Old Gold in Zagreb



Language Program

Butković Strani Jezici and Centre (of) Innovative Education, Zagreb, Croatia.

October 2016

English, Russian, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and Croatian.

Tilka Brown

Butković Strani Jezici.

Nestled amongst houses in a quiet street of Zagreb, stands an unassuming, slightly taller building. The exterior grey walls and tidy white-pebbled parking space suggest an air of business-like professionalism.

This is an important building, an accounting firm perhaps. I was confused; did my hostess need to conduct some errands before our scheduled school visit? As we walked closer, I started to notice little splashes of colour that told me overworked accountants didn’t reside inside.

The happy little owl-windmill pointed me in the direction of the front door and before long, I had crossed the threshold into Butković Strani Jezici.

“Coffee?” I grinned in response, relieved to learn that the ‘International Teacher Beverage’ is also known here in Croatia too. Moments later, a new colleague presented me with a steaming, strangely personalised mug; the handle contained a knitted cover which had a soft-blue heart dangling from the side.

“Well that’s definitely your mug!” my hostess declared. I smiled – she didn’t even know about my Magical Hearts at this stage!

Special coffee mug in-hand, we commenced the tour of the school. This isn’t your typical school; Butković Strani Jezici is a private language school, one of only two oldest language schools in Croatia. It was mid-morning and the classes for the day hadn’t yet begun. This allowed me to have a good look inside each of the well-organised and highly engaging classrooms.

These learning spaces are spacious, bright and contain the best in modern-day resources. The carefully-chosen artwork contribute to the abundance of life and colour within each room and this energy is emanated throughout the whole school.

I soon realised that this remarkable school is a reflection of my hostess, school director Vlatka Buković. I complimented my surroundings and stated that I had never been in a school quite like this one!

“From the very start, I wanted the school to be elegant because it raises the appreciation towards education.” She loves, lives and breathes her work – we clicked straight away!

Tilka Brown

“Walk this way to become wise!”

Tilka Brown

As we wandered from room-to-room, she explained the history of her beautiful school. Founded by her mother, who was also Vlatka Butković, the school actually began in a spare room of the family home some twenty-six years ago. Vlatka senior had taught as an ESL Teacher in the same primary school for thirty years and upon her retirement, she quickly discovered that she was greatly missed by her students and their parents – the phone never stopped ringing!

She received numerous phone-calls from parents who explained that the reason why they had chosen her primary school over all others, was only so that their children could attend her English classes! Unbeknownst to her, Vlatka senior was very well known throughout all of Zagreb; respected by many students and their parents for her teaching methodology.

So the news of her teaching again spread like wildfire and before long, Vlatka senior found herself with a large number of private English students – too many for the spare room in her house.

After five years, Vlatka junior (also an exceptional educator) took over from her Mum and purchased a separate building from within which the English lessons could continue. The number of students doubled in one year and for the next fifteen years, enrolment levels continued to grow, peaking at 750 students in 2012!

Vlatka has continued to fulfil her mother’s legacy and works hard to make the school what it is today. She is the school’s Executive Director, Curriculum Designer and Teacher Trainer and works on the development and implementation of the Butkovic Method™ – yes, named-so after her Mother.

She leads a team of exceptional teachers, all of whom share the same vision and passion for language learning. The energy that they bring to their lessons, is carried with them throughout the whole school – learning is well and truly alive here!

Eight languages are offered at this rather remarkable school – yes, eight! English, Russian, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian an Croatian (for foreigners).

I joined a few of the senior English classes (for students aged between 14-17 years) and was extremely impressed with their level of English; I felt as though I was amongst teenagers from back home such was their fluency!

Their level of comprehension – and enthusiasm for learning – is of direct credit to the teachers here. Students of course need to have an instinctive desire to learn and work hard, but from what I saw, it is the dedication of their teachers which is of direct correlation to the students high levels of motivation.

Tilka Brown

Senior English Class.

Tilka Brown

Playing Tombola Illustrata.

I also attended one of the junior Italian classes – and was immediately blown away by the students’ knowledge and level of Italian! Here I was, sitting in a class with 10/11 year old Croatian kids, observing them playing a game of Tombola Illustrata and listened in complete amazement as they conversed between themselves in perfect Italian!

Not only that, these über clever Multilingual Munchkins were also switching between using Croatian and English with complete ease! Astounding!

The subsequent days of my visit confirmed what I had already so quickly established – Butković Strani Jezici is not your typical language school.

The building is also home to the ‘Centar Inovativne Edukacije Zagreb’ (CIE: The Centre of Innovative Education). This was founded by Vlatka junior as a platform for further developing the Butkovic Method™ and for implementing effective classroom practises across a range of subjects; not only languages.

The Centre offers over thirty different and highly engaging workshops for students aged 5 years and up. The workshops include science lessons (with real scientists and actual scientific equipment!), robotics classes, EdTech classes and so on.

CIE in itself has its’ own remarkable connections to several international organisations; CEESA (The Central & Eastern European Schools Association), American International School of Zagreb and Greenpeace – to name but a few.

These collaborations allow for authentic and highly engaging language-learning workshops to be offered to current and new students of the school.

I was completely welcomed with open arms here and sadly, my very brief visit had all-too quickly come to an end. My beautiful new friends had become new colleagues and Vlatka had happily agreed to my calling her school ‘My Croatian Home.’

It would seem that, much to my surprise, I had struck educational gold in a brand new country! But that’s the thing with gold – you never know when it will appear… Luckily for me, it was right here in Zagreb!

Well done Butković; you are a Stella School!

By Tilka Brown
©The Language Toolbox

For more information about Butković Strani Jezici, please see their school website: http://www.butkovic.eu

Tilka Brown

The schools’ sign at the entrance; a marking point of “Hello” and “Until we meet again!”