I'm pleased to bring you this interview with "one of the locals". Although originally from England, this English teacher now lives in Valle de Abdalajís (my home village), and we sometimes bump into each other.
Tell us about yourself and your educational background.
My name is Barbara and I was born in a suburb of Manchester, UK, sixty one years ago, the youngest of three children. When I was young, in the UK, we had a different system of state education than we do now, in that there was a selection process for pupils aged 11 (referred to as the eleven-plus.) If you passed these exams, as I did, you went to what was termed a Grammar School, where the education was more formal and academic. I took (and obtained) my A-levels (roughly equivalent to the standard of the Spanish Bachillerato) in History, Sociology, French and General Studies. I have a University of Wales honours degree in Archaeology and Welsh Studies, as well as my Certificate in Education. In the latter, I majored in English and History.
Barbara, how long have you been living in Spain?
My husband and I moved to Spain permanently in the summer of 2005, so nearly nine years ago.
What was it like when you first started teaching English in this country?
With the young children that I taught, it was actually more difficult than I had expected, for three reasons. Firstly, because it had been a while since I had taught young children, I found the sheer energy of them quite exhausting. Secondly, there was a slight cultural shock; children in Spain seem to be much more vocal, open and self-confident than their counterparts in the UK. Thirdly, I really hadn´t mastered enough of the Spanish language to deal with the necessary discipline and explanations. However, I found the adults much easier, I suppose, because none of the above three reasons actually applied.
What levels do you teach?
Currently, my range extends from Year 8 to adult students preparing for their B2 exams, including all levels in between.
Do you have your own methodology?
Yes, I do. I´m fortunate in that I´m not affiliated to organisations, state or otherwise, and therefore not restricted as to methodology. Also, because I now teach individuals, I can tailor classes to the students´ own needs, which is nigh impossible to do in a school environment. I concentrate mainly on a non-structured practical conversation and answer questions of grammar and vocabulary as and when they arise. With those students preparing for exams, obviously, we are focusing on those requirements, but with the younger pupils, I use improvisation and we are creating our own stories.
In your experience, which area do Spanish students find more difficult to master?
English pronunciation presents the most difficulties. Mastering some of the actual sounds themselves is hard, like the classic "s" but also "j", "y" "b" or "v", but almost as difficult are the often nonsensical anomalies of English word pronunciation (e.g. cough, bough, through). Intonations and word stress catch many students out, as does the “s” at the end of words (or is that only an Andalusian peculiarity?)
The “third person” also causes constant problems – is it "he" or "she", "him" or "her", "his" or "her", "does" or "do", "doesn´t" or "don´t"? Prepositions likewise seem difficult to remember.
Do your students have a genuine interest in learning English?
Nowadays, I only take on students that express a genuine desire to learn. The majority hold the belief, whether misplaced or otherwise, that having a good grounding of English will be valuable for their future careers, and from this conviction, I hope that I am beginning to develop an even greater interest in the language itself. I am fortunate that I have a few students that already possess a genuine love of English.
Have you had any awkward situations because of misunderstandings while living in Spain?
Not really. In the beginning, sometimes there were problems of communication and understanding, not only of the language but the different cultural aspects, including those of officialdom, but I have always found that, with a sense of humour and a lateral-thinking mind, I will eventually be understood.
Why did you choose this country?
We were looking for a country that had better core values and pace of life, better weather and a cheaper lifestyle than that of Britain, but at the same time wouldn´t present too many difficulties in returning to visit family and friends. Originally, we considered Crete but the language and the complexity of travel were prohibitive. We came to Southern Spain in 2003 and discovered it had a similar beauty of landscape, flora and fauna, whilst, at the same time, “ticking all our other boxes.”
What are your hobbies?
I regard my life as my hobby, but I do supplement this with reading, genealogy and research in general, baking and people watching.
Do you speak any other languages?
I learnt French and German at school and Welsh at University, but I am sadly out of practice with them.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions.