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Friday, March 13, 2015

English as a Second Language

One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad in Spain was to practice and hopefully perfect my Spanish. In my mind the complete immersion would magically allow me to become fluent. After spending time at Colegio I have come to realize that yes immersion is helpful but the most important aspect of language fluency is how you are taught.

My students are docked "points" if they speak in Spanish during an English lesson. They are constantly told that this is for your future. If they complain or are annoyed about a test or memorizing more vocabulary the teachers remind that this is what it takes to become fluent. The entire mentality is very different from the U.S. Here English, or French or Germany is taught as a second language--adding to their Spanish. In the U.S., generally, Spanish or French  is taught as a foreign language. A language that might be useful to know some words should you travel there but always knowing that English will be your back up.

Overall this follows the philosophy of education that I have observed in Spain (or at least in Madrid). Education is a priviledge. Education is the job of the students. Education will depend on how much effort you put in. There is less micromanaging and the students by and large are very mature and self-motivating. There are less excuses made for the students and by the students.

For example, student B, in my fifth grade class, did not complete the English exercises from the week before. I anticipated that he would have created a story but instead he simply looked the teacher right in the eye and said "I did not do it. I am sorry, next time I will be sure to do it." The teacher responded with "Well I am disappointed. This will affect your grade. Do not let it happen again". There is almost a coldness to teaching but that doesn't diminsh the care the teachers feel for the students.

Comparing the teaching philosophies and expectations of Colegio and BPS is interesting and leds me to wonder what would happen if we implemented aspects into BPS, namely the addivitive bilinugalism.


  1. I've loved reading about your experiences so far, Madeline! I think your observation of the merit of additive bilingualism and its dependence on teaching style is very true. I've noticed an interesting phenomenon here in Ireland with the teaching of Irish (Gaelic). Irish is required for all students and in order to get into an Irish university, students must display proficiency in the Irish language. In most of Ireland, however, Irish is rarely spoken conversationally and if it is used, it is in Gaeltachts, Irish-speaking areas in which students are awarded money for being able to speak the language. Despite the importance placed on learning Irish, it is the least favorite class for most of my students and is the subject they struggle with the most. I think this is largely affected by the way the language is taught in most schools. My friend compared it to the study of Latin; students learn through reading and writing, not through conversing. This seems to have a detrimental effect on student motivation and overall ability to speak the language. Reflecting on your observations that immersion as well as emphasizing the importance of the language lead to language fluency, I wonder if students would be more successful if Irish were taught in an additive manner with more focus on fluency, not just learning enough to pass the exam.

  2. Hi Madeline! I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and I’m glad you’re having a great experience at your school! Like Katie, I have been able to observe Irish being taught at my school. All Irish students are required to learn Irish from age 5 through secondary school, and students who immigrate to Ireland must take Irish if they are younger than 10. Students older than 10 who move to Ireland are exempt, and American students whose parents work at the American Embassy are also not required to take Irish. The American students in my classroom moved to Ireland just after the cutoff, so they take American Studies instead of Irish. Until second grade, learning Irish is oral-based, whereas in the fourth grade classroom that I am in, the focus is on vocabulary, reading comprehension, and speaking and listening. My CT’s goal is to help her students develop strong conversational skills in Irish, which seems to be a difference between Katie’s school and St. Andrew’s. For example, on Wednesdays, although I don’t have a clue what they’re saying, I have observed my CT engage the class in conversations about the weather, extracurricular activities, and other basic topics relevant to the theme of the vocabulary terms that week. The students also practice speaking Irish in pairs. My CT also asks students to speak in Irish whenever they feel comfortable and confident doing so throughout the day, regardless of the subject. Although she requests that her students speak entirely in Irish during Irish time, the students are not penalized for speaking English. Instead, she asks the student to repeat what they said using Irish and carries on with the lesson. She also repeats newer Irish phrases in English to ensure that her students are following the conversation. I think the extent to which my CT has incorporated English into teaching Irish has been beneficial for the Irish students, but Student A, a student from England who recently moved to Ireland, has not been taking Irish since age 5 like the rest of the students and therefore seems to be struggling to keep up. For this reason, I think English needs to be used as more of a foundation for teaching Irish than an occasional supplement, especially for students like Student A.


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