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Meet the professionals What have you learned about Spanish? I should have studied it when I was seven? But seriously, I love the simplicity of the phonetic system which makes spelling in Spanish so easy. I also treasure the clear rules which teach you how to pronounce each word. I once taught my class of 7 year- olds back in the UK how to read very passably in Spanish in a couple of weeks. They were amazed how easy it was compared to English! quizzically before asking, “Is tonight, today?” You also have to be aware of less ‘formal’ language. I asked a boy to pop his book on my table. He thought for a while and then said, “What it mean, ‘pop’?” How do the primary-school leavers continue their English education? The secondary school is on- site, the children sit GCSEs and A-Levels in English. It’s such a pleasure to wander through secondary and chat with my ‘old’ pupils from eight years ago, all in pretty respectable English. What are the specific problems that Spanish speaking people have when learning English? It’s noticeable that many adults suffer from the same embarrassment that we British have a reputation for when attempting to learn languages. More than once I’ve chatted in Spanish with locals, in lifts or on trains, only for them to brave something in English – just as the lift/train doors are closing the conversation. Young children are very different. They evidently do have an ability to learn more than one language at a very early age. The majority of our pupils are functioning in three languages by the age of six or seven. Interestingly, they accept that they will learn multiple languages in the same way as other children accept that they will learn one. They don’t consider it anything ‘special’. The main ‘problems’ are caused by the irregularities of English spelling and pronunciation. Spanish has a very regular sound- letter relationship, so ‘spelling’ has a much lower profile in mainstream Spanish education. (Weekly spelling lists and tests are unheard-of, for example.) Another issue is ‘interference’: Jeremy Dean’s book documents his experiences of teaching English to Spanish children children applying their knowledge of Spanish patterns and rules to English. They often say, ‘I have seven years,’ because that’s how it’s constructed in Spanish. The letter ‘i’ always makes an ‘ee’ sound in Spanish (like it does in the English word ‘ski’), so if a Spanish child tries to write the word ‘sheet’, you can usually predict what they’ll write instead... What have you learned about English through teaching it? That it’s not as easy as we (native speakers) often think it is. We don’t tend to see the irregularities and contradictions that cause foreigners problems. Why does the word ‘four’ have a ‘u’ but the word ‘forty’ doesn’t? Why are the words ‘you’, ‘your’ and ‘young’ pronounced so differently? Why do we say we’re going ‘on’ planes and trains when we actually go ‘in’ them? Why do we say the bell has ‘gone’ when it’s still there? Explaining these to puzzled-looking young Spaniards isn’t always easy. How do you think the UK could integrate bilingual education into our system and would it be worthwhile? In an ideal world? Employ an army of young Spaniards/ Germans etc. to work (and play) in UK primary schools. I’m not qualified to comment on the teaching of modern foreign languages in the UK secondary system, but I do think that the lack of a coherent strategy in primary (over many years) does no favours for secondary language teachers. Would it be worthwhile? Let me turn that around and tell you what we’re doing here. I hope we’re giving these young Spaniards a skill which will serve them for a lifetime. But more than that, I hope we’re giving them a view of ‘foreigners’ (specifically us, the British) and of our ‘foreign culture’ which will encourage them to become open-minded, tolerant and inquisitive adults. Is that worthwhile? ¡Claro, qué sí! ¶ “Young children are very different. They evidently do have an ability to learn more than one language at a very early age. The majority of our pupils are functioning in three languages by the age of six or seven. Interestingly, they accept that they will learn multiple languages in the same way as other children accept that they will learn one. They don’t consider it anything ‘special’.” Jeremy Dean teaches Spanish primary children, in English, in an English language immersion school in Spain. He is author of a series of articles for the Times Educational Supplement (TES) and e-Book Zen Kyu Maestro: An English Teacher’s Spanish Adventure. Babel The Language Magazine | May 2015 45