Phil is missing the beach and rugby in Nitra
He was born in a small city north of Sydney called Gosford. He discovered it is a partner city of Nitra after arriving here. It seems like destiny.
Where were you born?
I am Australian and I was born in a small city north of Sydney called Gosford. Gosford is a partner city to Nitra! I didn’t know this before I arrived. You can see the name on the stone monument of the castle outside the Nitra city town hall with all the other partner city names.
How long have you lived in Nitra? Describe your journey to this town. Why did you choose Slovakia, especially Nitra?
I have lived in Nitra for 8 years. I also lived in Zilina for 3 years before I came to Nitra. I moved to Slovakia and to Nitra because I wanted to live in Europe and I like Central and Eastern European culture. I have spent many years travelling the world, including Russia and Eastern/Central Europe, so it is a great part of the world for me.
How did the story about your English language school start to write?
I have been a teacher/trainer for most of my working life in different fields. I started teaching English in 2006 in Zilina for the Canadian Language School in Zilina. I finished my contract and was asked to return to Australia to work on an exciting short project for a year and then I returned to Zilina to teach English again. When the Global Financial Crisis arrived in 2008-9, a lot of students stopped coming to the school in Zilina, so I returned to Australia for a few years to work. When the crisis had passed, I returned back to Slovakia (my second home) to teach again, but I decided to open a franchise of the Canadian school here in Nitra and focus on offering native English to help students reach higher levels of English than usual. The school has continually evolved to fit the needs of Slovak students and I am about to offer an exciting new concept for advanced students to be able to improve their speaking to a much higher level. It is a ‘fast and furious’ set of speaking exercises that build fluency closer to native speakers very quickly.
Did you have any experience with teaching people before opening the school?
Yes, I spent 20 years as a Business Analyst for a very large energy company in Sydney. A big part of this role was to train people to think ‘modern’, to broaden their skills, to teach them new processes and systems (this period covered the transition from ‘life without computers’ to ‘life with computers’ for many activities). I also used to train people in sport. All of my life experience has helped me to be a better English teacher because it is necessary to be able to help with all topics, including less common ones such as: nuclear and other physics, law, geography, political history, various kinds of science, business and so on. A teacher can not really teach a language without using a wide range of vocabulary that we use in real life.
What about your students? Are Slovakians good in English? Do they want to learn, to improve? My personal experience is that I had a fear of speaking with English speaking people because I was scared of making mistakes.
These days, most young Slovaks speak some English, but generally, they don’t have a native speaker at school, so the quality is limited. A lot of young people do play video games and watch movies in English which has helped them improve. Older people are not as comfortable with English and some grew up learning Russian. Most of my students want to learn, but they are busy and don’t always have time to study at home, so they prefer to come for lessons 2 or 3 times per week. It’s pretty normal that students are nervous at first but I keep the atmosphere very relaxed and casual and after a few minutes, students are not nervous anymore. It’s one reason that they keep coming for lessons. That’s a great step forward for their progress. They enjoy being able to use their English now; in the past, they were scared to try it because the Slovak system of teaching language is based on textbook rules and syntax (because that is the way Slovak language is, but good English is better learned in a different way). Generally speaking, the differences between English and the Slavic languages mean that most people have the same kind of problems (such as understanding the English perfect tenses, articles etc.), so it’s beneficial for students to have a teacher has lived in Slovakia for years to be able to recognize the usual problems and teach students correctly and more effectively.
What is it like to live in Nitra? Can you compare this city with others in which you live?
Nitra is a “big town” rather than a “small city”, but I like it that way. There is a lot of greenery and, in many ways, it’s similar to the places that I have lived in Australia. In the 8 years that I have lived here, Nitra has changed quite a lot. There are many different kinds of restaurants here and a lot more festivals. Terraces are much more common and it makes a great atmosphere. Although the tourist train is a great concept, running it through the pedestrian zone is not a great idea (in my opinion), because I would like to see the terraces extend further out on to the pedestrian area and Kupecká, but they can’t because they leave it open for the train and cars. It is a mistake in my opinion, but easy to change. I know a lot of people here these days and most of them are quite friendly and helpful. The funny thing (for me) is that everyone seems to know everyone else and people seem to know a lot about other people’s lives and business interests, which is the exact opposite of my personal experience in Australia.
Do you miss something from your homeland here in Nitra?
I don’t miss too much, but I do miss the beach, rugby league, a few of my favorite brands of food products, but in reality I have gained a lot of things and also new experiences here, especially my beloved dog Maple, that I would never have had, if I had stayed in Australia, so I am happy to be here.
What do you like about Nitra and what do you rather change?
The castle is amazing, of course. Most castles are no longer active, but it is a “living castle” because of the Church. It’s a great attraction to Nitra. I go there every day with my dog. The park is also fantastic. Nitra is a small city but the park is better than I have experienced in most other cities. I would like to change things related to tourism (some are perhaps the plan of the Mayor also). Improving the city to attract tourists will bring in more money for everyone and make Nitra a more interesting city. Farská should become a beautiful pedestrian zone too, because it has many nice trees and a lot of nice and nicer buildings than the existing pedestrian zone. It should all be linked by a nice walking track to the castle entrance under the gallery. Separating the city with Mostná is a mistake. I think traffic should go around the outside of Nitra in a big circle and only residences and delivery vehicles should enter. The fountains here are “old style”. New style “walk through” fountains would be so much better and safer. Children and adults and dogs can play and walk through such fountains safely. We have a few of the cheap “spray” fountains in the city now and they are popular on hot days, but professionally built “walk through” fountains can also make interesting water patterns and have colored lights and generally would cool the area much better and make the location nicer to look at. In winter they can be turned off and the area can be used for other things. The usual question is how to pay for these things, so some might come from EU grants, some from the city and some from private investors in a “Public/Private Partnership”, in which the private investor gets a “reasonable” return for their investment, (but should not be done in a corrupt way that leaves the citizens worse off). Nitra has 2 universities, but I think it could really be clever in a business sense if it undertook a plan to attract suitable reform and investors to make them larger and ‘world class’ universities to attract foreign students here but at a lower price than in the expensive countries. Imagine them being the “Central Europe” equivalent of Oxford/Cambridge in England or the Sorbonne in France etc.! It would be a great business for the city and for Slovakia and is possible because we have lower costs etc. compared to western Europe.
Most people from Nitra know you not just through Canadian school but also through your dog. Maple is from Slovakia? How old is he?
Yes, Maple is from Slovakia (even though he is an English cocker Spaniel (Spanish). He is almost 6 years old now. I decided his birthday is 1 August because he is a ‘rescue’ dog. He was lost (or abandoned) in a village as a very small puppy (about 2-3 months old probably) and nobody wanted him, so the lady that found him was going to take him to a dog shelter. We decided to meet him and he ‘adopted’ me and became an ‘instant’ part of my school because he is such a beautiful and funny little boy. We go everywhere together. He is the best dog that I could want.
Photo: Archive Phil Le Mottee