Why should you not expect to rely on your knowledge of European languages?

Teaching in Western Europe

Diary submitted by Gemma J. Valencia

Why should you not expect to rely on your knowledge of European languages?

As a TEFL intern in Spain, particularly in the region of Valencia, I learned very quickly that whilst my very basic competence with Spanish was useful in my lower ability classes, it was not always something that I could depend upon. With multiple Universities in Valencia, the vast majority of my students hail from various regions in Spain, including Barcelona. This is significant because it is with these students that I have encountered the use of Catalan, a language spoken predominantly in the Catalonian regions, in north-eastern Spain.

Moreover, in Valencia itself, Valenciano is also commonly spoken alongside the use of the official Spanish language. 

It is through these encounters with these languages that I was reminded of the importance of approaching teaching TEFL with flexibility with regards to the resources and my approach used in classes. An example that comes to mind would be a lesson with a student of a similar age, in which I attempted to teach the expression “hitchhike”. Immediately the student wrote down a word as their guess of what this piece of vocabulary could mean, prefacing that they had written it in Catalan. Confronted with my lack of knowledge, I jumped up and resorted to mime the action of it to reach an understanding. Whilst it was a language lesson, this was a reminder that aural communication is not the only method of human communication. Furthermore, the physical silliness of the mime dissolved any stress and anxiety the student had been experiencing caused by their struggles with the vocabulary.

This realisation I believe is valuable and applicable to all of Western Europe, not only because of the freedom of movement that exists, but also due to immigration and the refugee crisis we are faced with in the contemporary moment. Whilst a post-placement TEFL teacher could opt to work within their home country, the UK, for example, they may not be confronted with students of European descent. Organisations such as Refugee Council and Forgotten Women are two of many examples of UK-based organisations working to teach refugees English as a means of improving their employability and overall, to ease their daily life. It is within organisations such as these that the Western European languages we may have knowledge of are irrelevant.

Teachers can expect to have students from Syria and even Iran, which has seven recognised languages, alongside the official language, Persian. It is at these moments that teachers should remember whilst our goal is to teach a language, attaining student understanding can be done in many diverse ways. Translation, where possible, should always be the last resort.


  • https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/how_you_can_help_us/volunteering/volunteer_case_studies/2614_refugees_into_teaching


Why should you not expect to rely on your knowledge of European languages?

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