Remember back when I talked about that little secret I kept from my students? They didn´t know that I speak Spanish. It was great in that it forced them to use English any way they could to communicate with me. It´s negative side was that many were shy, afraid to make mistakes, and therefore seemingly afraid of me.
I spent the entire year pretending not to understand the chitter chatter between my students, trying not to laugh when someone said something stupid/funny, and scanning the hallways for students when ever I would chat with other teachers in Spanish. It wasn´t easy, I´ll admit, and there were plenty of times I just wanted to be understood, more for the sake of classroom management than anything.
But a couple weeks ago the last day of my contract rolled around. The kids knew it was my last day, and we were saying goodbyes and thank yous. My coworker said to the class ´´Hey! You guys know that Amy has spoken perfect Spanish all year?´´ (Her words, not mine. My Spanish is far from perfect.)
A resounding ´´¿Qué?´´ echoed through the room. Jaws dropped. Then the chatter and the questions started. Many of course bragged ´´I knew that she spoke Spanish. Remember that one time I asked her to translate a word to English and she knew it?´´ Because of course knowing one word means speaking a language.
Students who have barely spoken two words to me all year outside of obligatory class activities all of a sudden wanted to talk to me, tell me thank you, and give me hugs goodbye.
For some, it was like I was a whole new person. They asked what my favorite Spanish foods are, if I´ve ever tried gazpacho, and if I´ve ever visited their parents´ pueblos. Because the idea the I also live in Spain and don´t just magically show up at school everyday hadn´t occurred to them before knowing that I speak the language.
One particularly savvy eleven year-old started quizzing me. He asked some basic classroom vocabulary, was pleased with my response, and then came the real test. ´´¿Cómo es el verbo ´andar´ en el pasado?´´ The past tense of the verb andar, one that many Spaniards don´t realize is irregular. ´´Anduve, anduviste, anduvo…´´ I began with a smile. ´´¡Whoooaa!´´ he and his classmates exclaimed in pleasant surprise.
This process continued throughout all of my classes. I spoke to each one in Spanish, thanking them for a memorable year teaching them, and urging them to continue studying languages. I explained to them how lucky they are to have started learning English so young, that most schools in the U.S. don´t begin with languages until high school. I told them that they know more English than almost any American of their age knows of any other language, and that they should take advantage of the opportunity. I told them that at their age I hadn´t even started studying Spanish, and that now I speak it well enough to live in Spain. Imagine where they could be if they keep studying.
All of the frustrating moments all year were well worth the final result, and without hesitation I would urge all auxiliars that if you can, don´t speak anything but English in the classroom. It will be a worthwhile experience for you and your students.