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‘I soon realised that as a student of English, one of the best ways of learning more was to teach it!’
English teacher and teacher trainer Jiří always toyed with the idea of teaching online, and when the pandemic hit he decided to focus on something new. He is now a regular presenter on the Learn English with Cambridge YouTube channel.
I was born in a little town called Litoměřice, which is 60 minutes north of Prague. Growing up I loved British rock music. I’m the lead singer in a local indie band in Prague with a group of friends who’ve known each other for a long time. Singing songs in English really helped my English journey. I really like to play with my intonation, and I loved the fact that I felt good about my pronunciation when I sang in English.
However, my first actual contact with English was much earlier. When I was six years old, I went to a school that focused on languages with a few English lessons every week. In the Czech Republic, people – I’d say more than 90% of people – really want to learn languages and English is a popular choice. Learning English is very common and bilingual schools are popping up more and more.
Singing songs in English really helped my English journey.
Later at high school I got the opportunity to go to an English-speaking country, and I went to Canada to stay with a family from the Czech Republic. Being in Canada was a great cultural experience but challenging at times. I wasn’t familiar with some expressions and how day-to-day interactions worked. I still remember how I’d tell people my whole life story if they just asked: ‘how are you?’
I really loved languages and wanted to get better, so I chose a degree in English language and literature. I had the opportunity to go to a university in Prague near my parents or to Brno, which is the second-largest city in the Czech Republic. I chose Brno because I really wanted to be independent. While studying my degree, I learned a lot of new things about the English language: pronunciation, linguistics, and literature, and then in my second year I went to live in Bristol in the UK as an Erasmus student.
Living in Bristol was the longest time I had been out of my country learning English, and the first time I’d met people from different regions in England. I realised that there were so many things I still didn't know and I found some English phrases confusing. For example, I didn’t know that when people said ‘quid’ they meant pound! People from the Czech Republic try to be perfect at English and not make any mistakes, but when you travel you can’t be perfect so it’s a humbling experience.
I soon realised that as a student of English one of the best ways of learning more was to teach it! This is because you have to prove yourself in front of people. I started teaching during my third year of university to all generations of students. I’m quite an extrovert so that helps, and I’ve always been confident speaking and performing in front of people. The truth is that good teaching requires lots of planning – especially for a newbie teacher! Pages of planning, and this was new to me, so I prepared in the best way that I could.
Later on, I did some teaching qualifications and the pivotal moment for my career was taking CELTA from Cambridge. The main change for me was that I felt really motivated and energised. I started to understand the importance of making my lessons student-centred and I also realised how much I could still learn about teaching.
Then I went to England to teach English in a summer camp; it was the first time I had taught teenagers. As it was like a sports camp, I thought competitions were the way to go. However, my students became too competitive and even rude to each other, which was an eye-opening moment for me as a teacher. I've learned to use competitions more carefully in my classes and since then I’ve always focused more on collaborative tasks. I believe this is the way forward.
I had always toyed with the idea of teaching online, and when Covid hit I didn’t go to the UK for the summer, so I decided to try something new. I started making short videos on Instagram, and my wife, who is from Colombia, was a big help. She’d studied to be an actress and directed plays in Prague, so she helped with my stage presence and confidence. I had the summer, and I used the time to create an audition video to become one of the new Learn English with Cambridge presenters and I was successful.
When I found out that I had been selected, I was pumping, buzzing, and jumping around. I was with my wife and son at the time; my wife was teaching Spanish online and I started going wild! I thought: ‘Here we go!’ I love trying out new things. I’ve now made ten videos for the Learn English with Cambridge YouTube channel and it’s been a fantastic part of my English journey.
My life has changed a lot since I became a father as has my mindset. I love my family and my son is a cool kid!
When I think about the future, I’m planning on doing as much as possible on the YouTube channel, teaching teachers and students, and trying more new things online.
About Jiří Horak
Jiří is an IB certified English teacher and a teacher trainer; he obtained CELTA and is a regular presenter on the YouTube channel Learn English with Cambridge.
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