Teaching English in Spain

¡Pelead en Inglés, POR FAVOR!

I haven’t had much chance to read too many books on this trip as we have spent so much time static in Chiang Mai. We are now on the move again making our way to Singapore and with movement comes time to read. I’m currently enjoying Jeremy Dean’s Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher’s Spanish Adventure.

As this book is relevant to working abroad Jeremy has kindly shared an extract of his book below:

‘CAN YOU WORK quietly, please?’

‘Settle down to work quickly, please,’

‘Speak in English! Please!’

Teachers use the first two phrases quite regularly. But the third? Welcome to the world of immersion teaching. The nearest we’ve had to any advice has been a throw-away remark from Peter about how near to impossible it is for him to get his year 8 science class to stop talking to each other in Spanish. His message seemed to be, throw your hands in the air and sigh loudly. Some staff are beginning to do this. Linda and I are battling on.

To describe the first few days and weeks as a shock doesn’t get close. Every lesson seems to start with a furious exercise in linguistic backpedalling; I’m surprised we don’t end up back in the UK, blistered and punctured, within the month. Lessons on personal pronouns or poetry don’t flow well when the majority of the children can’t ask to go to the toilet. We live on our nerves, scrapping lessons mid-way through as unforeseen catastrophes unfold.

Teaching English in Spain

I’m in the middle of what is going to become a regular Monday morning ‘talking and then writing about my weekend’ lesson. We’ve spent the best part of 40 minutes telling each other what we’ve done. My board is covered with every English spelling needed for any normal Spanish child to describe their weekend activities. Every possible family member is up there, with just about every domestic animal imaginable. I even know the difference between a ratón (mouse) and a rata (rat); Pablo the Second stumped me momentarily with a request for the English translation of serpiente (snake). Every game played with bat, ball, racquet or club, on a court, pitch, table or in a park has been translated. (I’ve got a nifty little site on my laptop to help me, www.wordreference.com, and it’s buzzing.) They’ve been working away merrily for about 20 minutes. I’ve been impressed with most of the handwriting as I tour the workshop. I’ve covered every base. It’s a home-run lesson. I’ve potted the black. Bull’s-eye. Game, set and…

‘Cómo se escribe leetoldoh en inglés?’ says Macarena.

‘Say that in English,’ I ask gently, determined to keep my cool.

‘Leetoldoh,’ she repeats enthusiastically. ‘How you write eet en inglés?’

I try an old teacher’s trick. ‘Say it in a sentence?’


Teaching English in Spain

‘Ummm… Decir lo a mi en un phrase. Ummm, Una… um… frase, maybe?’ Spanish doesn’t use ‘ph’ for an ‘f’ sound – and please don’t show that sentence to anyone who’s got a GCSE in Spanish. It’s probably the worst I’ve ever constructed. But it passes Santi’s number one rule of speaking Spanish: ‘Don’t worry about grammar. Don’t worry about accent. Just speak! And see if they understand.’ Macarena understands.

‘Mi amiga, him trae eet, leetoldoh, to mi casa, el sábado.’

I’ve got enough Spanish to turn this into English. It doesn’t help much. ‘My (female) friend, he brings it, leetoldoh, to my house on Saturday.’

Mac’s a bright button, full of the joys of autumn, keen to please, not afraid to (try to) speak English. It’s not her fault that she can’t. Leetoldoh? I roll it over in my mind. The regular letter sounds in Spanish make it relatively easy to spell any word you hear. So that will make it ‘litoldo’. You’d expect any half-decent immersion school to have a half-class set of English-Spanish dictionaries in every class, wouldn’t you? OK, a handful? One? You’d expect one, wouldn’t you? I hit wordreference, and trawl for a quick translation. Nothing. Nada, as they say around here. Even wordreference doesn’t know what a litoldo is. (Or a leetoldoh.) I repeat it back to her one more time. I don’t know why.

‘Yes, yes. She have eet. Ees blanco.’

Another clue. Mac’s friend’s leetoldoh is white. But it doesn’t take me much further. I raise my voice above the hubbub. ‘Listen everybody. Who knows how you say leetoldoh in English?’ Twenty five heads are up from their weekend shenanigans; a dozen hands are waving with (what I know from experience is) faked certainty. Even Jake has his hand up, complete conviction straining every stitch in his shirt.

‘¿Eees coche?’ Pablo the First yells. ‘¿Eees animal? ¿Salchichón?’

He thinks it’s a guessing game. Is it a car, animal, sausage? We’ll be here all day and nowhere nearer the answer if I don’t shut him up. Hands are waving everywhere now; you’d pay for a class as enthusiastic as this.

Teaching English in Spain

‘Carmen?’ Carmen’s my best shot. She’s Mac’s best friend, and Mac might have told her already about the white leetoldoh which she played with, ate, or pulled the legs off on Saturday.

She comes over and stands next to me, stroking her chin thoughtfully and looking up to the ceiling for inspiration. I can tell she’s guessing.

‘Ees televisión?’ she asks, at length, before trudging forlornly back to her place.

Mac looks crestfallen.

‘Never mind,’ I say, brightly. ‘Just write it in Spanish. I’ll get someone to translate it later.’

‘¿I write eet en español?’

‘Yes, I don’t know the English.’

‘But leetoldoh ees eengleesh.’

‘Leetoldoh is English?’ I ask gently.

‘¡Claro!’ It’s a great word, claro. It means, ‘of course’ or ‘clearly’. It doesn’t always carry a ‘You dumb arse!’ implication. You need a certain intonation for that, and a particular look in your eyes. If you could hear and see Macarena now, you’d know what I mean.

‘So how do you say leetoldoh in Spanish?’ I say.

‘Perro pequeño.’

‘¿Perro pequeño?’ I repeat. ‘Little dog?’

She shrugs. Claro, dumb arse.

‘You want me to spell “little dog” in English?’

‘¡I say eet!’ she protests, as if I’ve accused her of not saying eet.

I write ‘little dog’ on the board and Macarena copies it into her book. She sticks her tongue out of the corner of her mouth as she does it.

In the background I hear Jake muttering, ‘I know eet!’

I check over Mac’s shoulder. She’s written, ‘Hay pley wiv de little dog whait off mi frend.’


Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher’s Spanish Adventure is available as a kindle ebook from Amazon for £2.99.

Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher's Spanish Adventure

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