Six things about teaching English in Romania

Earlier this month I had the chance to visit Romania for a teaching conference.  It was my second time, and a very nice conference with teachers from around the country, held in the province of Constantza on the coast. Between workshops and meals overlooking the Black Sea I managed to gather part of the following six pieces of information which I share with you here. Back from the conference, I asked Melania Paduraru, a former school inspector in Constanta, for more details – all the text in italics is quoted from her e-mail to me.

(Note that these country lists are not intended as useful jobsearch information for travelling English teachers looking for their next post, as there are a million sites like that already. They are rather intended as information about the overall picture of language teaching in the country taken from the people who live there.)

When is English taught? A modern language (be it English, French, German or any other one) is a mandatory subject in schools from the age of 9. A second modern language is obligatory from the age of 11. The school year in Romania begins in September and ends in June. School days occur in “shifts” depending on various factors such as the grade, district etc. The morning shift can start as early as 7:00am and finish at 12. The afternoon shift can start anywhere from 11:30 to 1:30 and might finish as late as 19:00.

How does one become a language teacher in Romania? Becoming a teacher in Romania isn’t a case of a quick four week course. As I was told, All teachers (state and private school) need to have attended university. Nowadays, after completing a 3 year degree at university (the equivalent of BA), graduates can teach in primary and lower secondary schools (1st grade to 8th grade).

Those willing to be allowed to teach in upper-secondary schools (or high schools as we call them) will have to have completed a Masters’ Degree of 3 semesters. University means studying mainly English and American Literature, Cultural Studies, Grammar, Linguistics, Translations, Pedagogy/Didactics, Psychology and Methodology etc., but also many other subjects, usually depending on the university’s choice and offer.

How much do teachers make? Salaries for teachers in Romania are, quite frankly, shockingly low. A teacher starting out can expect to make €160 a month. This can go up to €450 with seniority and extra degrees. Different positions (director, school inspector) can mean more money too, but it’s still very low.

What is the level of English of teachers and students in Romania? The above point notwithstanding, both teachers and students of English in Romania have an impressively high level of English. I have often been amazed at how easy it is for Romanians to pick up new languages and English is no exception. By the time they are in high school students are already using Upper Intermediate and Advanced books. It’s one of the only countries that I know that has what they call “super-advanced” coursebooks. I was told that the reasons for this were as follows:

Romanian teachers and their students are said to be the best among the European speakers of English, with the least country-specific accent. One reason we’re so good at this: before 1989, English was studied in very few schools in Romania, the main modern languages studied at the time being Russian, French and German (French and German being obviously preferred, but Russian being almost compulsory); after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, English gradually became the #1 modern language in schools, while the interest for Russian dropped so drastically that now there are very few schools studying it. The interest for German has never been too high and French lost lots of ground to English.

A second reason might be the sudden burst of alternative textbooks, most of them written by native speakers, which provided access to genuine materials. These, combined with the enthusiasm of the English teachers, resulted in intensive-study or even bilingual classes. To avoid any misunderstandings, a regular class has 2 English classes/hours per week, an intensive class has 4 English classes/hours and a bilingual class has 6-7 English classes/hours per week. Intensive and bilingual classes are divided into groups (usually 2 per class) and are generally taught by 2 teachers.

A third reason: the conferences held in Romania and the scholarships offered to Romanian teachers. Both these meant an important turnpoint in many Romanian English teachers’ careers.

Another reason, affecting mainly children’s interest for the English language, might be the TV programmes presenting so many American and English films, not to mention the cartoons, which had a huge impact on the generations born following the revolution. Sadly, the cartoon programmes  nowadays are dubbed with voices of Romanian actors.

Teacher training? Teacher development programmes? By this I mean formal organised teacher training. All the teachers at the conference were very enthusiastic about their teaching and development and I wanted to know more. Again, Melania helped me with the answer.

Although all teachers in Romania should attend some form of regular training or development programmes on a five-year basis, it is rather a matter of personal choice whether to do so or not. There are two different ways to do that:

– by obtaining the teaching degrees (which go from Definitive teacher to Second Degree and then First Degree – higher than that there’s only the Doctor’s Degree or Ph.D.), based  on continually teaching for a number of years and sitting for an examination (…)

– by attending different development programmes which must necessarily give a number of transferable credits (90 credits every 5 years); these do not need to be in English or have anything to do with it – one can get the credits one needs from attending a 3-module course in Management, ICT and Communication; also provided by the Ministry of Education through one of its departments of Continual/Permanent Development;

Unfortunately, quite a large number of courses offered by the British Council in Bucharest or the Teachers’ Houses in each county don’t get any credits; also, no credits for attending or presenting at conferences.

Who are the teachers? As you would expect, the majority of English teachers in Romania are Romanian. There are some private language schools in the big cities that employ native English speakers, usually from Britain or the United States. At the conference there was someone from the Peace Corps. Here is some more detail about this and other foreign teaching initiatives.

The largest impact and contribution belongs to the U.S. Peace Corps. They used to have between 60 and 80 volunteers going to Romania every year, for a 2-year contract, which means that, except for the first year, there were around 100-120 volunteers teaching English every year. The number of volunteers has dropped recently.

Another important contribution was that of the British Council and the specialists who went to Romania between 1990 and 2002. The British Council organised or co-organised lots of  annual general meetings for the school inspectors of English, conferences and other meetings, and offered support through materials and courses, which they actually continue to offer.

Many thanks to Oana, Claudia from Macmillan Romania for inviting me and helping me while their. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to former school inspector Melania Paduraru who provided me with all the information above and without whom this post would not have been possible. Melania gave a particularly good workshop on learners in the 21st century at the conference. She has her own blog about teaching English in Romania and her workshops here.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 8:13 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I too have been pleasantly surprised at the high standard of English possessed by EFL teachers (and their students) from Romania. Does this equate to a triumph for the grammar-translation method?!

    Incidentally, I reckon salaries for state school teachers in the countries that used to be ‘Eastern bloc’ and Soviet are universally dire. When I worked in Russia, several years back, a new teacher would be lucky to get as much as 200 bucks a month.

    Few young English teachers remained long in their jobs, though, as they could easily triple their salaries by going to work for an international company, provided their English really was very good. As a result, a lot of the teachers now left in the state schools are old and nearing retirement age, and there appears to be a gulf appearing – where will all the new English teachers come from?

    • Re: a triumph of the grammar translation method (or insert any other old method here). You could be right, I have met numerous teachers with excellent English from former Eastern bloc countries who learned the language under what would now be considered very unfashionable and un-learner friendly methods. Makes one think sometimes…

    • Many of the English teachers of my generation graduated between 1975 and 1985, ‘products’ of all those old-fashioned and un-learner friendly methods (as Lindsay put it), but remember that there was a revolution which radically changed things.
      All the teacher-trainings we attended, the conferences, the scholarships, the alternative textbooks and their teacher’s guides, the loads of materials , the access to English spoken in movies and read in books, the participation in partnerships with schools all over Europe, and last but not least, the extent to which the British Council and the Peace Corps volunteers got involved in Romania, ALL these resulted in the amazingly high level of English of these teachers and their students.
      I often heard native speakers saying to Romanian teachers of English: “Hey, your English is really good! Anyway, it’s a lot better than my Romanian.” We are aware that our English is far from the native speakers’ level, but they actually can’t utter more than five sentences in Romanian, so we really deserve admiration for all the work we’ve put into learning and teaching good English.

  2. In addition to starting language courses in 3 or 4th grade, Romania has schools, where all the subjects are taught in a foreign language. So when you register your child at your neighborhood grammar school, it might have a foreign language as its main language. In addition, ethnic minorities have their own schools.

    You are wrong in thinking that Russian was almost compulsory until 1989. That stopped in the 60s, when Krushchev became the Russian premier.

    I am always proud when I see news from Romania, and see the locals ask the journalist in what language he/she would prefer the answer….

  3. This is absolutely nonsense: “before 1989, English was studied in very few schools in Romania, the main modern languages studied at the time being Russian, French and German”. I know only very few people in Romania who can speak Russian. In fact, starting from the 60’s the main foreign languages taught in schools were English and French.

  4. My mum’s generation, she’s 55, studied English as well, no Russian, so I guess it depends on what region we are talking about, if we talk about Transylvania, Russian was really not the case, rather German, French and English.

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