My internship in Spain is providing me with the opportunity to improve my fluency in Spanish by teaching English. This makes much more sense than you might expect.
Many common mistakes made by native speakers of Spanish when attempting to speak English mirror my own errors. I find that most of my difficulties stem from trying to translate my ideas word for word into another language. Sometimes, there is just no precise equivalent for the sentence in my head. This is leading me to understand that fluency is more than just knowing the correct words. I hope that my time in Spain will help me to start thinking in Spanish.
There are many people in Spain who believe that learning English is important to their own and to their children’s future success. A growing number of people in the U.S. are recognizing that learning a second language is important for them as well. What better way to understand a new language than to take a closer look at my own through the eyes of another culture?
The red building in the photo at the top of this post is of Valladolid’s Plaza Mayor. It is the location of the International Immersion Institute, a school for people of all ages and levels of fluency who wish to improve their ability to communicate in English. The youngest students are those we in the U.S. would call pre-schoolers. The oldest are adults who wish to speak English well for a variety of reasons. I enjoy the youngest students very much, partly because they are so enthusiastic, but mainly because they are just plain adorable.
The primary school and teenage students come to the International Immersion Institute in the afternoon, after their regular school day is finished. Their parents are willing to pay for instruction in English in addition to their regular school classes. The older kids are preparing for important examinations, so in these classes there is more of a focus on grammar than in the ones for younger kids. For all ages, however, there is an emphasis on making learning fun. Even for the adult students, the classes promote communication and real-world application of English as opposed to rote exercises and drills.
Right now, Spain is celebrating Halloween, a holiday which in its present form is a direct import from the U.S. There seems to be an interest in the United States that really surprises me still, even after a month of being in Spain. It is nowhere more evident than in the way that Spanish people are aware of and enjoy American popular culture. T-shirts with sayings in English outnumber those in any other language that I have seen here. Occasionally I am surprised by the words on these shirts, and wonder if the wearers know what they mean. Misspelled slogans are not uncommon. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter — just wearing something written in English is apparently cool here.
Strategies for adult learners have included games like Taboo, which is a favorite with the teens as well. Activities are often tailored to the interests of the student. For example, one local adult student acted as a tour guide and presented a walking tour of Valladolid. While he pointed out and explained local architecture and other cultural attractions, he practiced his English usage and added to his vocabulary. One student even gave a presentation on wine appreciation.
Some students enroll in private classes, while others learn in groups. In the group classes for adults, discussions in English have included topics that range from the current volatile political situation in Catalonia to strategies for seating guests at a dinner party, or how to deal with difficult neighbors. What is important is not the topic, but just getting people talking and understanding.
As I become more familiar with the International Immersion Institute’s methods and curriculum, and start developing my final project, I am taking on more responsibility and a more active role in teaching. I love the work that I am doing with all ages and look forward to creating lesson plans and teaching independently. I am convinced that I am learning Spanish in the best way possible through getting to know the people of this beautiful country while I am learning their language.