Why did you study to become a teacher of Spanish?
When I was little I wanted to be able to speak several languages in order to communicate with people around the world. Soon enough I found out that learning another language is actually very challenging!
Since I always loved Spanish grammar and I was one of the few kids who enjoyed literature class in Secondary School, I ended up completing a degree in Languages and Literature. I thought it was perfect to have the best of two things I’ve been passionate about since I can remember.
When I started my career I decided my two modern languages would be Italian and German. In order to get to that semester where I was finally allowed to enrol in my foreign language courses, I had to first go through Spanish grammar (a lot of it) which happened to be one of the the hardest subjects for me. While it was the most difficult and challenging, it was also the most fun! Everyday I would discover something new about my own language, the one I had been speaking my entire life. It was so enlightening.
I also realised that studying another language helped me to have a better understanding of my own grammar. I was very lucky to have amazingly passionate professors in university who would get excited when explaining how our language works.
I guess it all led me to decide that one day I wanted to teach Spanish to share that same excitement with others and to help more and more people to get new perspectives of life and connect to different cultures.
When did you begin teaching Spanish?
When I was in High School, I used to help some exchange students with their Spanish. Most of them came to Venezuela to study the language and learn the culture. It was quite fun and to me it was also an opportunity to practise my English since my English lessons in school were always very basic, sometimes inaccurate and often with unrealistic examples.
Then during my career I enjoyed the opportunity to be a Grammar and Literature teacher in a secondary school. It was very rewarding and I was never bored when I was working. I was amazed every time at how creative the kids could be.
How did you start in Australia?
When I first moved to Australia I went to a party where I met someone who was a Spanish teacher in Melbourne. She said they were looking for more teachers so I sent my resume and went to an interview. I went through some training and soon I was teaching in a language school in Richmond where I got the chance to practise with groups and one-on-one lessons.
One day, I was walking home and took a different route - I discovered my house was very close to El Patio in Northcote! When I saw the “Learn Spanish” sign hanging outside I felt like I really needed to come in. I was fortunate enough to find Penny in the reception and she said they were looking for teachers. I sent my resume that same day when I got home and you guys can guess how it went!
What is a loveable aspect of teaching Spanish in Australia?
I find Australians are very open to learn about different cultures and languages. It is both overwhelming and flattering to me when they show their interest in learning about my culture, my language and my ways. I feel humbled and honoured by their enthusiasm. I also love that we get to laugh so much in class! They can also be very creative and I have had the best groups where they all become good Spanish mates. I think that is lovable, keeps the lessons alive and makes my heart melt when I see them helping each other.
What is the most challenging aspect of teaching Australians?
I think the most challenging part is when my students try to find the equivalent of a Spanish structure in English and there is none. It can be very frustrating to try to match everything. It is important to remember that some things work completely differently because each language has a unique way of seeing the world and works with different systems. It is easier if we embrace the differences instead of fighting them. I also believe it makes us richer somehow.
Do you have any suggestions for how students can better prepare for each class?
I always ask my students to open their minds and their hearts to let Spanish in. To be curious and, at the same time, be kind. When you learn a language you need to open your eyes and give it some time to make sense. Also, it is very important that you do take your own time to revise previous lessons and do your homework before coming to the next class. When you do this, you get the opportunity to face subjects one to one and generate your own questions or opinions.
Extra important is that you get coffee or a snack before your class so you can be at your best - full of energy for the lesson! For advanced levels, some wine can help to roll the “r” and to boost your confidence.
What do you think the best method for memorisation is?
It depends on what kind of student you are. For some students it is very useful to have visual material around. Keep yourself in contact with Spanish. There are so many ways! I usually recommend to get story books for kids or comic books like Mafalda, with lots of pictures that help you link situations to words.
For others, a good way to practise memorisation can be through music. Listening to music in Spanish and trying to sing along can be very helpful for those who find it easier to remember things by how they sound.
Revising your lessons, doing homework and practising as much as you can during the class is very effective. Some people remember things by actually doing them. Surprisingly for many, watching interactive tv shows for kids like Dora the Explorer in Spanish can help a lot! There’s no shame in the learning process and in the end I feel every student needs to find out what works best for them.
What teaching methods do you like to bring to the classroom?
I try to demonstrate as much as I can with examples during my classes. After giving new concepts I also think is important that each student have some time to ask questions. After that, we can all practise together.
I love playing memory games and doing role plays. The first one is very good to learn vocabulary and the second one is ideal for learning structures and expressions. I always tell my students to remember to keep it simple and not make it weird! Imagine you are in a normal real life situation and you’re meeting someone. When you introduce yourself you usually say your name and ask for the other person’s name. Next you say you’re pleased to meet and you always ask “what about you?” when giving information about yourself to keep the conversation flowing. In Spanish it is the same! So don’t forget to ask back. Let’s keep it real!
Is there a common question that students ask about the acquisition of Spanish? And your answer?
Often my students ask me if it is better to learn/use the forms from Spain or from Latin America. The truth is, we have a few differences. For example, in Spain they use “vosotros” as “you guys” whereas in Latin America they use “ustedes” instead. They both mean the same and they are both correct! It is simply two options and you get to choose which one you prefer to use. The magic happens when people that use different forms get to perfectly understand each other. So it is all good!
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By Penelope Ray
April 24, 2019
SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE! Download our audio podcast to start learning Spanish or for extra help with your beginner course. It takes you along a similar path to that of our Elementary levels at El Patio.…