(Language) Tables Turned!

Sarah E. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Potomac School in Virginia.

When I first came to Spain, one of the things I was most excited about was meeting my two little brothers Mateo (10), and Andrés (7). Though I have a lot of experience with little kids from my siblings at home, adjusting to new people who are not quite fluent in your language is difficult, which I knew would be a challenge for me to overcome in order to bond with my host siblings. And so, when my advisor and host family coordinator, Sole, asked me a few weeks into the program if I would be interested in tutoring my brothers in English, I saw an opportunity to get closer with them.

At my home school I taught 4th and 5th grade classes in Spanish during my freshman and sophomore years, so I had some experience planning lessons and coming up with games and activities to keep the kids engaged. However, one tiny little problem I may have overlooked was the fact that I would be teaching English in Spanish. Though it may not sound that difficult, finding an explanation for irregular English superlatives in Spanish, and other odd English grammar rules I had never before considered, was hard. Also, keeping a 10-year-old interested and engaged required some extra effort. 

Though it was difficult the first few weeks, I started to develop effective strategies during our classes. For example, one day before my class with Andrés I stopped by the Rincón to pick up some candies for him as an incentive to learn a new set of vocabulary words. For each set of vocabulary or new concepts that he mastered, I would bring candy for us to share – but only at the end of the lesson! 

Playing games, playing songs in English, and finding ways to explain the more difficult concepts in Spanish not only helped Mateo and Andrés have fun and learn more during the classes, but it has also brought us closer.

Up until this point only I have been careful to pronounce words correctly, remembering how to use the imperfect and everyone’s favorite, pluscuamperfecto, in everyday dinner conversations. However, two hours a week, the roles are reversed and my brothers go through the same process I experience on a daily basis. One day after our lessons, they told me how they couldn’t imagine living in the states and having to remember so many words. Our shared challenges in learning each other's first languages have created a surprising benefit of mutual understanding and support. For example, sometimes my host brothers will become my “tutors” in a way, and get excited to teach me new words and phrases. They have also become more patient with me when I take a little longer to explain things or make a grammar mistake. As we know so well at SYA, shared struggles form bonds, which create moments of empathy and understanding – one of the greatest benefits of the program. Though it can be extremely challenging, everyone is experiencing the same thing, and it’s comforting to know that even my little brothers are, too. 

  • Campus Reporters
  • SYA Spain