Cerdeña: this is what Sardinia looks like

Why did you study to become a teacher of Spanish?

Teaching has always been my calling. I've been inspired by several incredible teachers throughout my career. Since secondary school I could appreciate the different teaching methods they used, all of them focused on sharing knowledge with others who are willing to learn. 

When I first studied Spanish at the University of Cagliari almost 11 years ago, I was lucky enough to meet my professors and tutors, all of them coming from Spain. However, it was not a smooth experience: I failed my very first Spanish exam! This failure motivated me to do it better and I really threw myself into everything concerning Spanish culture and literature. During my third year, I successfully manage to "survive" in Barcelona for almost an year, studying at the Facultat de Filologia at the University of Barcelona. It was a life-changing experience because I could really find myself surrounded by Catalan and Spanish worlds and ... words! 

It was during that time that I realised how much of Spanish culture had become part of my lifestyle. Sardinia, the beautiful island where I come from, had been a Spanish colony for almost 400 years, until the early XVIII century. This has shaped us in our traditions, culture, as well as in our own language. Sardinian is in fact a mixture of Latin, Spanish and Catalan words. So when I returned home, I could not avoid all these facts that were leading me to teach and share my passion for this amazing language. 


When did you begin teaching Spanish?

During my second degree in 2014, I was offered tutoring Spanish language at the University of Cagliari for several other courses that had Spanish exams in their study plan. I tutored with passion and with the awareness that I was once a not very successful student, helping them understanding the subject in an engaging and accesible way. I did it for 3 years, before deciding to come to Australia.


How did you start in Australia?

In Sardinia, we see Australia as a land of opportunities. When my partner and I decided to move here in 2017 for a one year experience with a working holiday visa, I was thrilled about the fact that I could continue doing my job. After almost 3 weeks, I was lucky enough to start teaching Spanish and Italian in a language school in East Melbourne. It was not a full time job though, so I kept sending my resume. Shortly after, I received a call from Ana. And this is how I started my exciting experience at El Patio! However, you might have not seen me for a while there. This is because after my first visa expired, I spent almost a year back in my island. I just returned to Melbourne in January and I am very grateful that El Patio wanted me back as well! So now the adventure goes on ...

Paseo por Cagliari: One of my favourite places in Cagliari

What is a loveable aspect of teaching Spanish in Australia?

Australians are very patient and open-minded people! You can easily make jokes and create interesting balances that help everyone keep going with their learning process. I love when there's a positive competition situation in the classroom that serves to enlighten minds and cheer spirits. Studying Spanish - speaking a language that is not your mother tongue - is a way to discover a new self. I am very happy when I see positive changes in every student - they acquire more self-esteem and confidence while getting involved in new tasks.  


What is the most challenging aspect of teaching Australians?

When I began teaching Australian students, I had to put to one side all those methods that assume everyone knows grammar rules. Whilst grammar is still an important tool that shapes a language and its use, it is important to get familiar with it in the right way. That's why I always try to introduce it with an explanation that will hopefully stick in my students' mind, so they can recognize it as we go further with their Spanish. 


Do you have any suggestions for how students can better prepare for each class?

Coming to my class, students are meant to have fun while learning. Just leave every bad mood outside your classroom door, and be open to every suggestion your teacher gives you. Be prepared to challenge yourself with a language that, for one reason or another, you chose it was time to learn. This is a moment you decided to dedicate to a thing that you like, so enjoy it! Spanish might seem hard to understand sometimes, but enjoying the learning process is the most important part of the lesson.

What do you think the best method for memorisation is?

Never put a word outside its context. Think about where you first saw it or heard it. If you're revising what has been done during the lesson, try to remember if that specific word was tied to an exercise or a funny gesture or bad drawing I made while I was explaining it. 

If it's a new word that you find by yourself, don't look for an immediate translation, as it is likely you'll forget it soon. If you're a total beginner, look for an image first. This is how you might have learnt your first words in your own language, by giving them a real reference.

If you're not a total beginner, try to look up in a monolingual dictionary: that is, try to find an explanation for that word. Bring it back in a Spanish context, give it a sense while using it with somebody. The best way to get better with your vocabulary and understanding of a language is to practise it!


What teaching methods do you like to bring to the classroom?

I always encourage a positive and inclusive atmosphere during my lesson. I want people to feel safe to express themselves, while trying to find their voice in a language that is not their first one. It is important to me to spend a few minutes at the very beginning by asking some questions that will bring every student to complete that task in Spanish. I wish all my students could talk as much as possible in Spanish during the time they have together, since it's not always easy to find other people to practise with in everyday life. 

So that's why we try to use just Spanish during the lesson: as a teacher, I will always do everything (including bad drawings) for explaining vocabulary that students don't know in Spanish first. That results in hilarious situations that will also be engaging, fun and more likely to be remembered. It's not important to finish an exercise first, but to build up your confidence in using a language you want to learn, so mistakes are more than welcome! 


Selfie with quokkas: The most important reason to visit Australia was to finally have a selfie with the happiest animal on earth, the Quokka!

Is there a common question that students ask about the acquisition of Spanish? And your answer?

Usually students want to improve their vocabulary by asking me "¿Cómo se dice ...?", so I better know the answer! One suggestion I always give though, is to try to explain yourself with the words you already know. You can't assume that everybody out there speaks English, so it's a fun and stimulating exercise you can always practice with a non-English person. Find your way to express yourself and you'll be surprised by how many resources you could use without talking in your own language.

What to expect in Valerias classes? Here is one of Valeria's favourite excerices: "What type of traveller are you?"

Not sure which course is right for your Spanish level? Test your Spanish level now!

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By Penelope Ray & Valeria Palmieri
February 14, 2019



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