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Friday, April 8, 2011

English in Spain

While I benefit from being in Spanish classes in order to maintain my use of the language and observe interactions in the language, it is a change from Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, as it is instead the native language. The students focus a lot on morphology and syntax, both which I can't quite remember learning quite in depth in middle/high school. Each session that I spend at Maristas, the students begin the class with either vocabulary or syntax in their Language and Literature classes. It is interesting to observe the variety of structures between the different levels since I am in 3ESO classes and 1 Bachillerato, and the sentence structures are more complex in the higher level classes (1 Bachillerato). I try to follow along with the students as I observe how they break down the components of the sentence both on the board and on the paper. One interesting difference that I have noted is that the students use two pens- both for their work and for exams. The structures of exams have specifically interested me, since the students are given several sentences and they are to copy them down and break them down with another color, rather than each receive an exam as I am accustomed to seeing in the US. They are also graded very rigorously, since obvious errors result in zero credit for the sentence though each sentence is only worth 2 points to begin with (out of 20, but grades are on a scale of 0-10 with a 5 as a passing score). Though I am not knowledgeable enough of the material to grade them myself, I have glanced over the exams before they were passed back in order to understand the content of the exam and how they were graded.

Though it has been a change to see Spanish being spoken as the native language, another change has been Teaching English as a foreign language. The 11 year olds are energetic and look to me to properly pronounce words and read aloud segments from their book in order to give them an "authentic experience," which allows for me to contribute more to the classroom environment. I have been able to learn language teaching strategies that I can apply to my Spanish classroom, such as a Picture Dictation. Miguel put me in charge of drawing a picture then describing to the students, in English, what was present in my picture so they would draw what I had on my paper. This activity is a good listening comprehension activity, since the students need to listen and focus on the vocabulary in order to replicate what I had. I drew a simple beach scene with clouds and birds in the sky, the ocean below with waves and swimmers, and people on the beach and a volleyball net. As simple as my image appeared to be, I realized the immense amount of detail that I needed to use to describe my picture to the class, such as "There are 4 birds in the sky- 1 on the left, 1 between the first and the second cloud, and 2 on the right." This exercise allowed for the students to use different vocabulary in addition to implementing directional vocab as I described the location- what a task! Overall, the students did well with the task and I will keep this exercise in mind as a useful strategy. The only surprise I got with many of the pictures were animals in the water- which as it turns out, the students thought of Whales when I said Waves...so we had a beach with 5 whales in the ocean. It was a good opportunity for me to figure out how to correct the students, though the cooperating teacher guided the correction, and the students wound up using their native language to ask me if I mentioned "ballenas" (whales). Though I believe in using the target language for instruction, opportunities such as these show me the students' reliance on their native language for clarifications and I see this as appropriate in order to aid in the students' comprehension. This classroom environment has allowed for me to expose the students to the target language more and I serve as a model for them with pronunciation and vocabulary so they can build on their knowledge of the English language. It allows for me to interact with the students as well as compare the strategies to those that I use when teaching a foreign language, only with relation to Spanish rather than English though I use this classroom as a model.


  1. Erin, I love reading about your prac because it seems incredibly different from any other teaching experience I have had so far. I took Spanish for ten years and am now learning to speak Italian, so I am also incredibly interested in teaching English as a second language. It seems to me that, by teaching students who speak Spanish as their native language, you are getting the opportunity to improve upon your teaching skills as you are most certainly becoming more explicit in your instruction in order to make sure that all of the students understand what you are teaching. I think that this is something that can benefit all students you teach in the future, even if they do speak English as a first language. During my first pre-practicum, I had my read aloud with a student who did not speak a word of English. It was very hard for me to assess whether or not he understood the things I taught him, and I often used pictures and drama instead of written language. Do you see this a lot for English instruction in your school? How much are the students allowed to revert back to their native language and how to you feel this affects their progression in learning English? I think that without the opportunity to use their native language, it would not be feasible for them to truly learn and understand a second language - but do understand that this is an incredibly complex and highly debated issue. Now that you are experiencing this issue first-hand, I am curious as to what your thoughts are/if they have changed!

  2. I still believe that instruction should be taught in the target language, but due to the great variation in the students' English levels, the instruction is mainly in Spanish- especially with directions. Often, the teacher will deliver instructions in both languages, and I have seen this before in Spanish classes as well. I, however, prefer to try it with the target language and then build on it based on how much the students can get. Pictures and drama are perfect- I point a lot and use any paper they have to point out images, and I try to use gestures and signals. It seems like your read aloud was a great example of this and gave you something to experience!

  3. Hi Erin,

    I was also in a school that spoke a completely different language! I think its great that you are able to communicate with them in two different languages! I have always wanted to learn a second language. I was only able to work teaching the students english because unfortunately I don't speak Greek ,but I can also relate to teaching the students about pronunciation of the english language. Its very interesting to look at the variety of ways the teachers choose to educate students about language. My teacher would also include me in activities such as reading and describing details so that the students could hear my pronunciation. Its great that you pointed out how much detail and vocabulary is involved in description, we don't really realize how familiar we are with specific words. I think that working with students who are learning english has made me much more conscious of how approach teaching vocabulary! I'm glad that you had such an enjoyable experience teaching abroad!


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