Language Assistant

My last day of teaching

Collage

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.

Untitled

Granada

  photo 2

I have now visited all the sights on my spring travel list! Last weekend I concluded my travels by celebrating my 21st birthday in Granada.

Granada is famous for the stunning Alhambra which sits in the centre of the city on top of a huge hill. It’s recommended that you buy tickets well in advance (we bought ours in March) because they sell out about as quickly as a One Direction concert.

The Alhambra experience was very special, and worth the planning. There are palaces, towers and gardens to visit – all with spectacular panoramic views of the city below. Like a One Direction concert there were plenty of people, however the site is so vast that other tourists are dispersed amongst the various buildings and foliage so it doesn’t feel too intense.

photo 1

You can easily enjoy many hours exploring the Alhambra, I was there all morning and I’m pretty sure I still didn’t see everything. The highlight is undeniably the Nasrid palace which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. it’s just as pretty as the alcazars in Sevilla or Córdoba but on a much bigger scale, I loved it.

photo 3

The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking in Moroccan style restaurants and tea rooms (another great thing about granada) and it was all kinds of wonderful. I enjoyed frozen yogurt, my favourite treat, and even had a wild night out (complete with mojitos, crazy dance moves and 5am hostel return).

I now have just two weeks left before it’s time to say goodbye to Spain..

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

Half way

s.jpg

It’s incredible to say that I’ve passed the halfway point of both my time in Spain and my year abroad as a whole. All in all, although of some individual days and weeks do drag (lessons with 15 year olds often feel like lifetimes of pain), it has gone really quickly. Over the past few months I’ve established myself as a private English tutor, I’ve become familiar with plumbing vocabulary and I’ve finally adapted to Spanish mealtimes. I have built solid friendships with the eight other language assistants here and I’ve made plenty of Spanish friends too. Bizarrely, one of my closest Spanish connections is a seventeen year-old student with whom I’ve bonded over a shared interest in Harry Potter and One Direction. My other closest connections are fellow teachers (mostly middle-aged) and my language-exchange partner Maria (aged 35), with whom I enjoy weekly cups of tea and life discussions. It seems that I have bypassed integration with people of my actual age and so the whole Spanish party lifestyle has alluded me so far. I’m very happy though and I always feel like my head is simultaneously younger and older than my 20 years anyway. Having said that, just last week I made a new friend – a 22 year old local girl called Ana, she invited me out with her friends and we were chatting in a smokey bar until 2.30am. Perhaps my granny lifestyle may be set to change after all!

In September I was really terrified to come here and the whole first term flew by in a blur of settling in and mild panic. I got through any moments of sadness with the thought of Christmas and my impending flight home. Luckily, since returning in January everything has seemed much more familiar and relaxing. I’m now witnessing lighter evenings, easier conversations and I’m enjoying everything a whole lot more. I’ve got through January and I’ve started planning trips for the remainder of my time here, I’m off to Madrid next weekend, Morocco the week after – it’s all going far too quickly.

Now though, for memory and comedy’s sake, let’s reflect on my lowest moments:

  1. Tripping over and falling flat on my face in front of a group of students whilst on an afternoon jog. Knee severely grazed and pride dented.
  2. The power cut in out apartment on cold November morning, which lead to icy showers and a day without internet (tragic).
  3. Getting stranded on a broken down bus and watching in dispair as fellow passengers were, one-by-one, rescued by family/friends with cars. I had to wait for three hours with the driver and a few other abandoned folk, I cried silently and felt very abroad and alone.

However, as bad as these experiences felt at the time, they’re hardly terrible. I’ve had so much fun, so much sunshine and I’ve visited so many beautiful places. These can be summarized in the picture montage above.

Here’s to the rest of my time in Spain and thank you (once again) for following my year so far.

Untitled

Salamanca: Part Two

SALA1.jpg

After getting a feel for Salamanca on Day One, our second day was spent exploring the city in more depth.

SALA2.jpg

The cathedral is arguably the main attraction, it’s made up of both an old and a new part, both of which are equally impressive. The interior is stunning but I would absolutely recommend climbing the tower. You pay just 3 euros to enter and the experience is worth every cent. There were multiple viewing points all the way up; a sun terrace, a balcony overlooking the cathedral interior and, for the big finale, a huge bell tower at the top with a 360 degree view of the city. Understandably there was a lot of effort required to reach the top – in the form of a rather claustrophobic set of spiral stairs. Fortunately, unlike both York Minster and Florence’s Duomo, there was an ingenious traffic light system telling you when it was clear to ascend. This avoided the awkward must flatten self against cold stone wall to avoid personal contact with fellow tourist scenario. I was VERY grateful for this. I don‘t like invasions of personal space at any time, let alone within the restrictions of an ancient stone stairwell with limited oxygen/light/escape. In fact, the technology in place reminded me of the red and green lights you find at the top of water slides. There was a line of people, a screen on the wall, a count-down; it was a very similar setup. Fortunately the cathedral countdown was much less ominous; waiting for water slides involves the impending doom of losing your bikini or swallowing chlorine. The cathedral setting definitely decreases the risk of indecent exposure from swimwear loss, you simply have to walk down some stairs.

SALALALAAA.jpg

Another highlight was a visit to Las Dueñas, a Dominican convent built in the 15th century.

SALALALALLAA.jpgInside was a beautiful courtyard with carved pillars, arabic archways and views of the cathedral, there was also a museum on the first floor and a nun selling handmade biscuits by the entrance below – something for everyone!SALALAAA.jpgOverall I loved Salamanca. I thought it had the right balance of beautiful architecture whilst still functioning as a modern, lively city. It was packed full of students rather than tourists and the whole atmosphere was great. Next on my to-visit list is Lisbon!Untitled

The joys of spanglish

befunky_artwork.jpg

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.

I’m excited to see what the next four months will bring, more misunderstandings I’m sure. I’ll keep you posted!Untitled