Spanish

My last day of teaching

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Teaching in Spain has been a rollercoaster of hilarity, intimidation, confusion, misinterpretation, frustration and exhaustion. Incidentally, I have also learnt that most Spanish kids struggle to pronounce words ending in ‘tion’.

In all honesty I’ve loved the experience about 64 times more than I ever thought I would. Equally, I would never want to do it again. 8 months was the perfect amount of time, the perfect amount of responsibility and pressure. I know that being a proper teacher is significantly harder, I mean I worked just 12 hours a week, speaking my native language at a slow pace and loud volume, occasionally whipping together a PowerPoint entitled ‘What is a Roast Dinner?’. I’m fairly sure professional teachers have to work a lot harder than that.

I like to think I imparted a lot of wisdom throughout my time here, and hopefully I did a lot to improve my students’ English. What I can be sure of though is that I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot myself. Ironically, I am now better informed on British, American and Irish culture as I had to give lessons on various cultural topics. Never before had I researched the story behind Halloween, the history of St Patrick’s Day or the rules of cricket (we did an entire lesson on this), wikepedia has definitely been my friend.

Perhaps less surprisingly, I have also learned a whole heap of English grammar. At the beginning of the year I’d be asked, on the spot, to explain the use of ‘the future perfect tense’ and I’d stare blankly at the teacher for a good four minutes. We know and use so much grammar instinctively but when it comes to explaining the rules or the reasons behind our bizarre language it gets quite complicated. I’ve learned about countable nouns, uncountable nouns, the present continuous… the list is endless (and tedious) but it’s been enlightening nevertheless.

There have also been numerous amusing classroom moments, some of which I have already shared here, here and here. Last month there was a listening task in which students had to identify sports from audio clips. The sound of a bat hitting a ball was clearly tennis, hearing quick footsteps on tarmac was obviously jogging but Judo was less straightforward; the clip was a medley of rude-sounding grunting and shuffling on the floor which prompted a class of stifled laughter, me included. Another case was when students were given titles to invent their own storyboards with; one group was given ‘Getting Dirty’ and thankfully wrote about a dog swimming in a puddle. Less innocent students could certainly have taken the title in a very different direction and I was VERY grateful it was a young class. My friends working at neighbouring schools have not been spared the amusement either. One of Emmy’s 13 year old students was asked about her weekend and answered “On Saturday night I sleep with my friend Lara” to which the Spanish teacher corrected “NO! You SLEPT with your friend Lara, past tense!” before Emmy had to correct them both and said “I think you mean you slept at your friend Lara’s house?” It’s never-ending fun.

The highlight of my teaching experience however, as I’m sure most non-monstrous teachers would agree, has been the students. They were (mostly) funny, cheeky and kind, occasionally hard working, attentive and studious, often challenging but never boring. I’d be lying if I sad I didn’t have favourites; in every class there’d be at least two or three particularly funny or sweet kids who would make the lessons so much better. In the younger classes I had really cute ones who would make me paper flowers or drawings, in the older classes there were girls who filled me in on the school gossip, giggled with me over mutual love for the attractive Portuguese teacher, there was Juan-Manuel the Pretty Little Liars super-fan who I discussed episodes with. Having these allies was also integral to discipline, whenever I spoke these students would yell (in a passionate Spanish way that I could never replicate) for their classmates to shut up and listen – VERY useful if you’ve ever experienced the sheer chaos of a rowdy Spanish high school.

I will also undoubtedly be using my teaching experience in any future job interview; it has tested so much more than a year at university ever would. Can you give me an example of a time you when you had to work under pressure? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Tell me about a time where you had to think on your feet? Insert Spanish teaching experience here. Please explain how you would handle a challenging working environment? You get the idea..

Like waitressing, I can tick ‘teacher’ off my future career list that’s for sure, however, now that the time has come to leave I’m actually quite emotional. As cheesy as it sounds, it has been so nice to make connections with students who I would never have met otherwise and will realistically never encounter again. Yesterday was my last day and it was very special, I taught 3 classes the ‘ChaCha slide’ dance routine and we did lots of goodbyes and present exchanging. In one class four of the students had clubbed together to buy me an impractical but adorable HUGE pink teddy bear. It’ll take some serious packing tessellation to get him home but I’m determined to do it. I’ll remember these 8 months forever and I can’t wait to read my diary in years to come to relive ALL the memories, both disastrous and wonderful.

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The Spanish summer has begun

photoExtremadura is known for it’s extreme temperatures (as the name suggests) and I am finally appreciating why. We are currently experiencing spell of extreme heat and its almost unbearable. It was 40 degrees today, it is also May. The locals are wearing shorts and all conversations begin with ¡Qué calor!, so you know it’s pretty serious. I checked the weather and it’s currently hotter than Morocco, Greece and Uganda. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school classrooms were hotter than the Earth’s core.

The main problem is that it’s very dry and desert-like here; there’s no nearby beach, no lake and very few trees around the town. Unfortunately I walk to my students’ houses for private classes at around 3.30pm each day and I’m fairly sure I’m the only human braving the sunlight at this scorching hour. Everyone else is sensibly en casa with the shutters down. I actually have to apply sun cream for my ten-minute walk down the road, I also have to arrive an extra two minutes early to allow for cooling-off period during which I lurk outside the students’ house for necessary brow-mopping and water-guzzling.

I’ll try to find some silver linings to avoid sounding too whiny and spoiled: I’m lucky to be getting a healthy glow, I am grateful that this town is not at all hilly and I am pleased to have quite a decent deodorant.

But madre mía, any increase in temperature and I’ll have to be forcibly removed from the town fountain. Seriously.

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Feria de Sevilla

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Yesterday I visited my favourite Spanish city, Sevilla, for the famous April Feria! Every year the Feria opens it’s doors and the Sevillianos enjoy a week of dancing, drinking and tapas-eating whilst dressed in traditional flamenco style dresses or suits.

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On area of 450,000 square metres you can find endless streets of casetas (marquee style tents) which belong to various families or companies in the city. Each caseta is beautifully decorated in unique but typically-Spanish styles. Along the outside walkways between casetas, thousands of lanterns brighten the sky by day and glow at night.

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A British equivalent of the caseta is probably a beach hut – each owned by a different family, each with different character and style. They obviously serve VERY different purposes but it’s the only familiar concept I can think of.

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The caseta concept is quite unique to Spanish festivals, the casetas vary in size but they are essentially rooms with bars, seating areas and dance floors so that each family can have their own private party with friends. There are also large public casetas (for the riffraf like me) but the feria is first and foremost a celebration for the people of Seville.

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Seeing Sevillano dancing was a highlight. All men and women know how to dance Sevillano, they do it in pairs, they clap and stamp along, moving their arms in perfect synchronisation and looking at each other intensely as they do so. I wish we had a similar dance culture here, it puts the awkward shuffling that occurs in British clubs to shame. There’s also there’s nothing more attractive than a man who can dance, especially if he is well-dressed in a blue blazer like so many of the Sevillanos.

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The best thing about the Feria for me was seeing the beautifully colourful trajes de flamenca, the dresses worn by the majority of the women. Each dress was unique and they are so beautifully intricate, flamboyant and amazing. I also noticed an ingenious design on one woman’s dress which I imagine is a common feature. Under some of the bottom ruffles was a zipped pocket to store a phone, money and other essentials – these beauties are practical and stylish.

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The Feria is known for being quite exclusive and I suppose it probably was, but tourists like me can enjoy it too and I am so glad that I witnessed it whilst I’m here. For me the Feria epitomised Spanish culture and it was a brilliant spectacle to observe. I did do my fair share of participation too though; my friends and I didn’t return home until 4am (this was actually due to a cheap deal on buses rather than a desire to stay so long) so we saw the partying continue way into the night, we attempted to dance along AND we sampled the typical drink rebujito. A successful day all round!

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Monday musings #11

Believe it or not, when I’m not travelling or sunbathing I’m actually working here in Spain as an English language assistant. Last week I helped in a class based on pronunciation. The teacher rightly told the students that they can get by in England with a Spanish accent but they need to pronounce words more or less correctly in order to be understood. In English there are so many words that sound similar but can give completely different meanings so it’s important that the difference can be heard. There’s a ridiculous amount of these words if you think about it and for those learning English these words sound mostly identical, causing all kinds of confusion. For example, bird, beer, bar and bear all sound the same to many Spanish students. English is a lot tougher than we realize.

So my job for the day was chief enunciator (or something), I had to read out lists of subtly different words and the students had to repeat after me. So there I was slowly repeating perk, park, peak, pick, peck and puck doing my best to emphasize the difference in sound. The students struggled so much with differentiating between park and puck so I repeated them with excessive emphasis paaaarrrk and puuuuuuck so many times that I sounded like I’d developed a speech impediment. After the 34th time I’m fairly sure the students pretended that they heard a difference between the two, to save hearing my drawn out vowel sounds for a minute longer.

We then moved on to ‘notoriously difficult words for Spanish speakers to pronounce’. This mainly consisted of the ‘sh’ sound in words like procession and a personal favourite, the adjective social. I had to repeat the word so many times that after a while I was struggling with the different ‘s’ sounds as much as the kids. They try to say sho-ssial and after the 50th attempt I was starting to mix up the sounds myself. Disastrous. I’ll probably never be able to say it normally again.

To make matters worse the teacher enforced silence (a rare phenomenon in Spanish schools) so that the students could listen intently to my pronunciation. I felt the responsibility of exemplifying correct pronunciation because I am effectively the only access most of them have to natively spoken English. It didn’t help that the teacher gave a long lecture about how I speak ‘standard’ English because I am from Surrey and it’s important for the students to copy exactly what I say. Under all this pressure I definitely crumbled and some questionable examples of correct English were given.

What I have concluded from this experience is that a) when standing in front of 30 pairs of expectant eyes it becomes difficult to function normally b) English is really very difficult and I am eternally grateful that its my mother tongue and not a language I have to learn.

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The joys of spanglish

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My friends and I, all language assistants here in Spain, experience mistranslations and language-based errors on a daily, if not hourly basis. Fortunately, we have each other to to confide in rather than having to endure the embarrassment alone. I thought I’d share a few of our stories here as a way to remember them in years to come, it’s always fun to re-live these moments.

Disclaimer : most of the following anecdotes involve Spanish native-speakers making mistakes with their English. I am by no means mocking their attempts, in fact I’m 100% certain that I have said equally inappropriate comments in Spanish without realising. I can only hope that I’ve provided similar amusement in return…

The adult holiday

I give private conversation classes to a couple of the teachers at the school, in one of them we were discussing holiday destinations. My pupil was talking about Portugal and persistently pronounced the word ‘beach’ as if referring to a female dog. If you insert that word into the following monologue “Yes I love Portuguese beaches, they are very beautiful and I try to see as many as I can during the summer. This year I will visit the beaches in the south, they are hotter and more appealing to me” You’ll have some idea of how the conversation sounded.

The plumbing disaster

As previously mentioned, I’ve become too familiar with the local plumber this year due to various heating/water related apartment problems. My plumbing vocabulary is quite lacking in Spanish and phone conversations with Antonio are always confusing to say the least. I recently tried to explain a leaking shower head without realising that the literal translations of ‘shower’ and ‘head’ are not applicable together as they are in English. In my panic I said ‘my head is leaking’ and even worse ‘I am leaking’ before eventually getting the point across. I get nervous during phone conversations in English so it’s hardly surprising that it all went horribly wrong.

The inappropriate soundtrack

English music is popular in Spain and, at a breast cancer solidarity event in October, various tunes were blasting in the background whilst we all celebrated the success of the day’s activities. A cancer survivor was on stage bravely telling her story when, in the most emotional part of her speech, a new song began to play. Unfortunately, this song was Enrique Inglesias’ ‘Tonight I’m loving you’ the explicit version (which replaces ‘loving’ with a much cruder verb). The song was in full flow and the audience were tearfully clapping along as they listened to the lady thank everyone for their support. A bad song choice if I ever heard one. Fortunately I was one of just two people who understood the lyrics. Ignorance is bliss…

The class room faux-pas

My friend Gavin was assisting in a lesson about Folk Music last week. Unfortunately for him the teacher alongside him persistently mis-pronounced ‘Folk’ so that it sounded much like the word in Enrique’s explicit song. He tried to subtly correct her by over-enunciating the word himself and by the end of the lesson she was saying ‘fock music’. A slight improvement then.

The constipation question

Comically, ‘to be blocked up’ as in full of cold/flu translates in Spanish as the verb ‘Constipar’. This is already a recipe for a communication disaster. During these chilly months I’ve been told, by various Spanish colleagues keen to practice their English, “Megan, you look so constipated today!” due to my red nose or watery eyes. I’ll never get used to this and I experience the same moment of shocked humiliation every. single. time.

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Two months

befunky_artwork.jpgSeeing as I did a one month update, I thought I should write a little piece to mark the milestone of two months in Spain.

While the first month was busy, exciting and a bit overwhelming, this second month has been much, much calmer. Aside from my trip to Cordoba (which you can read about here, here and here), I’ve stayed in Zafra most weekends. Basically, us language assistants only received our first month’s salary last week, so until now we hadn’t really been in a position to splash the cash on multiple weekend excursions. Having said that, we’ve had fun exploring the countryside around here, visited some local restaurants and, due to the change in temperatures, spent many cosy evenings in the apartment.

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On Halloween we had a mexican night, because, well why not? Due to budget-airline luggage restrictions we all travelled with minimal clothes and, as a result, costume options were quite limited. Fortunately for me this apartment came with a sombrero hidden in one of the cupboards, so I threw on my aztek scarf (which doubles up as a blanket) and voilà, a costume! We had fajitas and mojitos – it was great.

Apartment-wise, we had an technical issue last week; waking up in complete darkness without electricity of any kind. It doesn’t get light here until about 8.30 am, so we had to get ready by torchlight – goodness knows what I went to school looking like that day. After mild panic I called up the electrician and he came pretty quickly. All was sorted by the afternoon, thank goodness.

School has been going well. In one of my classes the students are putting on an English play. Due to my English speaking ability I’ve been lumbered with the job of director. It seems that the teacher has decided to play an observatory role and leave me to it. It’s quite fun though, I pretend to know what I’m doing ; I mainly correct pronunciation and shout ‘project your voice!’ every few minutes.

I’ve also picked up a lot of private lessons. I now do eight a week, which is great for the bank account. I’m also getting to visit a variety of houses in Zafra! My favourite lesson is a conversation class with the natural sciences teacher Juan. He’s about sixty and does Iron man competitions, hand-gliding and yoga in his spare time. He’s a complete hippy and I aspire to be just like him when I’m old. We have similar food tastes and this week he baked me a loaf of rye bread which was delicious. People here really are the friendliest.

The month of December sees a weekend away to Barcelona and a trip home for CHRISTMAS. I am beyond excited for both. Happy Sunday!

The photos above: 1. A visit to Córdoba 2. Charity walk for Breast Cancer 3. Autumn leaves in Zafra 4. Beautiful sunsets on an evening run 5. Halloween fun with my flatmate Emmy

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10 things I’ve learned whilst living in Zafra

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  1. The sentence “I’ll meet you by the bull ring” is both common and acceptable.
  2. If you decide to leave the house at siesta time you’ll develop a new affinity for Will Smith in ‘I am Legend’. There are no people, anywhere. It’s creepy.
  3. Each week your food shop will cost the grand total of eight euros and seventy cents. Each week you will feel surprise and smug satisfaction.
  4. It’s crushingly disappointing when your day of errands is put on hold because it’s a national holiday and EVERYTHING is shut. No food in the fridge? You’ve got 99 problems and hunger is most definitely one.
  5. Going for a run in the countryside comes with multiple trip hazards including freely roaming chickens and rogue cattle.
  6. You must repeat your name slowly and phonetically when meeting new Spanish people. You must then allow them to refer to you as “chica” because they simply cannot pronounce it.
  7. You will soon realise that whole town knows each other and everyone is related to everyone (mainly due to large families in which no one leaves Zafra, not so much due to incest).
  8. Skype is a wonderful thing.
  9. Speaking English attracts persistent staring. Do I have three heads? Is there toothpaste on my chin? Nope, you’re just foreign.
  10. Speaking English equals private lessons and extra cash. You’ll pay me to chat in my native language? Don’t mind if I do…

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