Deividas Marušauskas
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Languages Coordinator Deividas Marušauskas: The level of English at Erudito Licėjus is exceptionally high – the majority of 10th graders are already at B2+ level

Deividas Marušauskas, who has been working as a foreign language programs coordinator, andragogist, and educator for four years at Kaunas Erudito Licėjus, insists: teaching languages is a meaningful calling for him and has become the way of life. “On Sundays, I’m already looking forward to Mondays”, says the teacher. Teaching English to the main classes of students, D. Marušauskas talks about English language teaching at Erudito Licėjus and explains why the English language level here is exceptionally high.

You earned a bachelor’s degree and English teacher qualification at Vilnius Pedagogical University and have been teaching general and professional English to students of various ages for more than twenty years. How did you decide to become a teacher? When did you feel called to work as a teacher?
As soon as I stood in front of children for the first time (smiles). It seems like it was twenty-five years ago… Later, I worked as an andragogist for a while and taught language to adults privately, but I missed that childishness, the challenges associated with children’s age groups. It’s easy with adults – but with children, you need to constantly persuade, motivate… Their motivation fluctuates, so you need to establish a connection with the child, tame them, nurture them.

You hold the belief that in the classroom, you don’t teach a particular class but rather individual students with their own abilities and talents, so they must be taught accordingly. You try to adapt teaching style and material to the student’s personality type, abilities, and goals. Individualized education is not always easy, especially when you have twenty students in a class, and you need to establish a connection with each one…
I want to be the kind of teacher my literature teacher was to me. She said, “Deividas, you will achieve a lot because you are curious, you ask questions, you discuss.” That shaped me or, figuratively speaking, gave me wings. I always encourage students to ask questions; I always thank them for a question, even for mistakes, because mistakes provide an opportunity to discuss, to cultivate critical thinking. I never tell a child that they are wrong or that they made a mistake – I ask how they came to such a conclusion, how they found such an answer. Sometimes, in explaining, they realize their mistake themselves. I aim to cultivate personalities that think, argue, are not afraid to make mistakes, are creative, and free. It’s not easy to cultivate such personalities; there is a lot of tension because we want to lead the child to the path of independence, responsibility, understanding, creativity, and to develop a well-rounded personality. In this sense, working in school is very difficult – cultivating personalities is truly not easy, but it’s very interesting.
Moving on to teaching, when teaching according to the curriculum, I try to teach tasks at a level higher than required by the course. So, teaching at the B2 level, I actually prepare them for B2+ or even C1. With vocabulary, it’s a bit harder – students don’t like learning new words, so I’m always looking for ways to enrich their vocabulary – not just YouTube or street slang, but so that new interesting words enter active usage. It’s very important to me that every student in the class improves, that they become a better version of themselves every day. I apply the same requirements to myself: I study every day, both academically and in human terms.

You claim that English language teaching at Erudito Licėjus is different. Tell us how you teach children English, what methodology do you use?
Students learn rules and correct language usage not by memorizing rules but through language usage. Simply put, students learn language by speaking it. However, there is another side to this coin: sometimes, children “pick up” incorrect language, so the teacher has to make efforts to form correct language skills.

Over the course of six months, students are required to read and present one book in English – it could be fiction literature from a list, self-selected fiction, a biography, or an autobiography. They can also read a book and watch a movie based on it, conducting a comparative analysis of both works. One student presented a book about ramen production – I still feel the taste of those ramen noodles. We organize TED talks, where two teachers evaluate them, providing feedback – just like in a real exam. So, from the fifth grade onwards, we acquaint students with what awaits them during final exams and university admissions.

As you know, this year the curriculum has changed. This year, in twelfth grade, students must achieve a B2+ level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: being able to understand complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics, as well as specialized discussions on professional subjects; being able to communicate orally and in writing sufficiently spontaneously and fluently, making communication with native speakers tension-free and effortless for them; being able to produce clear, detailed texts on various topics and articulate their viewpoint on debated issues, presenting the advantages and disadvantages of various options. I’ll reveal that we started teaching the B2+ level in the tenth grade already three years ago. We actively pursue it. Once, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks as I listened to an eighth grader’s book presentation because I realized that her language was like that of a second-year English student.

I have a dream and desire to achieve a C1 level already in the tenth grade. (C1 level language competency according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: being able to understand various complex longer texts and grasp subtexts; being able to express one’s opinion, attitude, views spontaneously, fluently, and without searching for expression means for a long time; being able to flexibly and effectively use language for social, academic, and professional purposes; being able to produce clear, well-structured, detailed texts on complex topics while adhering to style and form requirements, properly using linking devices.) When students transition to the International Baccalaureate program, they no longer have English lessons like in primary school because all classes are already conducted in English – it’s a wonderful environment for them to use the language. And if it’s at the C1 level – that’s already quite a high competency, and most students are capable of achieving it! Some students leave, move to other schools, and they’re delighted that they studied at Erudito Licėjus, saying they have nothing to do there, they already learned it two years ago – they take a break there (laughs).

You’ve said, “A lesson is a fun yet purposeful and meaningful way to spend time in pursuit of a set goal”. How do you make English lessons enjoyable? How do you engage and motivate teenagers and young adults in English lessons when they feel like they already know everything?

My colleagues know that I’m quite lively; I almost never sit during lessons – I often act, change voices, for me, a lesson is like a show, and the students are my audience that I have to engage. I really enjoy involving children in such a way that they create their own show. It’s important to me that they not only improve their language knowledge but also the ability to speak – to communicate, discuss, learn to communicate with the audience, learn to argue – I strive to develop those skills that they will need in life.

Our lessons are very diverse: we organize book presentations, TED talks; students also enjoy contextual lessons, we watch movies together, write reviews, and we have a tradition of attending plays in English – last year we watched “Animal Farm”, this year – “Pygmalion”. Imagine: a troupe from England comes, they perform speaking with a stiff accent, and the students recognize and understand it because we previously practiced stiff accents.

And what lesson format or methods do students like the most?

Older students particularly enjoy situation and role-playing games: for example, a business group wants to build their own shopping center, but they need to convince smaller family businesses to let them do so. One acts as a business representative, another represents the families, and a third “plays” the mayor; they need to find common ground, persuade, negotiate, argue, etc. Again – just like in real life. Another example: with ninth graders, while repeating conditional sentences, we simulated elections: students created their own parties (“Sleep”, “Sport” etc.) and had to draft and present their platforms. In creating them, they used the second conditional sentence. Such learning through play is what students enjoy the most.

Listening to young people, it sometimes seems like they were born knowing English. English surrounds them from a young age. Digitalization, technological literacy, spending a lot of time on social media platforms, all seem to shape and accelerate the formation of their language skills. What is foreign language learning like in the 21st century in general: what are the peculiarities, difficulties, and challenges of this process? Does globalization, cosmopolitanism, and multiculturalism make this process easier or more difficult?

They are already born with certain tools for learning the language – smartphones, games, online platforms like TikTok, YouTube, communication with friends in English already shapes their language skills. For example, my eighth-grade son speaks English quite fluently, although I haven’t taught him at all. I noticed that most students are very good at spoken language but weaker in writing. There’s a lack of knowledge, habit, and skills here.

I really like Erudito Licėjus because we are based on the Cambridge program. It teaches how to economically express thoughts in writing, differentiate between spoken and written language, distinguish between styles – formal and informal. Young people already know how difficult it is to write a good summary: fitting a lot of information into few words. It’s a skill that takes time and effort to develop. We teach this every day.

Three years ago, we changed the teaching material and now we teach based on the Pearson Personal and Social Skills program, which is based on the development and education of skills needed for the future of learners. The Cambridge program is a dry course, preparing only for exams. We chose Pearson because it teaches general language and additionally the exam course of the Cambridge program. It’s a very nice synergy, we enrich the system even more.

Speaking of challenges, I experience them not so much with English, but with the Lithuanian language – it is increasingly influenced by Anglicisms, students use English sentence structures, they find it easier to express thoughts in English. I noticed that the students’ Lithuanian language skills are slightly lower than their English skills, they even write better in English than in Lithuanian. I bow my head to Lithuanian language teachers, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to teach Lithuanian. I’m afraid that if we don’t pay more attention to Lithuanian language lessons, we may lose our roots. I really love the English language, but I love my roots more. Compared to Lithuanian, English is very easy! The Lithuanian language is meant for true erudites (laughs). Our erudites, unfortunately, speak better English.

Erudito Licėjus is an international, bilingual school. How do children born into bilingual or multilingual families learn language? What are the main features and challenges of learning foreign languages in the main bilingual school from your perspective?

Our school is exceptional in that a child can speak freely in any language. We have a great environment for that – multilingual families, bilingual school. Sometimes even I don’t notice when I switch languages, I want our children to naturally switch too. And many of them do.

It seems to me that children growing up in multilingual families are smarter because they hear several systems from a young age, learn to switch between them. It has been proven that learning additional languages enhances brain activity, improves cognitive abilities, they adapt faster, are more free, their thinking is broader because it encompasses several cultures. Those children are truly different, and being in a multilingual environment improves the cognitive functions and language competencies of all children. But we also nurture personalities, that’s how we stand out from others. We celebrate and cherish multiculturalism and internationality, diversity and breadth – it’s part of our identity.

The fact that children are already “born” knowing English also affects the specificity of the teacher’s work, do you agree? What challenges does this pose for the teacher and how do you deal with those challenges?

Without a doubt – as a teacher, I also learn every day. The challenge for a teacher is to take the student’s existing knowledge and not “break” it, but take the elements, correct them, form the right skill, and let them go into active use. It’s really not always easy… Sometimes it’s easier to rebuild a house than to try to remodel it. The longer I work as a teacher, the more I learn – both academically and getting to know the children, nurturing them, learning patience, but I like it. This is a job I was born for. I really love children, I love my job, I love Erudito.

Colleagues describe you as professional, dynamic, communicative, socially active, punctual, and responsible. It seems like you come to work with a smile every day, smiling and leaving. What motivates you and helps you not to give up?

Patience. Sometimes it’s really hard, certain age periods of children are not easy, but I look at them as future adults and I know that everything will be fine after a few years – they will be wonderful, they will shape their lives and bring goodness to other people. Most often those children who present the most challenges, even after many years, remember: “Thank you, teacher, I remember you, you were a wonderful teacher”. I’m glad I managed to find that spark in myself to teach, the spark to love. English language is just a tool for me to work with a child, to educate them, to help them, to be their fellow traveler.

You speak very nicely about the school: “I really love Erudito.” Why did you choose Erudito Licėjus? What fuels your love for the school?

In my life, I have worked with many managers and leaders, I worked with companies and top-level executives for fifteen years, so I can say that the head of Erudito Licėjus is one of the best leaders, a Leader with a capital L. I really like his thinking, ideas, leadership style. He is indeed a unique and highly erudite person.

Speaking of foreign language teachers, I have a dream team. I can’t imagine a better team, they are my second family. As a coordinator, I try my best to make them feel like family – as much as possible, not to burden them with unnecessary things so that my team has time to devote to creativity, new project ideas, and believe me, I hear such ideas! From the Vilnius branch, I am very proud of Indrė (Douglas, International Baccalaureate English teacher). She is absolutely fantastic, a gift of a gift, especially creative, full of ideas, she learns very quickly, understands things instantly.

And finally – why and how did you choose to study English language?

I don’t even want to tell you because you won’t believe it – I started learning English a month before exams. I’m not kidding! I prepared for the exam myself, applied for entrance exams, got in, and then I got hooked. Since I am naturally very curious, it helped me. And falling in love with the language was taught by teachers and professors.