Saturday, 29 January 2011

Latin Learners

 Like a Latin Lover but just a bit more studious...

One thing that I love about language is it so often acts as an ambassador for the culture it comes from. French is wordy, flowery and quite elitist. English is complicated and irregular, and sometimes cold and without much feeling. Language reflects the traits and characteristics of those to whom it belongs- those that speak it.

Spanish is a passionate language. In a loving, romantic way but also in a raw blood-and-guts spilled all over the table sort of way. "Muero por tí" (I die for you) carries the same if not more weight "I am wasting away for want of you". Three words suffice in Spanish where such a number would seem to flounder in English. Spanish does not use unnecessary pronouns or superfluous constructions. It does not demand rigidity in syntax or word order. It has numerous ways of expressing possibility and hope. It has 3 verbs to express "love" and many more to express "like" or "appreciation". In short, it is a beautiful language.

And Latin students are a pleasure to teach. They love to talk, even with the most limited vocabulary at their disposal. They are not afraid to express appreciation and even affection towards each other and their teachers, in the sense that they are ready to take part in any sort of activity whole-heartedly and uninhibitedly. They trust their teachers and very quickly learn to trust each other, which makes for a very pleasant classroom atmosphere. They help one another and are selfless enough to be able to laugh at themselves and each other, which, at least in my classes, is an essential skill.

They have opinions about everything. In contrast with may parts of Europe, particularly the UK, political and social apathy is almost nonexistent.  One only has to write the name of the president or any token social issue (I.e. Pollution, Economy, Education) on the board and they are off vehemently expressing their opinions and sharing their experiences in varying levels of (often broken but oddly poetic) English.

In my short time here so far I've had the pleasure of seeing students who (allegedly) never spoke a word of English in class, open up and invent the most intricate and detailed stories, painting pictures of complex and (sometimes) haunting characters- prompted only by a cut-out photo from the latest edition of the National Geographic.  I have seen a room full of Macho (Macho Macho) professionals, mostly accountants and lawyers, throw caution to the wind in the name of writing up short (and ridiculous) dialogues and sketches and acting them out in front of their equally macho classmates to all of our diversion. I find myself leaving work each day feeling inspired by and so grateful to my students for their enthusiasm and contribution to the class, and most importantly, looking forward to seeing them again the next day, and the next day, and the next. Así es.

Friday, 28 January 2011

We are all teachers

 I am a relatively inexperienced teacher. All in all if I scrape and pull all my teaching experience together it would come to about 2-2.5 years experience. I'm very green, and increasingly in every teaching situation I find myself in I am more and more aware of how much I too am there to learn.

There isn't much going on at the moment, so I haven't been given my own classes to teach. In an attempt to justify paying me for a 30 hour week I've been sent to observe other teachers at work, and contribute in as far as they (want to) let me. Originally this just felt like a royal fobbing off but remembering some sound advice given to me by a wise man a long time ago- " In every situation you listen, take what you need, and throw away the rest."

I have seen shy teachers, loud teachers, short teachers, teachers who drill through read-and-repeat, teachers who teach as if they were in a coffee shop socialising with their students. I have seen some few things I have decided that I never want to do, and a great many more that I would wish to emulate. Most importantly I have seen people pour their heart, soul, energy and ideas into connecting with their students, taking teaching one step further then just imparting information. A book can do that. A person offers so much more.

With all this time on my hands (observing isn't a very taxing activity!) I found myself thinking of all the teachers I have known. Of course there are the ones that literally changed my life making me want to join the profession, such as Mrs Bowers my IGCSE Geography teacher, and some others. But also all the others who have taught me so much, and probably more than I ever learned in school. My mother and Father, who taught me values explicitly, and life by example, and who taught me to love to learn. The great number of parental-guide figures across the world, in England, Mauritius, Africa who in advising me shared their life experiences and little or great knowledge of the world and the way it works. The great number of people I have met who imparted a small or large portion of their personal narrative, whether in a taxi, on a bus, at the airport or at someone's house. And the small but precious number of dear friends who share their lives, loves and luchas with me. If humanity itself, in terms of it's history, has been preserved (and even at times constructed) by the sharing of information, then aren't we all teachers? Hmm...

(Coming back to this post it reads more than a little philosophical... I must be missing my family!!)


George Orwell wrote about it. Robin Espejo (and many others sung about it). Latin American (and Iberian, I hasten to add) culture is infamous for its dependence on (and belief in) Mañana*. Literally, this word means tomorrow (and morning, but that's not really the point here) and wishfully, it is the day in which everything happens. When will I get my timetable for work? Mañana. When will we sort out the rent? Mañana. When we throw away that furry green mass at the back of the fridge that I think used to be cheese? Mañana. 

Anyone who has lived outside of Europe or the US will know that this isn't an unusual phenomenon in the 'developing' world. Whether it's a sign of underdevelopment or just symptomatic of a warmer climate and a more relaxed pace of life is really in the eye of the beholder (or in this case the person made to wait patiently, or impatiently). Experiencing it here, in a place where I have come as a professional (of sorts!) I find myself in an odd limbo between my upbringing which, for the most part, unfolded on the island of procrastination itself, and the now compulsive habit of working all the time that I picked up whilst living in the UK. For now it has been fairly amusing to be advised of my upcoming working day a number of hours before I'm supposed to start, but I'm not too sure I could manage this way for the entire 10 months. God give me patience! And quick-thinking!

Outside of the world of work I must say that I do prefer the no-stress attitude of the believers in the Mañana phenomenon (Mauritians, you fall under this category too!). As long as no one is gravely injured or emotionally scarred for life,  surely it's not that big a deal whether we arrive at 1300 or 1330, whether we spend 10 or 45 minutes chatting. What matters is that all parties involved agree to abide by the mañana phenomenon- in this case knowing that whatever we don't get done today, can always be done tomorrow.

*Pronounced Maniana

Sunday, 16 January 2011

First Impressions

Lord! How amazing it feels walking into a wall of dry heat coming from the sludge and snow of a winter in the UK! Things here are dry and arid, and after 15:00 one stays out in the sun at one's own peril, as el niño (the little boy) is working overtime and within 10 minutes one's shoulders become unpleasantly pink and crispy.

The City of Santiago itself, happily esconsed (esconced?) between the Andes and the Pacific Mountain ranges, is an oddball mix of old Spanish colonial and new build, sky high tower blocks. I'm told that as more and more people move to the city (although I'm not sure where from, as 80% of Chile's population already lives here!), the government has set about hastily building apartments blocks to try avoid the accumulation of slums around the Santiago's peripheries. Sadly, Santiago is seen as the somewhat less attractive and less talented younger sibling of all the great Latin American Cities. I bought a Guide Book (in Spanish) which opened with: "Although not as cultural as Buenos Aires, as intriguing as Mexico City or as exciting as Rio de Janeiro, Santiago is..." Way to sell a city!

As I went to "pasear" (wander around walking) in my first few days I was struck by the sharp contrasts between a modern city, and an older, more delineated world. Walking down the high street there are people (like myself) with earphones in their ears, and hands-free phones wearing suits and ties, but then one turns a corner and there is a street vendor selling fruit off the pavement, or an old man shining a working gentleman's shoes. Walking from street to street you feel like you are weaving your way between two eras, rather than two city blocks.

For all their bloodlust and ruthlessness, the Spanish sure knew how to plan a city! Everything is square and divided into blocks (as it is throughout most of the Americas), making it very easy to find your way around. Although, I must add the Spanish, a race not usually know for their stature, sure had a thing for giant doors. Means of intimidation, perhaps? As I walk past a towering entrance I can't help but imagine how this strategy must have backfired when the cowering masses huddled outside a great city building waiting to be shocked and awed by whatever mighty force of nature should come out of the 5 metre high doors... and out popped Juan Miguel Figueroa*, all 5'5 of him...

An advantage of having mixed race heritage is that I manage to blend in with the natives in most parts of the world. Here, no one questions that I am a Latina, speaking to me in Spanish and likewise ignoring me when it suits them which is very fortunate as I will have ample opportunity to better my Spanish!

As far as first impressions go, that should be it for now... My First impressions will be rather extensive I think, considering how little I know of this Country... Back soon!

*Token Chilean Name: everyone here is call Figueroa!