Why did you study to become a teacher of Spanish?
I started studying English when I was just 8 years old. In our very first class, I remember being asked to write down any words that we already knew in English. At the time I knew a handful of English words here and there, but I didn't have any idea what they actually meant! Lucky for me, my teachers were really encouraging and patient with me. Since then, knowing the English language has opened many doors for me. There's nothing quite like the feeling of being able to communicate comfortably with other people when travelling overseas! I lived in the UK for a while, then travelled to the USA after that and in that time my English strengthened. I was surprised how easy it was to adapt to another language so I thought I'd try out another! So for a while, I contemplated learning Hungarian until an opportunity to spend summer holidays in Spain emerged. I immediately fell in love with the country, its people, culture, food and inevitably, the language. So soon enough I enrolled to study Spanish Philology, first at Warsaw University, Poland and then at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain. I was only meant to spend one year in Madrid on exchange, but ended up staying for a few years after! So there you have it!
When did you begin teaching Spanish?
Having finished my degree, I was encouraged to start teaching Spanish in Warsaw at a language centre in 2011. I really loved this experience and haven’t stopped teaching since!
How did you start in Australia?
I found my way to Australia through the famous Spanish walking trail called 'Camino de Santiago' (St. James’s trail) where I met my Aussie husband. I decided I wanted to move here in 2016, and soon enough I came across El Patio! I've been so lucky to be a part of the team ever since.
What is a loveable aspect of teaching Spanish in Australia?
I love teaching Aussies for so many reasons! They're so friendly and not afraid to get involved which helps me to create an enjoyable learning environment in return. My priority is to make my classes not only informative but really fun. I have learnt to embrace the Australian sense of humour and incorporate it into my sessions. One of my favourite things to do is exchange 'cultural slang'. Australians have so many local words which you could never learn anywhere else! Since living here, I've come to realise that these words are so important when learning a new language, including Spanish; they're also good to know as they can fool people into thinking you're a true local! I find myself asking people if they 'Would like a cuppa?' instead of a 'cup - of - tea'. It's the simple things like that which I love to teach, and it's certainly something which Australians embrace.
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching Australians?
I've been lucky enough to teach many different students from varying backgrounds, and I can certainly say, that frankly...Australians are pretty easy to teach. No complaints there!
Do you have any suggestions for how students can better prepare for each class?
Don’t hate me, but - you have to do your homework! I promise you won't regret it! Any kind of revision from class will only help you! It doesn't have to be boring! I recommend watching your favourite film or Netflix series in Spanish such as Narcos, The Bridge or even The Grand Hotel! Everything sounds better in Spanish. There are heaps of things you can do in your day-to-day life to get your brain thinking about Spanish. One of my students told me about this amazing podcast which I now recommend to everyone, it's called “Coffee Break Spanish". Every episode is like a fun and easy mini class. Check it out.
What do you think the best method for memorisation is?
There's nothing like repetition! But I like to keep these methods versatile and incorporate them into everyday life. After reading through your notes, you should always try and quiz yourself! Get your friend or family member to ask you to recite sentences or words. Put the words that trick you on a sticky note somewhere like your computer screen, so that you're exposed to it throughout the day. I always encourage my students to try and use new vocabulary in class, not only is this a good way to expand your knowledge, but it will impress your teacher very much!
What teaching methods do you like to bring to the classroom?
It depends on the students. I try to suss out which method works better for each group. Some students feel safer when I provide a solid explanation in English first, others prefer to use their intuition and draw conclusions about grammatical structures or meaning of the vocabulary themselves.
I believe in the power of engaging revision and that’s why I use a lot of extra material like flashcards, images or games to constantly recycle language from previous units.
Is there a common question that students ask about the acquisition of Spanish? And your answer?
Oh yes! “How much time did it take you to become fluent in Spanish and how did you do it?” I hear it almost every time I introduce myself and explain that I’m Polish and Spanish isn’t my first language. The answer to this question is complex. It’s hard to indicate a specific moment. It’s definitely a long-term commitment for years but as you can see it’s doable! There’s hope for everyone which I think is comforting for my students. I know what it's like to be a Spanish student myself, I know exactly what problems and frustrations you might encounter during the learning process and based on this, I can build helpful strategies and tricks to make learning Spanish easier.
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By Monika Lewandowska, edited by Penelope Ray
December 15, 2017
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