear choice for me from the start. I knew my profession would concern these two languages.
I like teaching, and I like translation. Teaching translation seemed to be a good compromise. Teaching translation is discussing meanings in different contexts. It’s talking about what something means to different people in two different cultures. For me, talking in terms of “meanings” and “cultures” is more exciting than in terms of “words” and “languages”. Discussion is important in translation seminars as the best translation solutions are found in an open discussion negotiating meanings. Discussing possible meanings and translation solutions is very natural for me because my mother is a literary translator, so it is something we often do. For me, working with students on a translation is more exciting than translating the text myself.
SCET: How did you get started in materials writing?
Soňa: After years of teaching a language on different levels, a colleague and I knew exactly what different types of students struggle with. As language teachers, we created our own materials for our students. So we decided to work on real books for the maturita exam.
SCET: Where do you find inspiration and ideas for the materials you write? From your perspective, what’s the difference between developing materials for translator trainees and developing materials for language learners? Which is more demanding and why?
Soňa: My inspiration is working with Andrea Billiková, experienced and inexhaustible teacher trainer and a great person. She is the leader of our team; she comes with ideas and develops the conceptions for our books. Her theoretical and practical background is just amazing. I develop her ideas in detail and Ľubica and Alena, excellent grammar school English teachers, complement the work with their perspective from “real life” and test the books with their students at grammar school were they teach. Our Yes! team is what I find inspiring.
As for the exercises, we get ideas from our experience – we know what causes problems to Slovak learners of English. As for the topics, we find inspiration in our lives: the book is full of portraits of our family members, friends, colleagues… Even our dogs are mentioned!
Developing materials for translator trainees is totally different. Translation is a skill that can be developed after the language skills in both languages are perfect. It’s very difficult and there are many ways to design a coursebook for these types of students. I participated at many seminars on teaching translation abroad where people doubted whether it is possible to learn to translate at all, for example literary translation… Anyway, I think that all materials, for language learners or translator trainees should be tailor-made.
SCET: Which part of writing (e.g. for the ‘Yes’ coursebook) do you enjoy the most? What do you wish you could get out of it?
Soňa: I really enjoyed recording the listening comprehension exercises in the studio with people of different nationalities. I think that the native speakers of English enjoyed it too. We also had a lot of fun recording the video of the oral part of the “maturita” exam. For one of the students, it had been a good opportunity to test herself because she did the real exam a week later. On the other hand, multiple proofreading and putting the finishing touches were tedious…
SCET: Standardised, written maturita seems to have become a fixture of the educational system in Slovakia. What do you personally think about standardised testing? Do you see it as something more positive or negative? Do you think that testing supports learning and helps them develop English skills? How?
Soňa: I find it positive. At written maturita exam, students show their ability to perform certain language tasks. It should be done under the same conditions using the same system of measurement. As not all the students learned the language under the same conditions, they choose the proficiency level at the exam. So one test for all, corrected by external experts with a choice of proficiency level seems to be a good idea.
Testing should have a positive effect on learning, students should learn from it. However, I think that this can only be done if it tests for real-life situations.
Soňa Kondelová has been teaching at the Department of Translatology, Faculty of Arts, Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra where she supervises the courses of translation. She has also been developing materials for translator trainees and language learners. She is one of the authors of the YES! series dedicated to secondary school leavers in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.