How teaching English helped me learn Spanish

How teaching English helped me learn Spanish by Me with some of my students

This article was written by Jennifer Leong, published on 2nd November 2015 and has been read 1475 times.

Jennifer Leong is a Linguistics student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. She took a gap year to teach English in Spain only one year ago with experience of only one Spanish class, and now she can have complete conversations in Spanish. Here's how teaching one language helped her learn another.

Deciding where to spend your year abroad can be a hard choice. Backpack around Asia? Volunteer in South America? Spend your time WWOOF-ing around Europe? Whatever you choose, there’s one thing that’ll be on the forefront of your mind: Money.

It was definitely my first thought. Which is why I decided to do something that could at least earn me a bit of cash on my adventure.

That’s when I found the perfect opportunity: €1,000 a month for 25 hours a week, in a language school in Seville, Spain. The best part? No experience required.

As my start date drew closer, I started to feel incredibly nervous. I didn’t know anything about teaching! The language school helped a bit, they sent me a book and told me what levels I would be teaching. But other than that, I was on my own. I studied the book, wrote extensive grammar notes for each lesson, planned games and vocabulary exercises. However, that first day I stood in front of a class, I felt like the floor had dropped out from under me. I was in way over my head.

Thankfully, my students couldn’t seem to tell the difference, and I soon learned that confidence is everything. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, how many certificates you have, if you’re not confident, the students won’t trust you.

The company which posted the job, Eurasmus, set me up with not only the language school, but also found me awesome accommodation with students from all over Europe. I soon felt at home in Sevilla, with a social life, a job, and an awesome flat. However, one thing still bothered me: I wasn’t learning Spanish.

It’s understandable. I spoke English all day, at work, at home, with my friends and colleagues. The most Spanish I spoke in a day was to tell the cashier I didn’t need a bag for my groceries. I soon realised however, that teaching English might be able to actually help me learn Spanish. Here’s how.

1. Teaching English helps you learn Spanish vocabulary

When your student doesn’t know a word, they’ll probably say it to you in Spanish first, then they’ll describe it in English. This is a good opportunity to expand your vocabulary. Make a conscious effort to remember the words your students say in Spanish, and your vocabulary will grow. Conversely, when you teach your students a new word, ask them what it is in Spanish. I often do this, and I find it not only helps me learn a new word, but it also affirms if the students actually understand the concept.

2. Teaching English helps you meet Spanish people

The best way to practice your Spanish? Talking with native speakers! It can be a bit difficult to meet natives naturally, especially when you have a low level of Spanish. However, you’ll definitely go for a drink or two with your students, giving you the opportunity to practice. I personally became friends with some of my students, and we generally split the time speaking in English and Spanish. Alternatively, sites like meetup.com or Alandum are great resources to meet Spanish-speakers.

3. Teaching English helps you understand Spanish grammar

This is something that you really have to pay attention to. I have found that the mistakes my students make in English, indicate the correct form in Spanish. For example, my students might say,“ The father of my boyfriend”, which is incorrect in English, but is correct in Spanish: “El padre de mi novio”. If you find that your students often make the same grammar mistakes, it might just be because they are translating literally from Spanish. Obviously this doesn’t replace traditional grammar learning, but it certainly helped reinforce some points for me, and it also made me realise some small points, like which prepositions to use where, etc.

There is definitely a myth out there that if you move to a country, you will learn the language quickly, but one thing you must remember is that your experience in a country is what you make of it. If you stay in your English bubble, you probably won’t make much progress with your Spanish. Sometimes you need to put yourself out there in order to have the experience of a lifetime.

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