Look at me, going to a professional training conference.
I went to a conference on Friday in A Coruña, one of the biggest cities in Galicia, for language teachers. I went with the special education teacher, who is my friend, a woman who used to teach French at my school, the principal, and a Gallego teacher.
The first presenter was a guy from the US who had developed a strategy for teaching English. He didn’t talk about his strategy, just did a motivational speech for teachers, so it was pretty useless. I did, however, love the presentation because he spoke amazing Spanish and had clearly mastered the language, BUT he still had several pronunciation mistakes that I make, such as the stupid United States “r” sound. Rather than make me feel hopeless about overcoming my pronunciation problems, it made me feel great, because that means I’m not an idiot; I am at nearly the highest pronunciation level I will ever reach.
While the United States-ian (I continue to be uncomfortable with “American” and surely will be for the rest of my life) made me feel great, another guy made me feel horrible. He was a French guy who does the same job I do. He gave a presentation about his work, not in Castellano, no. He gave his presentation in Gallego. And I was like “fuck you, you arrogant prick. Here I am barely able to speak Castellano at times and you’re whipping around up there having learned fucking Gallego?!”
Let’s see if I can explain myself better. It is great that he knows Gallego. It’s an endangered language, so the more people that know it and spread the good word, the better. But, fuck, man. You make me look and feel like shit because I struggle massively with it, and at times can barely speak Castellano with the teachers because I am so nervous around them. And fuck, man, your presentation could have been useful to me. I could have gotten ideas from it. But you did it in Gallego, you freaking show-off jerk. I hate that guy. I don’t know him.
I liked the United States-ian guy more, but one wierd-ass thing he said was when he was talking about how students can’t learn a language just by studying it—they need to be talked to as well. He gave the example of “I can’t just go to New Guinea and give a stack of Bibles to the natives and say ‘here, study this, I’ll be back in two weeks to test you’. I have to go there, give them the Bibles, and talk, talk, talk to them.”
…Well, no. You have to not be an imperialist pig, you imperialist pig. What the hell is wrong with you?
And speaking of imperialism, the conference was supposed to be about language teachers. Language teaching in general. But it was almost entirely about English.
How to put my feelings about this into words…the current craze in Spain for speaking English bothers me sometimes. People say things like “Oh, Spanish people speak really bad English” in a derogatory way, and it’s become sort of a national identity and national source of shame that Spanish people speak bad English. Which they fucking don’t. They speak English at the same level (or higher) than United Statesians speak foreign languages. And you don’t see us deriding ourselves for our deficiency in this category. Why is that? Oh, right, because we’re a freaking superpower bully and we have the privilege to not have to learn other languages because we’ve nearly forced the rest of the world to their knees bowing to our damn language. (I do happen to love English as a language very much, I just don’t like what speakers of it have managed to do.) United Statesians can choose to learn a new language. It is a choice, not a requirement. And that is a privilege we have.
The emphasis on English made me feel scummy inside because my job right now is to be complicit in this cultural overtaking and perpetuate this mad desire for learning English. Butts. It’s one thing for the native Spanish teachers here to teach English, but it is another thing for me to traipse over and start blah blah blah teaching English to these kids. That was not expressed well, but I’m not sure how best to state that vague thought. You can count on the fact that with my small groups of older, more advanced English students this coming week, I am going to open up a discussion about what they think of this scramble to learn English and the cultural take-over. I will let you know what they say.
Luckily, the United States has not permeated too much of Spanish culture. They are so much more chill than we are. After we ate lunch, the teachers from my school and I were walking back to the conference, when two of them saw a store they wanted to go in. We had like 20 minutes before we had to be back, so we went in and poked around while the principal stood outside, checking her watch. Well, we poked around until 4:05, five minutes past the time when we needed to be sitting in those chairs listening to a speech. We leisurely walked back, and arrived at 4:10 to a speech that wouldn’t start for another five minutes. At least half the audience arrived between 10 and 20 minutes late. I just sat there laughing to myself, because that is absolutely unheard-of in the US. You arrive late, you are a freaking leper for the rest of the conference. Not here.
Oh, and sorry to make this entry longer, but I went out for drinks last night with Maria, the teacher of the younger children, who has a tendency to just leave the classroom when we’re working together. She is much more fun outside of the work environment. I think she was surprised by how fun I was, too. She told me some crazy shit. Crazy shit. Like how one of the 8th grade girls is dating a senior boy. I’m pretty upset about that, especially since there is no formal sex education in our school (or in Spanish schools in general, I think). What they have instead are “tutors” which is a class every week with one teacher assigned to a few students. That teacher chooses what issues to talk to the students about. And Maria is the 8th grade tutor and I think she does a really good job informing them about issues and they feel close to her, so they go to her to talk when they have a problem. So hopefully the girl already knows some things about how—-oh my goodness, look at me. I just realized I am putting all of the responsibility on the girl. I’m not even going to delete or edit that because it’s a reminder to me not to be a fucking idiot. I’ve got something sexist in my teeth. On the flip-side of that coin, I know that the senior boy has a terrible tutor, because it’s Julian, who is afraid of the senior class and no way would ever talk about sex with them. Maybe this boy has had sex education in the past. Let’s all hope.