This month Annie Paez talks to us about her views on the changing trends in Spain and how she handles challenging situations at school.
How long have you been working in bilingual education?
I have been teaching English for thirty years now here in Spain, but I would say that I have been working as a “bilingual teacher” for the last twelve years.
Do you feel that pupils benefit from learning contents in English? Why? Why not?
When I look back at the way I first started teaching English focusing on vocabulary and grammar I realize how much the methodology has changed and improved. Before, it was just a matter of memorizing words and filling in hundreds of written sentences, whereas nowadays, students learn the language through contents mainly through science and art.
I definitely believe in this way of teaching because after all these years, I see that the level of English in Spain is gradually improving; now tourists can find their way around Madrid with no problem as there is always somebody ready to show them where la Puerta del Sol is.
In my school, parents sometimes ask me about the fact that their children learn concepts such as names of muscles or bones in English and do not know them in Spanish. I always give them the same answer to this question; this is a Spanish speaking country so sooner or later the kids will learn them in Spanish. On the other hand with the opening of Bilingual Secondary Schools, students do not face the problem of not knowing the concepts in Spanish.
What are some of the main challenges teachers in bilingual programmes face?
Of course not everything in the garden is rosy, we as teachers have double the work to do as we teach two things at the same time, English and content. In order to stand up to this challenge it is true that a bilingual teacher should avoid the use of Spanish not only when it is lecture time but also during school time. The use of CLIL as a method of teaching is from my point of view the best way to do it.
The pupils at your school do Trinity College oral exams. How do teachers prepare their pupils for these exams?
As for external exams, the fear of many teachers, I face them as part of my syllabus. I start preparing my students from the very first day of school and again I do it through the same contents. I do not teach English as a subject so when I teach science I combine the Trinity questions with the subject I am dealing with. For example, when teaching the animals, I introduce questions related to the description of favourite animals and so on.
What are some of the benefits of doing external oral exams at school?
At this point, as a teacher, it is positive to have an external and professional evaluation because I get accurate information about the real level of English my students have. On the other hand it is also true that the way the exam is held does not always show what students really know. In a CLIL Program, as the one we have in my school, I would love the examiner to also ask questions related to the topics we are dealing with because sometimes for a second grader it is still difficult to adapt specific vocabulary to another situation. For example my students in the second grade can answer questions and talk about the process and stages of the Water Cycle, better than describing a sequence in a picture.
To finish I would love to convey the idea that the more English you use with your students, the better English they will produce.