April 23, 2017

Can Lithuanian be learnt in one year?

In an age of increasing globalisation, the need to learn foreign languages also increases. Speaking English today seems to be a must. And what about the Lithuanian language? When speaking our native language, we never stop to think whether it is easy to master for a foreigner. Can they learn to speak one of the most archaic surviving Indo-European languages in one year?

The door of the Faculty of Humanities and Education Sciences of Klaipėda University (KU) every day opens to foreigners wishing to speak Lithuanian. Jūratė Derukaitė, Head of the Centre for Languages and Social Education, is pleased with the fact that this year the number of learners of Lithuanian particularly increased. Part of them are KU students who arrived from India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, or Turkey, another part are foreigners residing in Klaipėda (Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Swiss), as well as volunteers from Germany, Portugal, and Turkey. During the holidays, my friends and I wanted to travel around Lithuania, but our trip was not quite successful: in the province, people did not understand our English, so we tried to remember the words we learnt during our lectures to explain what we wanted“, remembered Dalmesh, a student from India. Thus, if one plans to live and study in Lithuania for more than a year one simply must study the language.

Maria, who speaks more than one language, believes that the Lithuanian language is difficult, more difficult than English, or Russian, or Italian.However, a group of students who in the autumn were learning to say laba diena” (good afternoon) in Lithuanian, made great progress in a year’s time: today they speak, read articles on the Internet, or watch Lithuanian TV programmes. Lithuanian can be mastered.

The courses of the Lithuanian language at different proficiency levels have been taking place at Klaipėda University for quite a few years. The experience of work with foreigners proved that the progress of learning the language depended on many things, including the desire, efforts, and abilities. Moreover, other languages spoken by the learners are also important. Those who speak Slavic or Romance languages are doing much better than those who can speak only English. Sean from India, student of KU, thinks that when one is learning Lithuania, one needs to totally ignore their native and especially the English language and not to try to compare them: English is very different from Lithuanian and only interferes with its learning.

Teaching to speak Lithuanian is also a challenge to the teacher of Lithuanian. In order to be able to speak, it is not enough to attend lectures of theory and to read a Lithuanian grammar. “I understand everything, but find it difficult to speak; necessary words fail to come to mind at the right moment, even though I know them well”, complain students of the Lithuanian courses at KU. The teachers of Lithuanian work with students individually and prepare assignments for them that help to overcome the language barrier. Those who learn Lithuanian as a foreign language are faced with totally different difficulties than Lithuanians who study their native language at school or university. It takes quite a lot of the teacher’s time, empathy, and creative abilities to understand that.

Foreigners who come to live to Lithuania often feel social exclusion: a language barrier and cultural differences hinder integration and cause culture shock. In the courses provided by the Centre for Languages and Social Education, they meet people sharing the same fate and make friends, therefore, their mood improves, as well as their quality of life in Lithuania. When one sees that Lithuanian is a difficult language for everybody one finds it easier to go on, not to give up, and not to get lost in the confusion of Lithuanian endings and prefixes. Moreover, a club of the Lithuanian language Amici Lituanici for foreigners has been founded that brings together dozens of people and helps them to integrate into the community.


Text by dr. Daiva Pagojienė, lecturer of the Baltic Philology Department at Klaipeda University

Photo: FHES KU