Keghart.org Report, Yerevan, 12 October 2022
The Tumanyan.Online Armenian language school was founded in 2018 by Hayk Hovakimyan, a repatriate from Russia. The mission of the project is to fight against assimilation through an effective teaching methodology for Diaspora Armenians. It is implemented through the popularization of teaching the Armenian language, on one hand, and the provision of modern methods and forms of teaching, on the other hand.
The main difference of the school is the use of special methods of teaching Armenian as a foreign language. This ensures high learning efficiency for both Diaspora Armenians and foreign students who want to learn Armenian. At the moment, approximately 30% of students at Tumanyan.Online school are foreigners. Classes are conducted online using an interactive learning platform. Practice shows the effectiveness and convenience of this approach. After all, the students live in different parts of the world and can study at a convenient time and from anywhere using a computer or a phone.
The first training program was designed for Russian-speaking students. The author of the methodology is Aida Markosyan, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences in the specialty of “Theory and Methods of Teaching a Foreign Language”, Candidate of Philological Sciences; author of the four-volume textbook of Armenian as a foreign language “Կռունկ Հայաստանի” (“Krunk Hayastani”).
Recently a second program has been launched: training program for English-speaking students. The author of this methodology is Mary Hakobyan, the author of the best seller Eastern Armenian textbook. Mary Hakobyan is a highly experienced Eastern Armenian Language teacher with a diverse teaching background. She has taught Armenian to Diasporans and foreigners in Birthright Armenia and has also tutored ambassadors and diplomats adopting an entirely new approach to teaching and learning Armenian.
Classes are held online through video conferences with professional teachers who are native speakers of the Armenian language using an interactive platform where students can also study on their own after their online class with a teacher. With the help of illustrated stories, entertaining exercises, and listening assignments, the students learn to speak, understand, read and write faster, easier, and creatively. In addition, the program is designed to help students recognize common knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral patterns of the Armenian people.
Questions to Hayk:
What prompted you to found an Armenian language school?
Living in the Diaspora doesn’t predispose people to speak Armenian well. If my parents hadn’t forced me to speak Armenian at home, it’s highly unlikely that I would speak Armenian now. Periodically I tried different ways to master Armenian as I wanted to learn to read and write. The problem with Sunday schools and private tutors is the lack of quality materials as well as the low level of teacher knowledge, the low level of teacher training as well as teacher incompetence. For example, it is normal in many schools and for most tutors to teach Armenian using the same materials that are taught / used in Armenia. From the point of view of the theory of language acquisition / learning, this is wrong, since the Armenian language is a foreign language for the Diaspora: the Armenians of the Diaspora aren’t in the same linguistic context as the local Armenians. Also, the current pace and lifestyle of Armenians around the world requires language schools to be digitally mobile, provide a high-quality and comfortable learning platform, a methodology designed specifically for foreign students, as well as open and qualified teachers. I found that few people are focused on solving these problems in the Armenian world, while language is the only way to save the Diaspora. That’s why I decided to launch an Armenian language school called “Tumanyan.Online”.
What motivates Armenians living outside of Armenia to learn their native language?
Diaspora Armenians learn Armenian for a variety of reasons. According to our statistics, most students learn Armenian because it’s their main way of identifying themselves with the Armenian people. Many start from scratch. There are those who can speak Armenian but cannot read or write. There are also students who learn Armenian before or during the process of their repatriation to Armenia. The motivation to learn Armenian is irrational for the majority of students. It is not a language which can help you earn more money or achieve better results in your professional life. You just learn it for yourself, to preserve Armenian culture and history. Usually it’s some kind of inner call leading the student to a trial lesson. And in this regard, to awaken this call in as many students as possible, and secondly, not to let it fade away in the process of learning.
What are the motives of foreigners to study Armenian?
About 30% of our students are foreigners. They can be divided into two categories: those who learn Armenian because their loved ones are Armenians, and those who moved to Armenia or whose companies were relocated to Armenia. There is a really small percentage of foreigners who at one time or another in their lives have encountered Armenians, or live in places where there are many Armenians, and for them learning Armenian is an adventure in order to strengthen relations with their Armenian friends.
What are the main tasks and trends in the Armenian language teaching market?
The general problem of the Armenian language is the materials and methods by which the language is taught. It’s a fact that billions of dollars are spent on the improvement of teaching English, German or French, new teaching methods are being developed all the time, students are being trained and then retrained, applications and interactive platforms are being created, and so on. But the same hasn’t happened with the Armenian language for a variety of reasons, including the size of the country. That’s why today the key issues are well-designed teaching methods that are properly digitized in order to make the student’s journey as smooth, efficient, and comfortable as possible. The interactivity of teaching is also a problem, as most private tutors use various pdf documents randomly collected from a variety of books and sources. The global trend of learning a foreign language implies an interactive platform where learners will be able to practice on their own according to the so-called “principle of a simulator”, but will also work with a teacher who can motivate and involve them in learning the language, as well as answer questions and explain the material in a more individualized way. Another world trend is all kinds of conversation clubs for practicing the language. Actually, a huge number of our students don’t have the opportunity to speak Armenian in their environment. This is why we designed group classes for up to 5 people, where students can always find new friends.
What mistakes do students make when trying to start learning Armenian?
The main problem with learning any language is that you really have to learn it. You can come up with dozens of engagement techniques, make the platform as gamified and exciting as possible, but if the student doesn’t want to study, no school can handle it. If you have decided to learn Armenian, stick to that decision, remind yourself periodically why you have decided so, and reaffirm your decision over and over again. Our task is to keep the students’ attention, especially in the first month. During this time they already develop the habit of learning Armenian and it becomes a part of their life. There are also students who say they want to learn basic conversational Armenian without grammar. At the moment, we have made the grammar as accessible as possible, but we strongly do not recommend completely bypassing it.
How realistic is it to learn Armenian from scratch and how long can it take?
There are already hundreds of students in Tumanyan.Online that speak Armenian with zero knowledge at the start. Of course, we still have room to grow, but the results can be quite satisfactory in the first 4-6 months. The training can be divided into several phases: in 2 months students learn basic Armenian, which includes letters, reading, writing, speaking with approximately 500 words of vocabulary. And in 5-6 months they, let’s say, master spoken Armenian, that will help them to be understood by the local Armenians and they will be able to make small talk on almost any topic. Deadlines are relative: there are always people who can do everything faster than others. And it’s extremely important to realize the following: learning Armenian is real, the deadlines are adequate, and the result is that you will know your native language for the rest of your life. The only question is why haven’t you done it yet?
There are other online programs for English speakers to learn Armenian. Why would someone choose Tumanyan.online?
Currently, you won’t find many interactive platforms aimed at teaching Armenian. When we launched Tumanyan.Online, we decided for ourselves that we would welcome any solutions that appear on the market and will take advantage of them. Nowadays, Tumanyan.Online is the most complete interactive learning platform, our teachers are retrained accordingly, and our methodology is constantly being developed and supplemented to be even more effective. In addition, we provide the opportunity to take a trial lesson for just one dollar, so that any person gets the opportunity to make sure that what we offer is real. The easiest way to compare and feel the difference is to come and see for yourself.
What are the goals and plans for the future of the school?
We’re confident that the global digital transformation cannot bypass the problems of teaching the Armenian language. We believe that more than one million people in the Diaspora need to start learning Armenian, and in this regard, our role is to develop teaching methodologies, expand our product line, including designing an app, and enter new markets. Tumanyan.Online will keep creating demand for language learning among the Diaspora, because we truly believe that this is the main way to preserve the Armenian identity around the world.
Questions to Mary Hakobyan
Tell us about your path in the field of teaching the Armenian language.
After graduating from Yerevan State University with master’s degree, I started to teach Eastern Armenian to Diasporans and foreigners in Birthright Armenia. This is when I realized that teaching Armenian was something I greatly enjoyed and I would like to dedicate my career to it. Since then I have been teaching Armenian both in person and online to various students from different parts of the world.
When I started working in Birthright Armenia, I struggled with the books and materials available to teach Armenian. This is when I created the Eastern Armenian textbook. I had good understanding of the challenges of the learning process and designed the textbook to allow the students to overcome them with confidence. The textbook, intended for A1, A2 level students, was published in 2018 and gained its popularity immediately.
Now I am working on B1, B2 level textbook which I hope is going to be as helpful and successful as the A1, A2 level one.
Talk about the online program for English speakers. Is it based on Eastern Armenian textbook?
I was contacted by the Tumanyan.Online team and they suggested cooperating in creating an interactive and useful online platform for learning Eastern Armenian for English speakers. I was excited about the program and the opportunities the English speakers will have and obviously agreed.
The program is based on Eastern Armenian textbook. It is an online platform with many interactive tools, which make the learning process fun and easy. The teachers in Tumanyan.Online help the students learn everything during the online video lesson with the help of interactive exercises and games. This online program is a quick, easy and professional tool to learn Armenian online.
What are your future plans regarding the textbook and the online program?
The Eastern Armenian textbook is going to have its second publication soon. I am also working on the B1, B2 level textbook. I think together with Tumanyan.Online we will work on the online platform for many years to come.
Thank you Hayk and Mary for this informative interaction about teaching Eastern Armenian as a second language.