I have gained a HUGE amount of respect for international students and U of T, especially those who had to learn English to come here. I came in September with very little knowledge of Spanish, and 6 months into this exchange, it’s still a major struggle. That being said, I definitely feel like I’ve made progress, but that’s inevitable when in Spain, taking classes in Spanish and hanging out with Spanish-speaking people. That last one is key; one of the most beneficial things has been the effort not to spend too much time with English speakers, aka my exchange bubble. I went from hardly being able to put together a sentence to confidently talking to friends, shopkeepers, and even professors. I’m far, far from fluent, however. I still regularly mispronounce, mess up grammar, and fail understand what someone is saying every now and then, but it never gets bad enough to make conversation impossible.
One thing is for sure: even years of Spanish class back in Canada wouldn’t have moved me as far along as these few months here have. Although grammar books, worksheets and tape-recordings are good training wheels, spending time with locals is the only way to become able to talk somewhat naturally. That’s the one of the main reasons why all of those years of mandatory French class haven’t done much for most of us, and interestingly enough, Spaniards face a very similar problem with English.
English is taught here at school from a young age, just like French is to us. French is taught to us with the hopes of a bilingual Canada, and the promise of better job opportunities. English is taught to Spaniards with one big motive, absolute necessity. English is one of the most (if not the most) useful international languages and many jobs around Europe require it. Even in Spain itself, which is on the heels of the economic crisis, many companies, in the hopes of becoming more internationally competitive, are hiring only those who are well-versed in English.
The problem is that English is generally taught to Spanish students like French is to us. Keep in mind, I’ve never stepped foot in an English class here (it would be fun, though), but I’ve spoken to many of my Spanish friends and their opinions on this are pretty consistent. There’s too much emphasis on worksheets, lectures and tests and not enough practice for real-life situations, just like for us. I’ll skip the bigger-issue discussion about school system flaws in general blah blah blah and go right to the consequences. Spaniards are losing jobs. Because of a lack of English skills Spanish students, already suffering a crisis-affected job market, have it even worse when English-speaking foreigners come in and take the better jobs.
I’m doing my part by helping out some of my friends practice their English, but this is an issue far beyond my reach. I understand now that as difficult as language learning is, language teaching is much more difficult to do properly. However, young people here are very smart, and very dedicated, so I’m sure things will get better soon enough.
Until next time,
PS: If you’re wondering about the lack of pictures, I had an…um…eventful…weekend, and I lost my phone (which also happens to be my main camera). More on that and the Madrid night-life in general in another post …