I'm very happy and proud to begin this series of interviews with English teachers by interviewing my old teacher at university, Francisco Sánchez Benedito, simply and affectionately known as "Paco".
Paco has taught English for 52 years at all levels. Although he's now retired, he keeps himself busy working on new editions of his books and dictionaries.
Paco, when did you decide to become an English teacher?
In 1960, when my father’s business went into decline.
Did you encounter any difficulties when you first started teaching?
Not at all, teaching I’ve always found fascinating and rewarding.
What was the methodology like when you started teaching and has it changed much over the last fifty years?
Pronunciation drills were then in vogue; later on the communicative approach became fashionable and it still reigns, though nowadays most teachers prefer to use eclectic methods, provided they are student-centred.
In your opinion, why do Spanish students have a poor level of English despite having completed their secondary education?
They lack motivation, especially because they don’t have opportunities to speak English in their circle outside school, and when they realize how important it is to be fluent in English it is usually too late.
What qualities should a good English teacher have?
Taking for granted that his English is good, the main one is to know how to motivate his students.
What did you do in class to engage your students' interest and attention?
In a way, I let them control their own learning and mainly do what really interested them.
In your experience, how long does it take for a student to go from "beginner" to "intermediate"?
There’s no general rule, it depends on the student, but this is not really important, the main thing is to keep at it and never give up. I suppose you know the old saying : ‘practice makes perfect’.
If you hadn't become an English teacher, what would you have done?
I believe in vocation and destiny and so, despite a false start as an exporter of raisins and other dried fruits, I simply had to become a teacher to fulfill myself. Well, I did, and I have no regrets.
Tell us a couple of amusing anecdotes which you must have after such a long career.
There are so many that it is practically impossible for me to choose one in particular, but I’ll tell you one that I find rather curious: It happened in the seventies when I was head of the English department at the Official School of Languages.
At that time, to obtain your diploma in English, it was necessary to pass a final exam, called ‘Reválida’, which was dreaded by all and sundry, not only because your English had to be very fluent indeed, but also because you had to master a lot of specialized vocabularies, idioms, phrasals verbs and what not. So, not surprisingly, the number of students who passed was really limited. Even English-speaking students found it hard to pass, and a number of them failed.
Well, one day or two after one of these ‘Reválida’ exams, I got a phone call from the civil government office informing me that I had been sued by an Englishman who couldn’t understand how he had been failed, English being his native language. I explained the circumstances to the secretary and added: “You know, I think this man might be right, and I have an idea: why don’t you ask the British consul to deliver up to us the latest United Kingdom census, so that we can begin to fill in the diplomas on behalf of all British subjects”. Fortunately for me, the matter didn’t go any further.
You have published extensively on English vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Is there one book in particular which is your pride and joy?
Unquestionably, my Gramática Inglesa, but my passion for lexicography has led me to edit a Pedagogical Bilingual Dictionary, Diccionario Pedagógico Bilingüe, English-Spanish, Español-Inglés, with the help of a team of priceless collaborators, and although I’m fully convinced that the perfect dictionary does not exist, I do my best to keep it up-to-date. Learning English Vocabulary and Grammar Through Short Stories, now out of print, but which is soon to come out again (it is due for publication in May) is also one of my favourites, together with my Diccionario Bilingüe de Modismos, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing.
What do you do in your free time?
I like reading and, my tastes being quite simple, I especially enjoy detective novels, by Agatha Christie, P. D. James and Mary Higgins Clark, among others. I also like biographies and historical novels. I remember being impressed by André Maurois´s Olimpio, o la Vida de Victor Hugo and his Historia de Inglaterra that I read when I was a boy.
Other novels of various genres that I read in my youth and found excellent are: H. Rider Haggard’s She, Chesterton’s The Innocence Of Father Brown, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, George Orwells´s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Charles Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, to cite but a few and, more recently, John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, David Lodge´s Changing Places, Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth and María Dueñas’ El Tiempo entre Costuras, for example.
Do you speak any other languages?
I used to speak French decently, and I get by in German, too.
Well, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.
Below are three links to learn more about Paco's career and current activities.