“Lithuanian coworkers are learning Lithuanian grammar from me,” says Khalid from Pakistan

   One of the main and the most important goals of integration of immigrants in Lithuania is to teach them Lithuanian. The opportunities available to immigrants from third countries, refugees and those who arrive for work or education are very different. The one thing uniting all of them and also uniting the leaders of immigrant integration programmes is their opinion that self-motivation is truly the most important factor when wanting to learn the local language.

Journalist Ieva Šepetytė

The Foreigners’ Integration Programme project manager at Caritas, a Vilnius Archdiocese’s (VA)  organization, Vilija Tauraitė reminds that everyone who has a residence permit, the national visa (D) or an  asylum seeker certificate also has the opportunity to take a free Lithuanain course. According to Tauraitė, there’s cases when foreigners reach such a motivation high at the end of the course that they want to continue their learning. In those cases, Caritas takes it upon themselves to organize additional courses.

Immigrants’ wish to learn paves the way to success and the hearts of Lithuanians

    Tauraitė says that the motivation levels and opportunities of those arriving from third countries are always very different. Right upon arrival to Lithuania, they find themselves in the Foreigners’ Registration Centre. Unfortunately, in recent years around 80% of refugees are sent back. So their fate being uncertain, foreigners don’t see much point in studying the local language if they may be made to leave at any moment. Later on, when they are permitted to stay, there’s lots of business to take care of from looking for a permanent place of residence to taking care of their children. That’s why learning Lithuanian during the very first stages of immigration often doesn’t become a priority. Only when people get to live here for several years and acclimate do they get the courage to ask for help in learning the language.

Vilija Tauraitė. Personal archive photo

“Foreigners’ motivation shoots up when they get to see how important Lithuanian skills are in trying to secure a job. Even in service, whether you’re a waiter or a restaurant owner, it’s necessary that you are able to talk to the local customers. Some work up the motivation when they realize that they won’t ever be able to work up the ladder or even secure a qualified position, if they don’t know the language,”, says Tauraitė.

   Tauraitė shares her experience that Lithuanians regard Lithuanian-speaking foreigners very differently. Civil workers and healthcare professionals sometimes are even more pleasant to such foreigners. When foreigners start noticing that, they become way more motivated in learning the language.

Teachers who speak the students mother-tongue make for better results

“Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainain and other Slavic languages’ speakers find it easier to learn Lithuanian due to similar grammar. Those whose first language is written in a completely different writing system find learning Lithuanian harder. Those are usually Arabic or Farsi speakers. Our clients are all very different. They range from people holding doctoral degrees to people who can’t read or write in their own language. There have been cases when the student writes their first word ever, and it’s in Lithuanian”, says Tauraitė.

   Another challenge appears for those who don’t know English or Russian, so they can’t use it as an intermediary language. It’s also not easy finding a teacher who can speak with Pakistanis, Iranians or Afghans in their native language. That’s why specialists who can teach in Farsi or Arabic are highly valued in organizations related to foreigners’ integration.

   “We are very pleased that, at Caritas, we have a Farsi-speaking employee. We gathered a group of students. The Farsi-speaking teacher became a large factor in the students’ motivation. Before we were able to organize such a group, foreigners’ who didn’t know English or Russian would attend the classes but do so reluctantly, as they weren’t bringing them much value. So now, it’s not only the motivation but also the results that have improved. We have an Turkish-speaking teacher as well, and we’re very happy about that.

   In the cases when we don’t have a way to communicate with the students, the teachers use the method of repetition. The teacher uses gestures and other visual means as well. For example, they will wave the students over and say “ateik”, which means “come here” in English. Then the foreigner will learn what “ateik” means.

   “Other than that, at least once a month, the teachers will use the situational method. Together with the group, they go out, for example, to a café where the students can order food and communicate with the waiters in Lithuanian,” shares Tauraitė.

   The majority of people who complete Lithuanian courses at Caritas are able to communicate in A1 or A2. Around a fifth can communicate in B1, B2 or even C1. There’s many factors that play a part in the level that our students will reach. There are some foreigners who won’t even reach A1. Tauraitė also shares that there has been a young man who didn’t speak any Lithuanian after the course but today he’s studying medicine in Lithuanian.

The younger the student, the better the results

   “Children are taught through immersion. That means that they arrive at their school and start studying everything in the local language. This method is mentally challenging because for a while, the child understands nothing. No one is there translating, so the child is forced to learn. That is why some children start at lower levels skill- and age-wise than they would be studying at home in their native language. I was recently talking to a girl who would be in eighth grade but is studying in fifth. It’s a pity but the faster they learn the language, the quicker they’ll catch up. It’s due to this method that children learn the fastest and end up often translating for their parents,”, says Tauraitė.

Additional funding for integration programmes would motivate teachers and students

   Tauraitė admits that there would be more opportunities to teach foreigners Lithuanian if funding was higher. A larger pay would attract more teachers, and audiovisual materials and smart devices would encourage the foreigners’ to study. Often asylum seekers don’t have the opportunity to secure such materials and devices on their own.

Motivated immigrants go for online classes          

   On hearing immigrant stories, the importance of resilience and persistence, and the factors behind them becomes clear. Afgan Sayed Kazam and Sri Lankan Dharshan Navaratnam are two men with a painful past around political persecution, violence and threats to their lives in their home country who fled to Lithuania, a country they hadn’t heard of. Soon after they were accommodated in the same room in the Refugee Reception Centre and started attending language courses. Both of them learned first-hand that Lithuanian skills are crucial if you want to earn the friendliness of locals. That is why they started studying Lithuanian together. There was only one difference. Dharshan spoke English and Sayed did not speak any intermediary language.

Sayed Kazam. Personal archive photo

“I was studying English and Lithuanian simultaneously. It was very difficult. I understood about 5% of Lithuanian grammar and 15-20% of what would help me in daily life,” shares Sayed.

   He plans to learn Lithuanian better in the future and he has no doubt that language is one of the key factors when integrating into the local community. Sayed had to discontinue the Lithuanian course for now and is studying in a Lithuanian higher education institution, in an English study programme.

   Dharshan, who spoke English, had a completely different fate. He actually started additional Lithuanian courses on a free website called SPEAK Kaunas.

   “It’s a great platform for learning. On completion, you receive a certificate that is recognised all over the EU, and it attests to the type of course and number of hours attended. It’s great for beginners too. Next Monday, I’ll have finished one study programme on that platform and will start another. The teachers here are reasonable and will accommodate you in regards to available hours. We are learning the basics, such as the alphabet, the main words. Everything is explained in English,” enthusiastically shares Dharshan.

Dharshan Navaratnam. Personal archive photo

  He has mentioned this programme  to other immigrants numerous times and invited them to join. “We encourage refugees to study Lithuanian, because it’s the first step in earning the respect of other people living in Lithuania, ” states Dharshan.

  Khalid Hameed shares the same opinion. Khalid doesn’t have refugee status in Lithuania, and he stayed here on the account of his programming work.

   “When you immigrate and try to integrate yourself into the new culture, you’re going to have to face personal change in order to be accepted. If one person is ignoring you, maybe it’s fine, but if five are, then you start thinking why. So I learned not only the language, I also learned how I can become more similar to the people that I live among,” says Khalid.

   Khalid studied Lithuanian through various free courses online. His skills are astonishing and humbling. It makes you wonder, whether Lithuanians could name as many Lithuanian grammar rules as Khalid can.

   “I don’t want to come across as a show-off but my coworkers are learning Lithuanian grammar from me,” admits Khalid and soon starts inflecting and conjugating words.

 “– Gediminas – kas? Gedimino – ko? Gediminą – ką? Words “Ateik, paimk” end in “k” because they’re imperative. “Lis, eis” end in “s”, which is due to the future tense.”

  He shares that when studying Lithuanian, you must pay attention to the grammar. Otherwise, you won’t get anywhere. He used to create tables on Excel for the rules of Lithuanian inflection and conjugation. Other than grammar rules, he learned about a thousand verbs by heart and spent lots of time on listening and reading exercises.

   “I tried to reach as much as I could. It was very important for me to do that. I would learn so many words by reading that I would go out and start conversations with people, just to be able to practice. I’ve completed many online lessons too. I would repeatedly listen to the same one as I was getting ready for work, during breaks and in the evening. What happens when you listen to the same song 5 times? You remember the words,” says Khalid.

   He says he drew inspiration from the fact that every immigrant must pass the Lithuanian language and Constitution exam, if they want to secure a visa for long-term.

   “I was studying Lithuanian and translating the Constitution. At first, I couldn’t understand a single word. It was very difficult,” remembers Khalid.

   Khalid scored 18 out of 20 in the Constitution exam. In Lithuanian, he scored 70 out of a 100. With these scores, Khalid earned the right to reside in Lithuania.

   “If you studied individually with a paid teacher or at university, you’d spend thousands. I did everything myself, for free.”

Free in-person Lithuanian courses:
COMMUNITY AND SOCIAL INNOVATION CENTER (public institution) organizes free Lithuanian classes for Russian speakers
CARITAS, A VILNIUS ARCHDIOCESE’S ORGANIZATION, Lithuanian courses for refugees and asylum seekers taking part in Foreigners’ Integration Programme
LCC INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY organizes free Lithuanian summer courses in Klaipėda, open to any foreigners
Free online Lithuanian courses:
This is the website that Pakistani Khalidas Hameed used to prepare for the permanent residence visa exams. On the website, you’ll find exercises that help practice reading and writing in Lithuanian and tell you about Lithuanian history and culture. https://lithuanian.libsyn.com
SPEAK Kaunas
Website where you can learn not only Lithuanian but other languages as well. It provides opportunities not only to learn but to also have a good time and integrate into the cultural part of life. https://www.speak.social/en/
List of main phrases and words by topic: https://www.loecsen.com/en/learn-lithuanian  http://migis.eu/?page_id=2229 https://www.olc.flf.vu.lt/?fbclid=IwAR1CFDkJQqMyZ8sD8pZMt_Etq0Jtg3anpHk8-82z6W7cQsytf0D1pcUVq2U  https://www.surfacelanguages.com/language/Lithuanian.html
Paid Lithuanian courses
List of  paid group and individual classes (various pricing):  https://www.govilnius.lt/relocate-and-live/education-options/lithuanian-language-courses