AVIVA KARDENER- Last week, we began the English conversation classes in the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. These classes are much like the language class recitations we take while at Tufts with exchange student T.A.’s. The idea is to create an open space to practice speaking in one’s language of study without the pressure of grades, lectures, and homework.
Now, I have always said I would never want to be a teacher. Ever since I was a kid and got asked the question, ’What do you want to be when you get older?’—something oh so typical of the very work-centric, individualistic, American culture—I have never had a definite answer. However, there is a long list of occupations I had no interest in, and one of the least favorites is to be a teacher. I simply don’t have the patience for it. But, this class does not put us native English speakers in the position of a teacher. We are simply there to facilitate conversation and share our own cultural experiences of the English speaking world. And, on the flip-side, we get the opportunity to learn more about life here in Madrid and in university, and meet more local young people. So, while I was nervous and anxious to meet the class and talk it out, I didn’t have to feel too much pressure and fear. I don’t have to be a good teacher; I just have to be a chill person to talk to. And, as many already know, home-girl can talk.
If you have never attended the classic Tufts language recitation, here’s how they usually go down. First day classics include an introduction to the T.A., class rules and norms, a name game and ice breaker, and a lot of blank and confused looks from the students trying their darndest to understand what everyone is saying. You typically hear a lot of uhhh…s, and see the gears in your peers’ brains squeaking after a summer or winter break away from the use of the language. Unfortunately, in my experience, this confusion and difficulty stringing together thoughts and sentences in a foreign language is all too familiar and does not usually dissipate entirely by the end of the semester. This means that the games and activities take un montón of time trying to excavate thoughts in our native language and translate them over to the language of study. Needless to say, I have never been a rock star at recitation games, and I expected about the same level of understanding and challenge this English Conversation Class. And I could not have been more wrong.
I was astounded. When we asked them to get to know the person seated next to them and share with the class, the students remembered every detail, sharing openly and with ease. When we moved on to a game of Taboo, I was blown out of the water. They came up with incredibly creative ways to get around the restricted words my partner and I had planned to be challenging. I would never have thought of their descriptions in my recitations at Tufts. And I was dumbfounded when we played Hangman. I couldn’t even figure out what the words were and they were guessing them correctly before the man was even at risk of being hanged.
My partner and I thought it important to ask the students how they wanted to use class time, what they wanted to talk about and learn. A lot of the responses were very America-centric, about the culture, colloquial language, and political reality. I have no interest in sharing a generalized view of the country. It wouldn’t be accurate. My partner and I will certainly bring up these topics with a critical lens and discuss the many problems with the systems in place in the States, because we now know the students are able to have real, complex conversations about the world we share.