Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Babel Magazine: Meet the Professionals.

I was recently interviewed by 'Babel, The Language Magazine' for their 'Meet the Professionals' feature. It's a summary of the most important things I've learned about teaching immersion English over the past nine years here in Spain. Here's a link:

Babel Magazine: Meet the Professionals, May 2015.

N.B., use Ctrl and + to zoom in if the text is too small. 

If you're interested in language(s), then Babel really is a great read. It has a wide range of articles every issue, not only for 'specialists' but also for those of us with a more general interest. Recent articles have covered British and American English; How new technology is changing language learning; Bringing up multilingual children; and Foreign words which have no direct English translation.
My favourite word from the last article was 'iktsuarpok', a word used by Inuits which expresses 'the act of repeatedly going outside to check if someone is coming.'
I was interested to discover with my class recently that the English verb 'nod' doesn't seem to have a direct translation in Spanish. Most dictionaries suggest something like 'saludar con la cabeza', but we couldn't find a Spanish verb which describes the act. The children suggested we should 'invent' a new Spanish verb, nodear.
Let's see if it catches on...

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Things They (I) Say (12). Una Paloma Blanca.

Monday morning registration conversation. I usually ask them about what they've done over the weekend. The most common reply is to have had paella at grannie's house (or 'the house of mi abuela,' as they stubbornly continue to call it). But Alma breaks the train of paella.
I go to cinema,” she tells me.
I went to the cinema,” I correct.
And me as well,” she chirps excitedly at how strange the world is.
I quickly calculate which error I should correct. Should I tell her to say, 'Me too,' rather than, 'and me as well'? Should I disabuse her of the notion that I also went to the cinema? Or should I return to the original issue and point out that she should say, 'went' instead of 'go'?
Me too,” I say, for no particular educational reason.
I say eet!” she protests indignantly.
Which film did you see?” I ask, seamlessly changing the subject and avoiding a black-hole of confusion in the process. I hope you can see how a few years of experience here has resulted in a much more professional performance by yours truly.
Ees Gnomeo and Juliet,” she says proudly.
Romeo,” I correct, rolling my 'R' to emphasise the mistake. “Rrrrro-meo and Juliet.”
No, ees Gno-meo,” Alma insists as I fail to stifle a smile at the image of Juliet being serenaded by a garden gnome in a green jacket and red, felt, pointed hat.
It's Rrrrro-meo,” I repeat. “It's an English play, by Shakespeare.” I guess I do say this a bit pompously, as if the fact of Shakespeare and I sharing nationality somehow wins the argument. (Bolstered somewhat by the issue of me being a teacher and considerably taller than Alma.) But she sticks to her Gnomeo, and even attracts some supporters.
Yes, I see eet,” Alfonso says, with a seriousness that is not really appropriate. “Ees Gnomeo, he has hat like thees.” He raises his arms and joins them in a peak above his head.
I laugh an automatic, full-bellied guffaw at the image of 'Gnomeo' under Juliet's balcony wearing a red pointed hat. Although, if I'm honest, it's the sight of Alfonso looking soooooooooo serious while doing his pointy-hat gnome impersonation which makes me lose it. Alfonso looks seriously offended and there's a lot of nodding and grumbling dissent like I've told them that their parents have thrown all their toys in the bin.
I slap on the internet. Maybe, just maybe...
Well, how was I to know that some crazy film-makers had deemed it a good idea to make a film about a love-struck gnome? I make a suitably humble apology to Alma (and the smiling Alfonso) and try changing the subject again, as quickly as I can.
Did you eat popcorn?” I ask, wondering if her English vocabulary has spread to this particular delicacy.
I go weeth my brother,” she replies.
No, popcorn,” I repeat. “Did you eat popcorn?”
What ees?” she asks, shaking her head.
I decide to show-off my Spanish and maybe rescue a bit of my reputation for knowing stuff that a teacher should know. “Palomas,” I say with a flourish. “I always eat palomas when I go to the cinema.”
There is a strange silence. Alma moves a half-step away from me. One or two children exchange worried looks. I know they have popcorn in Spain, I've seen great bucketfuls of the stuff, although my claim to eat it is a lie solely designed to give the conversation a bit of a boost. It seems to have killed it off.
You eat palomas?” Luís says finally, with a gravity which you'd expect to be reserved for conversations about the consumption of live hamsters or even children.
I fish out my phone and pop paloma into the Spanish-English translator thingy. It tells me that a paloma is a pigeon, or a dove. Well, I knew that, 'Una paloma blanca' and all that. So what was I thinking of?
You know!” I plead, pathetically. “You get a big box and it's all white and you eat it like this...” I do a mime of popping piece after piece of popcorn into my mouth while transfixed by Juliet dating a two-foot tall gnome on-screen.
Palo-mi-tas!” they yell in (relieved) unison. Of course! Palomitas. The 'ita' suffix changing something to a smaller version of itself. A bit like we add 'ie' to make birdie or doggie (or even doggy-woggie). Palomitas. Small doves. (And baby pigeons, probably. Or maybe not.)
It makes me laugh. Then it makes me really laugh, as I picture Alma, sitting in the cinema, taking a huge bite out of a full-sized pigeon, then spitting feathers all over her brother. She's a sweet little girl, so just the thought makes me laugh even harder. The children are enjoying the mistake of a teacher as only children can.
Although I'm left to wonder what disjointed version of this morning's registration conversation will be relayed over the dinner table this evening.
Hope no-one's having pigeon for tea!

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fallas 2015, Correfoc: Run with fire!

Some of the most exciting parts of Valencia's Fallas fiesta are the 'Nit de foc' (Night of Fire) and 'Correfoc' (Run with fire) events. These shots and videos are from Burriana's Correfoc (in the north of the Valencian communidad).

Monday, March 9, 2015


A selection of dinosaurs from the (excellent) dinosaur exhibition that I saw here in January. Watch out for it, especially if you have dinosaur-obsessed kids. (Or if, like me, you are one.)

He's behind you!

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Things They Say (11) "You're a what?"

'You're a fucker!'

Now that's not something I've ever heard in a class of seven year-olds in the UK, so I'm pretty intrigued to know where they've picked up this sort of language here in my class en España. I hot-foot it towards the back of the class where a group are playing Headbandz.

It's a great game to build their vocabulary (as you can see). The children take turns to select a picture card (without peeking at it) and place it in a headband that they wear. The other children can see what the picture is but the child wearing the headband can't. This child then has to ask questions, 'Can you eat me?' 'Do I have any legs?' in order to guess what it is. If they fail to guess then the other children all shout together, 'You're a chicken!' or 'You're a bag of crisps!'

Or other things.

As I said, the cards only have pictures on them so the children can't read the answer, they have to know the word. What the-?

Alex is removing the headband. I slip the card out of its slot and put it behind my back.

'What did you say Alex was?' I ask in a traditional 'teacher' voice which tells them that I already know the answer so lies will be useless.

Luís is first off the mark. 'He's a fucker!' he says, all cherub rosy cheeks and gap-toothed smile. Mantequilla wouldn't melt; my niece, Betty, wanted to take him home last time she visited. The others are nodding all around him. Then a very strange thing happens. They all start to clap. Not a 'round-of-applause', but a steady, slappy little clap with wrists joined together.

'You're a fucker!' they chant and laugh.

'I'm a fucker!' Alex joins in.

We're all having such a jolly time. Well, some of us.

I sneak a look at the card in my hand. Then I fish my phone out of my pocket and pudge my way through to my English-Spanish dictionary and my Spanish vocabulary is increased by one word while my stress level decreases immeasurably.

'Seal', in Spanish, is 'Foca'.

What a bunch of little focas they are!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What big teeth you've got...

Valencia. City of oranges. City of paella. And for one month only...

City of Dinosaurs!

I didn't have time to enter the exhibition itself today (this little monster is parked outside), so I can't give a view as to its quality. But if you're planning a visit to la capital del Turia this month, and you have an interest in dinosaurs, then this might be for you.

The exhibition runs until the 26th of October and you can check out its website here http://www.dinosaurios-expo.es/. I'll post a few snaps from inside next week.

The exhibition is on Carrer de Nino Bravo, facing the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (the Opera House).

 Until then...

Hold tight!

Ride 'em, cowboy.

He's behind you!

What big teeth you've got...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

They think it's all over...

Fallas, that is. 19th March, every year, la crema and it's over. Right? Well, not quite...

We visited Alicante last week to see the annual Los Hogueres de San Juan fiesta and were confronted by...

You'd be forgiven for thinking...

Although, there were a few subtle differences from (the 'real') Fallas. Certainly the crowds were much smaller than we usually meet in Valencia city, but then we were in Alicante on the first day of the celebration. And the statues certainly didn't reach the heights of the larger ones in the capital.

But there were mascletas and bands and food and a crema... and more food.

So if you want to sample Las Fallas without the crowds and the cost, check out Los Hogueres de San Juan in Alicante next June. And keep your eyes open...

I imagine this would be useful for seeing round corners...