Not Happy With The English Text Book? Two High School Students Created Their Own

Perhaps everybody who ever studied a foreign language remembers the impersonal dialogues and phrases many textbooks still contain. But did it ever occur to you to do something about it?  Well, please note that somebody has actually done something to remedy the situation. We at YT have the pleasure to introduce you two young high school students, Jakub Jan Fiala and Ondřej Kočan, who, not being satisfied with the quality of their English textbooks at their high school, took a decision two years ago to create their own book. What was their journey, and where does the Improve Yourself English student’s book stand today? Scroll down and find out the answer to this and many more questions.

There has been a lot written about you, but a particular focus has been on the fact that you were just not happy with the English textbooks you and your school friends were using during classes. Seriously, was that the only motivation?

We are two enthusiasts. We both have one feature in common – when we decide to do something, we are unstoppable. Our essential motivation at the very beginning was just to improve our English. You don’t have many opportunities to improve, especially when you live in a small town like we do. And of course, we wanted to create something which would not ordinarily be expected from teenagers.

I can understand the dissatisfaction with the school textbooks and the system in general. Preparing a book is long term endeavor. Did you know what was ahead of you when you started with your project?

Of course not! It was just a crazy idea, and to be honest, very few people believed in

Text book Improve Yourself.

us. We didn’t know how far this experience would take us. Ondřej was always into graphic programs, and I was always dissatisfied with the way of learning English in our country. So we put the best from each of us together, and unlike most Czechs, stopped complaining and started acting!

How long did it take you to finalize the project?

About two years straight. And we really enjoyed each moment of this great journey. There was a lack of time, and hard work, and there were many moments when we wanted to stop and give up. But the result is satisfying, and we are very proud to have worked with so many amazing people.

In what way is your book better than the others? Does it meet the current trends – in other words – is your book more comprehensive and modern?

Yes, it is! It’s all about our student-friendly environment. Inspiration, innovation and motivation – that’s the motto of our project. We offer another, unconventional way to learning English through modern technologies such as QR codes, must-have phone apps, and fresh topics. We took the best from the internet, created fun activities, and developed our own design. We will help you to pass the final exam (even we haven’t passed it yet ourselves :–)) and the Cambridge English: First (FCE) certificate. We have created a book which includes all you need to learn at the high school level.  Basically, it’s all in one.

Your book is now available to be sold. You obviously use it for your own studies, I believe. Has the Ministry of Education acknowledged it or recommended it to schools as a teaching device?

High schools have some freedom to use various educational materials such as textbooks, even materials that have not yet been approved by the Ministry. An important thing was to follow the secondary education curriculum – our book must include all four basic comprehensions – writing, speaking, listening, and reading.

Ondřej Kočan a Jan Fiala – Authors of the text book Improve Yourself.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you two strike me as people who don’t bother about obstacles. What I am talking about is the self-publishing you established. It is a refreshing way of thinking.  Was it a necessity, or this just the easier path to follow?

This was the only way that made sense. We wanted to be independent and make all decisions ourselves. We have chosen the most difficult path to follow. When we look back, we had to do much paperwork, and fundraising, and had to learn how to survive in business.

But this was just a drop in the ocean. The biggest challenge was to make it all real.

Both of you are actually very young businessmen. How old are you and at what age did you establish your business?

We both just turned 18 last year and started in the autumn of 2016, so it’s currently half a year since we entered the world of business.

What you are presently working on apart from your studies?

We are going to graduate in three months, so we don’t have much time. But we are not used to doing nothing. Our newest project is some kind of educational website intended for all English language enthusiasts – high school students, eternal learners, and ESL/EFL teachers. Tips, tricks and latest trends. All in one place.

That sounds great. You are going to graduate from high school soon. What is the next step? Which are the subjects you are planning to study when you move on to university?

Ondřej: After the high school I want to study business and management in Prague.

Jakub: I want to study law, also in Prague.

Ondřej Kočan a Jan Fiala – Authors of the text book Improve Yourself.

How well was your book accepted in your closest circles? What did your school friends, teachers, and parents have to say? Were you an inspiration for them?

We have to say that we have received no special treatment, we take the customary examinations, we are given the usual homework, and so on. We got a great endorsement from our schoolmates, teachers and family.  But a lot of things have changed since we wrote the book.

Improve Yourself is being used in English conversation lessons and is going to be used in regular lessons from January, 2017. It may sound funny, but we, the authors, use Improve Yourself in our own English lessons. It was hard to convince our teachers, but they like Improve Yourself very much.

What do you do when you’re not working?

Tough question. We don’t see any difference between our free time, duties, and business. But like anybody else, we go to bars, have teenage problems, and enjoy a full-fledged high school life.

Allow us to wish you success in your life.

Thank you very much!

Photos: From the Archive of Ondřej Kočan a Jan Fiala.


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