How My Passion For The Spanish Language Made Me Become An English Teacher Abroad
2019-03-11 Linda Dunsmore Alumni Experiences
As a native English speaker, my first major foreign language experience began in 8th grade, where I had the option of studying either Spanish or French. I chose Spanish, as I’d always been drawn to the language and Latin American culture, and hoped to one day live in a Spanish speaking country. I studied the language throughout high school, but in the years afterward, it wasn’t much of a priority and wasn’t something I used on a regular basis.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lauren M.
Our language classes were mainly structured around learning grammar and following the textbook.
In high school, our language classes were mainly structured around learning grammar and following the textbook. From time to time, we would listen to and translate songs in Spanish, or watch a movie in Spanish, and in some classes we would start our day with a page from a news website to translate. While there was some emphasis on speaking, and we would have assignments where we’d be expected to answer questions in Spanish, the questions were usually given to us in advance so we could prepare answers.
That mainly led to memorization, rather than actual ability in producing spoken answers. Using games in the classroom was not a regular occurrence, and is definitely something I wish we’d done more often to get us thinking and speaking in the language. I was probably more motivated to learn Spanish than many of my fellow classmates, as I hoped to use it in the future for travel and living abroad, and didn’t just see the course as a school requirement. I was able to learn a decent amount of grammar and vocabulary, and improved my listening, reading, and writing skills, but speaking was always the most difficult for me due to a lack of practice.
I recognized a lot of the same lack of interest in learning as I saw during my own high school language class days.
Several years after college, I had the opportunity to live in Medellin, Colombia while working as an English co-teacher in a Colombian public school. My students were terrific as people, but as students, I recognized a lot of the same lack of interest in learning as I saw during my own high school language class days. While it could be frustrating, I could also very much relate to kids being in that situation and lacking the motivation to learn another language.
Prior to moving to Colombia, I didn’t really bother to study or refresh much Spanish. I assumed it would come back to me, since I’d already learned much of the grammar in the past, and figured I would absorb and learn a lot from being immersed in a Spanish speaking country. Friends who had studied abroad in college always claimed to have come back fluent after their time abroad, so I assumed I wouldn’t be any different. Unfortunately, I think I overestimated how fluent they had become, as well as my ability to learn by osmosis while surrounded by Spanish. Often there tended to be people around me who were stronger Spanish speakers, so they naturally took the lead in situations that required speaking. It was helpful in some regards to hear the spoken language, but as speaking was already my weakness, I didn’t do myself any favors by staying quiet.
I was afraid of making mistakes.
In hindsight, I wish I had self-studied Spanish grammar before the move, and immediately signed up for either structured classes or found a Spanish conversation partner to practice with. While I absolutely made great strides from where I had started, I spent a lot of time just re-learning basics of grammar and communication, and feeling like I needed to solidify the grammar and sentence structures before I’d be ready to speak freely in Spanish.
I was able to get by with "survival Spanish" but never truly felt comfortable having real conversations. I was afraid of making mistakes (which also helped me to relate to my students), so I didn’t put myself out there enough, and in turn hindered many of my opportunities to practice. No one would have cared if I made mistakes, and people were very kind and helpful in correcting me when needed, but I let myself get caught up in wanting the structure to be perfect first, rather than just accepting I would make mistakes and diving right in anyway.
I learned from my mistakes the first time around.
After completing my TEFL courses and understanding the most effective ways to learn another language, I now feel much more aware of what I need to do for my own language learning purposes. I will be moving to Spain this fall, and have already begun to refresh grammar to improve my confidence with speaking from day one. I try to listen to and read Spanish news daily, watch movies in Spanish, and write a bit each day. I wrongly assumed being immersed would mean just “picking up” Spanish, but now I see a lot more effort must go into the process to truly become comfortable and fluent. Fortunately, I learned from my mistakes the first time around, and hope to have much more success during my second time living abroad.
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