Creating Language Opportunities

I have asked my students to watch English tv shows and movies to give them more exposure to the language in a more realistic setting. I told them no period pieces; the last thing I need is them running around addressing each other as “sire” and saying “thee” or “thou.” Contemporary stuff. If they really want to learn slang stuff, I recommended reality tv. Does it make me a bad teacher that I basically assigned them to watch trash like Real Housewives? Hmm…maybe. I tell you what, that’s a rhetorical question and you don’t need to answer it!

I took a class poll of some American films to find something everyone was at least a little familiar with. Turns out, everyone seemed to know the latest Star Wars movie. So we have been watching it in class the last two sessions so that everyone can see it in English. I was hoping that by showing them something they were already a little familiar with plot-wise that they would not get totally lost or frustrated if they missed some of the dialog here and there. After the film is over, I am going to give them some newspaper articles from The Daily Mail or maybe a sports magazine and see how much of it thatmy students can read aloud and/or comprehend. I want them to learn a more formal way of speaking, which is how I teach in class. Sometimes I think the textbooks we have can be a little stiff, so I thought giving them some more real-world exposure would be helpful.I want to present them with supplemental stuff that is actually interesting and appealing. I am hoping it will motivate them a little better than just sitting around and arguing about how hard English is and how in the world we came up with the spelling of Wednesday.

After that, I have a few other teachers coming in, all either Britons or Americans, who are going to break into small groups with the class and we’re going to carry out some scenarios. Typical stuff: ordering at a restaurant, asking directions because you are lost, casual conversations, asking for help at a store, and an emergency room visit. This is mostly to prepare the students because we are going on an overnight trip to London.I am hopeful that the tv watching and small groups will prepare them a little more for the way people actually talk.Being in London will help them get some practical experience, but it isn’t quite like the exposure I am getting by being here. I have to kind of work with within the confines of the job description, though, so that’s what I’m doing.

Time for me to go. I have to brush up on my British slang, too, before I embarrass myself in front of my class!

Language Exchange

After all the time I spent struggling to find a job, I have been really blessed with this assignment. I get to live in beautiful Barcelonafor a year, teaching English to the students here. Once that time is up, I will be going hometo the United States. I am assigned to work at their “sister school,” which luckily is not too far from where I grew up.There, I will be teaching Spanish to high school students, something I have always wanted to do. I will also be in charge of the Spanish Club there.Aside from reinforcing the language the students hear every day in class and teaching the students about Spanish-speaking countries, one of my main tasks will be leading a school sponsored trip back to Madrid every spring break. The students in the two programs meet for a week of sightseeing and social activities, which are designed to provide them with various opportunities to communicate in both languages.

It is a really incredible concept.An incredible concept that I get paid to be part of.

I think we need more language exchanges like this. The more language barriers we can take down, the better I think the world can be. We need more immersion experiences, too. Imagine us all being able to understand each other in more ways than one.Not just linguistically but also culturally. What do you think we could accomplish if we were able to understand not just the words people used but the cultural and social context?

I am not saying that we would be living in a world of peace, I am not that naïve, but I think global conflicts would decrease. When you understand someone else, they cease to be so alien to you. I think misunderstandings and ignorant fears are a large part of the problem. But with regular exposure to the languages and lives of people unlike your own, things will change. You will still see the differences but you will start to see similarities, too. Suddenly there is a common ground that provides you with something to work from.

I may sound like an idealist here, and very “peace, love, and understanding.”I have to say, I didn’t really feel this way before getting this particular job. But now that I see the way it works, I think programs like it—any language exchange where people are meeting to practice speaking a language that is not their own and coming together with people of different backgrounds to do it—are a positive first step to making the world a more understanding and compassionate place. In this day and age where we are moving toward a more global society, it is more important than ever to learn other languages and experience other cultures. At the very least, I figure it won’t hurt anybody to learn a second language or travel abroad. I can’t wait to go back home and bring a class here. It is going to be amazing to show the kids around and experience Madrid again each year.

Falling in Love with Madrid, Barcelona & Spain

The first thing I could not get over when I moved here is the weather. It’s nice. I have not been here long enough yet to really experience the seasons, but I have been told that it does get hot and cold, just like most other places, but I wake up nearly every morning to see the sun shining. It is almost freaky. And because the weather is so nice, Madrid has gone all out with its parks. I have never been to any public place that is as beautiful as El Retiro. Rain here is so rare that it is all anyone talks about for awhile.

Another thing I am really starting to enjoy is that there’s always something to do. Maybe people who live in bigger U.S. cities are used to having all this fashion and culture within walking distance, but I am not. I go window shopping after class and to museums on weekends. At night my coworkers and I will go out dancing or try out a new cocktail lounge. Just because we can. There is no shortage of things to do. I think this is what I will miss most when I go home. And the great thing about living here is that it also can have a small-town feel, which was great for me at the beginning when everything felt really overwhelming. If you live in a good neighborhood (Barrio) here, then you are set. There’s usually a market within walking distance, and your neighbors will be very friendly and help look out for each other. When you don’t know anybody all that well yet, and there’s a bit of a language barrier, this can be a total lifesaver.

Madrid feels like the center of the world sometimes. It is right in the middle of Spain, so it is this huge hub for travelers. It certainly makes visiting other places super easy as well. And because there are so many travelers coming in and out, some have stayed—and when they do, they bring their cuisine with them, making my home away from home full of exotic treats. I have had everything from Mediterranean goodies to authentic Ukrainian dishes, and even some of the best American-style burgers I have ever had!

I’ve only experienced a few drawbacks—yes, I was the victim of a pickpocket once or twice, and it is such a touristy area that the perpetrators (and my stuff) will most likely never be seen again. But it just required me to think a little differently. It happened twice early on in my stay (once my wallet out of a backpack and once my phone off a café table while I was reading the paper) and since then I’ve gotten a lot smarter. Now I carry a front-clasp purse and I wear it across my body, and I never leave my phone out. Anywhere. There was also an adjustment period with the roommate but that’s all straightened out now, too.

A girl could really get used to this…

News from Back Home

Being so far from home is a bit of a double-edged sword: I am not sucked into the drama (and my family has a lot of drama; we’re a large and stubborn lot) but at the same time, when something happens, I am too far away to actually be of any use. It both keeps me free of the craziness but also makes me feel guilty that I am not shouldering my fair share of any burdens or sharing in any of the joy.

Case in point: my little brother called a little while ago and told me that he and his girlfriend are expecting! I didn’t even know what to say. I love his girlfriend, she’s great, but a) they fight a lot and b) I can’t tell if he’s excited about it. If we were face to face, I could probably have figured it out but just hearing his voice on the other end of the phone made it difficult to figure out. And because of the time difference, I was in a restaurant eating dinner, so I couldn’t even hear his voice all that well. It seemed awkward and a little rude to my dinner companions to ask my brother to switch to FaceTime, so I just said that it was wonderful news and that I thought they would make great parents. He kind of snickered at that—bad sign, I know—and then changed the subject. I followed his lead, and soon we were talking about Dad’s latest girlfriend.

I love what I am doing here and the language immersion has done amazing things for my vocabulary and accent.However, it is times like this that I wished that I owned my own jet or something.Then I could go home as often as I felt like, because I know none of them are going to fly here. It’s weird: I am not what I would call homesick. I don’t even miss speaking English all that much—I guess I get my quota of that teaching class—and I can’t say that I miss living in the United States at this point (although that could be sour grapes because I couldn’t find a job therendsince I had no money, needed to move back in with my folks before I got the job here). I am sure if I saw my brother on a regular basis, we’d fight like we typically do, and I certainly don’t miss that. Sometimes I am actually glad there’s an ocean between me and my entire family, which might be a terrible thing to admit. Good thing I haven’t told them about this blog, I guess, haha! I guess the thing that I miss is the idea of my family, the fictional scenario where we all get along and everything is super.

Well, writing this post has certainly helped put things in perspective and given me an idea. I am going to video call him later and see if I can gauge his reaction. At the very least, I will ask for the due date and offer to fly home, and see what he says from there. Wish me luck!

Teaching in Reverse

Technically, this job has me teaching in reverse. My ideal job is teaching Spanish, not English. I couldn’t find any jobs like that near me. Even when I expanded how far I was willing to commute, I came up empty. There was some translating work, and I looked into that because it could have been interesting, but nothing came from those interviews.

I managed to find a few Spanish to English teaching jobs but English is so much harder to teach. It is not that I don’t like English;it’s that there are so many rules and I don’t understand them all. For example, the word isn’t funner, it is more fun. There’s a reason behind that and I just don’t know it. I know the right answer because I know what sounds better, not because I understand a bunch of grammar rules that I probably last went over in elementary school. Then there are words that we just can’t agree on how to pronounce. Like pecan. I know half of you read that as pea-can and the rest as puh-cahn. Other languages have accent marks specifically to make things like that less ambiguous. You could argue that now I’m talking about dialects, and that happens just about everywhere, and you might be right. All I’m saying is that English doesn’t give you a lot of guidance.

Then I found this job. It’s only a year of teaching Spanish to English, mostly so you get the experience of living in Spain and expanding your vocabulary so that you can reach a native speaker level of fluency. It also sounds impressive to the parents on school nights. It is a win-win for both me and the company I work for: I get to live in Spain for a year and get paid to do it, teaching a language that I already know while getting experience in the thing I want to do professionally (teach and speak Spanish all day long). Then I go back to their school in the U.S. and teach the students there to speak Spanish.

When I originally did the interview, I honestly didn’t think I was going to get a callback. This job just seemed way too good to be true. Then I did get a callback and a second interview. It was amazing. The language department head and I really hit it off, and before I knew it, she had offered me the job. What!?! Me, working for a high-caliber private school that when I was younger, I wouldn’t even have had the grades to get into? That seems funny to me.

I keep thinking that I am dreaming. I close my eyes in my flat that I share with another teacher, and expect to wake up at home in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house. So far that hasn’t happened, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking it at night!