Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Barco de Avila

Surrounded by snowy mountains and living in a four-star hotel where every room has an en suite whirlpool bath...well, I can think of far worse places to be spending the first week of December. I didn't expect to feel Christmasy in Spain, but the hotel's habit of playing gentle choral music at breakfast time and the white-dusted hill-sides around us are putting me in a distinctly Yuletide mood.
The other participants on this English immersion programme are friendly and fun and I fully expect Theo and I to have added more people to our swelling collection of good friends and acquaintances, not only in Spain, but around the world. Here, we have people from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and Wales - as well as the English and Spanish people.
It's also giving us a lot of opportunities to find out about the ways our Spanish friends have been learning English - what methods they've been exposed to and what they think of them. One thing they all share is a hunger to truly get to grips with the language, in all its irregular, absurdly-spelled splendour. The other common feeling they have is frustration. Frustration with their own education system, which left them so incapable of speaking or making sense of English, despite so many years of learning the language at school. And frustration with the English language itself. Why are the vowel-sounds so difficult to hear and to pronounce? Why do so many verbs change their meaning so radically when you add tiny words like to, up, at or in to them? Why is it so difficult to predict how to say an English word out loud when you have only seen it written down? Why do the stressed and unstressed sounds change in a sentence?
I have a lot of sympathy for them. Since learning to be a teacher of English, I often wonder myself.

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