No Love Lost for English in Spain

I think there is a certain amount of passion, motivation and even charm to be spilled by the teacher that could change this in the classroom. It’s all about a change of perspective: cast a spell, make English the carrot, and stop using it as a stick altogether.

Yes, after several years of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, and after months of trying to inspire my students to love English for its versatility, liveliness, richness, and even playfulness, I have come to terms with the hard truth: Spaniards don’t like English.

Maybe there is no likability there; maybe that is a moot point; maybe there are several reasons to it. But the fact stands. I am not trying to make it a general statement, to fly this slogan over all Spaniards, or to impose my opinion on just about everybody. Let’s just say I currently don’t see any love lost for the English language in Spain.

From what I could gather, English has always been what Spaniards call la asignatura pendiente – a booed curriculum subject of sorts that pupils and students alike had to stumble upon at some point and that is doomed to never be ticked off the list. For some, the rejection started with the very first primary school English teacher who did not speak English and yet forced irregular verbs and plurals, tenses and adjectives on their pupils. For others, the resentment grew when once on a highly competitive and at the same time relatively restrictive labour market, they found themselves served with the mandatory English exam. To some, English is just the foul-smelling pill they have to swallow to have a chance at a job for life in the public sector. To others, it is just something they have to have in their resumes, since you know… you never know.

Continue reading “No Love Lost for English in Spain”

A Plea for Bilingualism

English – just as any other language – is one of those rare goods that belong to everybody and make you immensely rich at the same time. The English language is not the sole prerogative of native speakers and is as such not finite; it is limited to no specific group of people, it is there for everybody to enjoy and make the best of its use.

To my most pleasant surprise as a language trainer, my students show an absolutely amazing English level even before we start classes. And this has to be addressed as such: in a country where English is not loved nor liked, where the subject has been subject to forced learning, despised grammar lessons and irregular verbs learning by heart, to actually meet people who speak English fluently, who make an excellent use of English and who know expressions and idioms I could only think of when teaching a specific class – well, that just leaves you in awe of them.

So imagine my bafflement when most of my students decidedly state, when asked, that they are definitely not bilinguals. To them – especially and specifically to those who have an admirable level of English – bilingualism has come to mean a perfect proficiency in both mother tongue and a second language.

But that’s just wrong. Bilingualism means speaking and understanding two languages, receiving and producing messages in two different languages. There is no limitation,

Continue reading “A Plea for Bilingualism”

What´s the difference between an English exam and a test of English?

Cambridge
FCE or TOEFL? Advanced or PET? TOEIC or APTIS? The Oxford Test of English or
IELTS? There are
so many of them and yet so little understanding of what each encompasses that you
come to feel that much choice is not actually what you wanted. But English is a global language and depending on many different purposes, you might be asked to
take one of them.

Cambridge FCE or TOEFL? Advanced or PET? TOEIC or APTIS? The Oxford Test of English or IELTS?

There are so many of them and yet so little understanding of what each encompasses that you come to feel that much choice is not actually what you wanted. But English is a global language and depending on many different purposes, you might be asked to take one of them.

Well, first of all…

… there are tests and there are exams.

Continue reading “What´s the difference between an English exam and a test of English?”

This Obsession of Labeling

People keep trying to put names on stuff and label experiences and thus necessarily corset any human possibility within the confined space of limits. I hate that word and everything it implies. Put a limit to thinking, put a label on what people are or are not and you´ve got a pretty full stop for just about anything.

There was this Woody Allen movie I once saw – Vicky Cristina Barcelona – where at some point, Scarlett Johansson’s character gets The Question popped after she confesses to her friend that she´s living with her lover and his girlfriend and she´s pretty okay with it. So the friend asks her something like “so what, you´re lesbian now? Or bisexual?”. And the answer is memorable – and not just because I remember it now for the sake of my latest blog entry – : “you know what? Why should I have to put a label on it? I don´t know what I am. And I don´t really care for naming it. I just know I´m happy and for now it just works out for me just like that” or something along these lines.

Continue reading “This Obsession of Labeling”