How to Understand Your Spanish Students

Some auxiliares/assistants come to Spain not knowing a word of Spanish before entering the lovable chaos of a Spanish classroom. We’re here to help teach English through immersion and cultural exchanges; a wonderful idea, yet not always as straightforward as it sounds. If I hadn’t known any Spanish before teaching here, I would have been much more disconnected from my students. 

I predicted that with the amount of Spanish I knew beforehand, I would have no problem in understanding my mini pupils…ha! With high pitched voices and a hundred mile (excuse me, kilometer) a minute sentences, it can sometimes make you feel like you are back in Freshmen Spanish-listening to a cheesy audio exercise and wondering how to fill-in your blank sheet of paper when all you’ve heard was “MellamoMariaytrabajoenunazapateriaconmiamiga.” 12633297_10201308384427647_1551797075_o

I teach first and second graders in my placement school and twice a week at another local academy. Due to their young ages, it isn’t realistic for them to speak in English the entire class period, let alone 10% of the class. You may get some successful English out of them if you ask, What do you do after school? Do you live in a house or a flat? Can you describe your family for me? What sense do we use with our ears? etc. 

The majority of my students don’t make the connection that they are asking me questions in Spanish and I answer in English–meaning I can understand (for the most part) what they are trying to communicate in their native language. If I ever say a Spanish word aloud, they will gasp and start telling all their friends as if I had just performed the coolest magic trick of all time. 12631101_10201308384507649_2072571820_o

Anything beyond classwork is logically in Spanish, so if you are a prospective auxiliar and are 1. Not patient or 2. Don’t know any Spanish, you should remedy those before arrival. Besides learning how to mediate an argument or console a student over an ache they forget about in 20 seconds, here is a list of words and phrases I’ve learned or think are necessary when working with little kids:

*Estuche: a pencil case; or the holy grail of personal items no other students are allowed to touch.

*Goma: a rubber in British English, or an eraser to Americans. I still feel uncomfortable if anyone asks me in English for one…

*Abrigo: a coat; what every child forgets to take outside with them because they are too excited that it’s recess time.

*Rotulador: a felt-tip pen/marker; it’s a glorious day when you give a first grader permission to color with “rotus.” You will hear, “Podemos colorear con rotus?!” at least once a day. It took me a long time to figure out what “rotus” were.

*¿Puedo beber agua? – Can I drink some water? Most of the time students will ask this with the intent of being rebellious. After all, the hallway is a wonderland of potential mischief when you’re the only one out there.

*¿Puedo ir al baño?Can I go to the bathroom? Another question that is frequently asked and quickly denied. Sometimes students will come up to me in pairs and ask this. Once you tell them that one may go and the other can go when they get back, they quickly decide that they don’t actually have to go. Subtle guys, subtle. 

*¿Me ayudas?Can you help me? It doesn’t matter how long or how easily you’ve explained something to the class. There will always be one, or five, that didn’t listen and will expect you to help them. 

Callate!Shut up! We try to mediate any arguments, but it’s not always possible to avoid hearing this.

*¡Dejame/dejame en paz!Leave me alone/leave me in peace/stop etc. This can be heard if any pushing occurs, annoying the hell out of each other, or any other shenanigans. 

*¡Hala!Woww/Cool/Whoa! Young children are easily impressed. Doing basically anything can get this Madrilenian reaction out of them. If I draw anything in front of them, I’ll hear a symphony of halaaas

*Me toca: my turn; perhaps the most important time in kiddom is that of “the turn.” Don’t mess with this!

*Un beso: a kiss; while in the States you could get in serious trouble, it’s normal in Spain for little kids to want to kiss your cheek or express their affection for you. Abrazos or hugs are also commonly distributed.

I’m sure I will have to update this list as the year continues, but this is a start! 🙂

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