Help! There is a stranger in the English classroom!!

Who are these strangers who float in and out of the English classroom? How can we get to know them?

We all know that our children are being taught English by native speakers, but how many of us have actually spoken to “teacher” or asked our kids where their teacher comes from? To most parents the language assistants are exotic beings who smile and say hello to the kids they pass in the hallway or at the school gates but who do not have direct contact with parents and are thus quite a mystery. Who are these strangers who float in and out of the English classroom? How can we get to know them?

The answer is easy: why not ask our children to act as intermediaries?!

Having continued contact with a foreigner in a classroom situation is a wonderful opportunity to find out about a different culture. Jason Allen who worked as a language assistant for two years at Celso Emilio Ferriero school in Mostoles with Spanish students aged 7 to 10 said that one thing the children really liked to learn about was the different cultural events that Brits or Americans celebrate during the year, especially those which don’t happen in Spain such as Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving or Pancake Day. He also said that the children enjoyed talking about football teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea. Spanish children also couldn’t quite believe that their peers in the UK usually eat their main meal at 6pm, often on their own as British parents eat later on in the evening.

Tell me about “teacher” / “did you know that…?”

There are two ways to encourage your children to talk to you about the language assistant in their classroom. You can either ask your children a few simple questions about teacher or you could try running a few facts past them to get them thinking about where teacher comes from and why teacher is here in Spain. The idea is to get families talking about teacher, even if the whole conversation is held in Spanish. This blog isn’t just about learning English as a foreign language from an early age; it is also about promoting the cultural experience of learning another language. I truly believe it is valid for parents to chat in Spanish about teacher with their kids over dinner, discussing anecdotes and identifying differences between themselves and the foreigner in the classroom so as to inspire their children to keep learning the new language.

Where does teacher come from? (and other similar questions)

• A good starting place is to ask your children if they know which country their teacher comes from. It is surprising to note how few Primary teachers know with certainty which country the teaching assistant who works in their classroom actually comes from. Most assume the assistants come from the UK or the US, but there are a surprising number of teaching assistants in Madrid who come from other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and India. Finding the country of origin on a map and discussing which countries speak English and which countries speak Spanish can be quite eye-opening for youngsters.
• What is teacher’s name? What would be the Spanish equivalent? ( for example: Catherine / Catalina; James/ Santiago)
• How long has teacher been in Spain? Does he/she like living in Spain? What has he/she found surprising or interesting about the Spanish lifestyle?
• Why did teacher come to Spain? It comes as a surprise to many children that their teacher came to Spain to learn or practice Spanish! Young Spanish children often haven’t grasped the concept that Spanish is also a foreign language to many, many people.

Did you know that…?

Spanish parents can also share anecdotal information with their children about the differences between the two cultures. Simple questions, depending on the country that teacher comes from, include:
• “Did you know that in teacher’s (UK) country they don’t know what tortilla is?”.
• “Did you know that in teacher’s (UK) country children start school a year later than you do?
• “Did you know that “ratoncito Pérez doesn’t travel to the UK to collect teeth?”
• “Did you know that in teacher’s (USA) country they don’t have horchata and many Americans don’t know what it is?”
I am sure that with a little effort and a splash of imagination you will succeed in helping your children understand a bit more about their teacher’s culture whilst practicing a bit more English on the way – which is what it is all about, isn’t it?


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