This spring has been very memorable, as I have had the pleasure of being a Visiting Professor in Kalisz, Poland. A visiting professor can refer to various kinds of things in the academic world. In this case, I was invited to the Faculty of Pedagogy and Fine Arts of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. This Faculty is located in Kalisz and educates, among others, students of English and pedagogy whose career goal is to become a teacher of English.
The fascinating thing about Kalisz is that it is considered the oldest city in Poland. Coming from the oldest city in Finland, this gave me a nice opening to all my meetings with the students. Due to my work responsibilities in Turku, I was not able to stay in Kalisz for longer periods at once. Instead, my teaching was intense: 6-8 hours of teaching while I was there. I led a workshop on Teaching and Learning Spoken English for third year students and a Workshop on Effective Learning for three first year groups of students. In addition, I met many members of staff for informal discussions on the Finnish education system and our shared research interests. I was lucky to visit Kalisz, as second language acquisition is a prominent research field at their Faculty.
My visit was part of their University of the Future programme that is funded by the EU. As part of this project, they invite international scholars to educate their students. Compared to Finnish students, the Polish students I met were mostly one step more shy and one step more insecure about their English skills, but fortunately I am familiar with both of these emotions. Much of my time was spent on convincing that making mistakes in a foreign language is ok and I thought that their English was very good. One first year student said that I was the first foreign person he had ever used English with (as they do not have native speakers as teachers). The students were very concerned with their grammar and pronunciation skills. Poznań is famous for their intense pronunciation teaching, as they spend two years on pronunciation skills. It was interesting that the materials they use are mostly the same as we have used at our university.
Towards the end, the students started to feel more relaxed with me. During our final meeting, when students presented their own projects, they even tested my pronunciation skills. I had to pronounce, for instance, trzy, wszystkiego, źdźbło and Szczebrzeszyn – and I did! I also got to discuss Kimi Räikkönen’s career, Finnish heavy metal music scene, and the lyrics to “Ievan polkka” (one student had learnt to sing it in Finnish earlier but did not understand what it meant). The most difficult question in my final exam was “Describe why you are a good learner of English”. Local teachers told me that traditionally Polish people like to focus more on what they do not know – another thing that I understand well coming from the Finnish setting. I look back on my time in Poland with fond memories.
Text and photos by Pekka Lintunen