Six months ago I was in the middle of my tenure as an EFL and social studies teacher at Abundant Life Christian Schools in Gracias, Honduras. Teaching here helped me in several ways, two of which being that it allowed me to teach my content area (social studies/history) and it allowed me to teach English, preparing me for some of the things I would face teaching here in Spain. But how do these two places compare? Yes, Spain is a developed country in Europe and Honduras qualifies as one of the poorest nations in developing Central America, but are there any similarities? If so what are they? Are the differences that large?
I am going to write a series of entries comparing what I saw in Honduras and what I have seen and experienced so far in Spain. This may be biased because I have yet to be in Spain for as long as I was in Honduras, but that gives me an excuse to write further entries down the road revisiting these topics after being here for a longer period of time.
Round one: STUDENTS.
Being a teacher it was interesting to compare the students I taught during my student teaching experience in the United States to the students I was teaching in Honduras. Now I can compare my students in Honduras to my students here in Spain.
This has so far been an interesting comparison for me. My students in Honduras, especially my EFL students, were very enthusiastic (for the most part) to speak English and learn the language. In my EFL class I was constantly writing new words on the board and being asked, “how do you say _____?” as students scribbled the words in their notebooks. Even in my history classes most students made the effort to use English (mostly because that was the rule, English only, and the students for the most part did. Plus, I only taught in English so they had no choice). In Honduras learning English is a privilege. It allows for the students to have better access to further education, jobs and whatever they decide to do after school. Therefore we preached the importance of learning English and more often then not the students responded.
Not the case in Spain.
Thursday after school I asked some of the teachers how the students in the bilingual classes I work with our selected to be in this particular program. They told me it was the parents who decide to enroll their students in the bilingual classes (they start in the 6th grade at my particular school, therefore the kids did not have a bilingual education at the primary level). I was told that if a parent wants their son or daughter to be in the bilingual classes they can be, however other qualities are looked at (mostly grades and if the particular student can handle the bilingual classroom along with the content), but if a parent wants their kid in the program, even if they are a D student, they will be in the program.
With that said, at my school, which has 1200 students (I think that was the number), I have one class of 28 first year English language learning (ELL) students and one class of 28 second year ELL students. English is not all the rage here.
I have had this conversation with many people, including Spaniards (even an Italian who was in my 4-week Spanish class in Sevilla). The conversation has basically gone like this: Spaniards and Italians don’t feel the need to learn English. Which to me is fine; I don’t want to come off as an egocentric American who thinks everyone should know English. But I have also had conversations with Spaniards who admit that Europe is changing, especially with the European Union, and English is going to be a lot more beneficial and important to know now and will be in the future then it has been in the past. Spain alone has an unemployment rate of over 20 percent and many Spaniards are trying to make themselves more marketable by learning English. This is the sole reason why I have my job; the Spanish government passed legislation in the early 2000s setting up this bilingual initiative bringing bilingual education to the public school systems and offering native English speakers to come and work for a year in the schools as assistants.
It may sound like I am being harsh on the lack of drive of my students to learn English here in Spain, but I was very frustrated this week with my students at both my school (La Zafra) and at the academy I work at. No matter how many times I told the students to talk English to each other and me they kept on speaking Spanish.
I will say that there is one major difference between the students (really not the students themselves, but the setting) I had in Honduras versus the students I have here in Spain—in Honduras I was teaching at a private bilingual school where English was the focus for the students (hence “bilingual school”). Here in Spain I am teaching at a public Spanish school where the focus is not entirely on bilingualism. In fact, I sometimes even get frustrated with the teachers I work with because often they get trapped into speaking Spanish with the students (grated they are all Spanish anyway, but if the point is for the students to learn English, why speak Spanish? This mostly happens because even though most of the teachers I work with our “fluent” in English, many still struggle with it. Which is fine, but its not helping the kids a whole lot with their “bilingual” education. I guess that’s why I am here...). This is a common debate among educators, the pros and cons of a “private” education, but when the focus is something like a bilingual school I think you do see a lot more drive out of the students at a private school like the one I was at in Honduras.
Thoughts? Comments? Ideas on how to get my students motivated to use English more often here in Spain? Digame (talk to me).