“The media is destroying one of the oldest languages”
Edi Ramadani (Prishtina, 1972) has a little museum of the Italian football team Juventus at his house – "the TV [station] came home the other day to visit it!˝–. His grandfather, a man of letters, taught him his first words of Esperanto, the so-called universal language that unfortunately just a few know. Since 2005, Ramadani has been investing his efforts in his own academy of languages, Britannica, and he has made a name for himself as a charismatic teacher amongst his students. He speaks Italian, English, Albanian, Serbo-Croatian and Turkish, and if he concentrates Spanish and Greek as well. Kosovo 2.0 met up with him to talk about education, languages and the future.
K2.0: What came first, your love for Juventus or your skills in Italian?
(Laughs) Juventus influenced me to study Italian without a doubt, to love Italy and to start listening to Eros Ramazzoti.
K2.0: When did you start learning Italian?
When I was about 15 years old I started learning Italian with my grandfather, because he was a teacher too. I've been doing this for quite a long time - I've been teaching English and Italian for twenty years. First I started with Italian, four or five months before I started teaching English. I started teaching as a volunteer at the Catholic Church, when I was still a student.
K2.0: You said that your grandfather was a teacher too...
Yes, Beqir Kastrati. He was a teacher who belonged to the Elbasan group, the veterans of education. They went to Albania to get educated and they came here. He was a teacher of Math and French, but he also spoke Italian, Turkish and Esperanto. He gave me some books of Esperanto when I was young, because I was very curious to see how this artificial language was created. So I started to learn with him my first words of Esperanto.
K2.0: Have you always wanted to become a language teacher?
I’d always wanted to deal with languages...I tell this story to my students many times… I wanted to study pharmacy, I thought it was very humanitarian. At that time I was already speaking four languages, not realizing that that's my calling...To study pharmacy I had to go to Croatia, so I thought it would take me too long… It was a good decision [not to study pharmacy] in the end because the war started a year later in ex-Yugoslavia. After a few years, I had the dream of opening a school.
K2.0: During the war many people were deported to other countries, they’ve lived abroad and many are coming back knowing different languages, like German, English, or Italian. How can Kosovar society make the most of this?
It's a great benefit, and the best benefit is on [one’s] profession. I have a saying that I tell to my students: if you want to be a leader in your profession you have to do something different from the others. Through languages they expand their horizons, they bring a lot of things, they become the best doctors, the best architects, because they get updated from developed countries.
K2.0: Taking into consideration the amount of international institutions and organizations based in Kosovo, but also the huge rate of unemployment, which new language would you say is the best one to start learning?
Well, it depends on one’s interests. Spanish, for example, is an official language in 18 countries, so it would beat everyone else, but English is there too because of the power of economics, and then we have Google, London, literature...and the influence of Hollywood has done its job. Doctors in our country should learn German. In our school the number of students of German increased rapidly because now they can find a job which is a great professional opportunity.
K2.0: Language is in the end the verbal representation of a culture, isn't it?
Absolutely, the moment you learn a language you are an ambassador of the culture. Without that it doesn't make sense.
K2.0: When you were in school, were there any teachers that you wanted to be like?
Only in elementary school. He was great and he gave me great inspiration. His name was Tom Pergjoka, I'll never forget him. He was a Catholic Albanian, and after him I never had another one.
K2.0: What do you think a teacher needs to have to be a good teacher?
What I strongly believe in is creativity. That's been my motor for all these years. Routine kills people, they get into a collective depression. So, it's good to give students the chance to be heard, creating within them that creativity and sometimes talking about things that are off topic because they want to express themselves, as long as it is in English or the language you are teaching in. I think a good teacher doesn't have to be too liberal, or too rigid. And you have to know how to say no. Even if you mean to say yes, you have to say no. Paulo Coelho said that the teacher is not the one who teaches, but the one who inspires you to get what you already know, to give your best.
K2.0: What usually inspires your students to learn a new language?
It opens a door to Europe and everywhere else. It's not that the students only dream about going abroad. It's also trendy, fashionable, in. Many times we make jokes and say to the guys that girls are more ambitious, especially in our school. And many times we say to the guys "if you don't learn a language, you won't get a date..." [laughs]. It's motivated by the increased job opportunity, but especially for studies, because young people are becoming more ambitious.
K2.0: In terms of languages and education, what kind of comparison can you draw between the period when you were a student and nowadays?
Now they have more opportunities, it's good. Students have more opportunities to learn French, and many private schools also have a lot of German lessons, or even Italian. Latin stands but only for medicine if I’m not mistaken. Now the access is great.
K2.0: We may say that Kosovo is the most isolated country in Europe. Is this a big limitation for Kosovar people to learn new languages?
People travel a lot, but not in the amount we would like. It's not fair at all, but youngsters get that access. They know what the latest hit is, the latest movie, because they use the Internet a lot...They don’t have ongoing contact with international people in the sense of engaging in debates, projects, and critical thinking. They can't engage with a Swede or a Finn in a group of people and talk about certain taboo topics. We provide this in our school, we create debate. We talked about Kosovo 2.0’s Sex issue launch, we talked about homosexuality, we’ve had debates for and against abortion, we discussed the death penalty, there is no limit. The idea is to have more critical thinking.
K2.0: Sometimes many conversations between Albanian speakers become almost bilingual in a mix of Albanian and English. Is television causing this? Is that good?
If you ask me about words, I’m totally against what's happening with Albanian now. The media are completely destroying one of the oldest languages. They are bringing English and Italian words into Albanian, with a very mixed accent. They sound very bad. They try to sound more intelligent, but they look snobbish, because we have those words. When you have a word, you don't take it, because it's called barbarism. When you don't have the word you take it and it's called borrowing. Here people are not borrowing, borrowing is good. You have the Albanian word 'shije' and you watch TV and the moderator doesn't say 'shije', he says 'gusto', which is Italian, and many people don't understand. Somebody at home may say "yeah, it sounds smart, but I didn't get what he meant." I don't like that. Slang is very different, it's allowed everywhere. Mussolini, who was apparently not a good guy, stopped this in Italy. Learn twenty languages if you want but decide which one you are speaking. Somebody thinks it's smarter but that's not the way. We have for example three religions, with different names coming from different languages. You have Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox believers, diversity. All this is united under the language… History won't forgive us for losing our language but it's happening.
Photo credits: Majlinda Hoxha
Illustration credit: Cat Sidh