Monday, 20 February 2017

Teacher Spanglish

As cultures intermingle, Spanglish is here to stay (in spite of Brexit and The Wall ). People talk how they talk . . . and there's no changing that.

This time, I examine my very own Spanglish - the words and phrases that come to mind instead of the 'correct' ones in English. Losing your vocabulary and range of language is a real threat for English teachers. How does one strike a balance between being understood, and speaking naturally. Between keeping your true language alive, and not sounding like a BBC audio test?

I suppose my Spanglish slip-ups show that it is becoming more natural to think in Castellano. Here are a few examples of my foreign language faux pas. Let's start with the simple ones.

No existe

When we don't have a direct equivalent in English, I'll often use the Spanish word.

Saying that I ate 'Spanish omelette' for dinner just sounds wrong. It's a tortilla to me, whether I am speaking in English of Spanish.

Cider houses are very common in Navarra too, but have their own set menu of face-sized steak and unlimited big boys' apple juice. We don't have anything like it, so I'll use the local word Sidraría.

This goes for a lot of other food and drink items. Morcilla, Paella, Chorizo, Rioja and Calamari are all widely used in English.

Similar sounds

Some heavily used words here, have a slightly different meaning to their English counterparts.

I find myself mixing up things like hopes and expectations based on which words my students are more familiar with (both are esperanzas in Spanish).

Navarrans will describe anything 'strange' as 'curious' which of course leads me to do it in English too. If it did only mean 'weird' and not 'inquisitive', Curious George might be less suitable for toddlers.

If you ask a class if they have any questions, they will stare at you blankly. Ask them if they have 'doubts' and you'll be answering away in no time. Some words just trigger people's understanding.

I find myself doing strange things to aid understanding, like asking if the concert they went too was very 'emotional' (emocionante), instead of 'exciting'. Sometimes I'll scrabble around and come up with false cognates, just so I don't have to resort to Spanish.

"Did you pass a good time in a familiar restaurant in the mountain?"

Without students listening to much English, they use phrases which are far more common in Spanish. People are forever 'taking advantage' of their time, or 'putting up with' exams, which means I start using them too!

Inflecting Inflection

It is apparently acceptable to swear in this country . . . anytime, anywhere. I rarely go an hour without hearing someone swearing - Kids, the radio, students and shop attendants, they all love a good swear.

I find myself swearing in Spanish too. I love the inflection of the 'f word' Joder, They go up at the beginning, and kind of sing the two syllables - Ho'dair. It is as if people are saying nothing stronger than 'whoopsie'.

Another mimic of the Spanish inflection is to phrase statements as questions (raising your voice at the end, or adding 'no'?)

"But we are still going to the cinema, no?"
"You like prawns, no?"
"They arrived already, no?"

This helps get rid of that nasty auxiliary 'do', which has no function but crops up in more than half of our questions. It's like a bloody trip wire for Spanish speakers. I know proficiency level students who can't get it right.

Yet another is adding 'for example' onto the beginning or end of a sentence, regardless of whether you are providing evidence.

"At the weekend I went to a new bar . . . for example."
"For example . . . shall we start now?"

Preposterous prepositions

With prepositions, there is no why, no rhyme or reason. Different language, different preposition. This leads us native English speakers, into adopting the cheeky little blighters from Spanish.

'For me' - to express an opinion is very common in Spanish, but not in English. 'For' a reason, 'to' a person. However, it has wormed its way into my daily lexicon.

Another example is to 'invite someone' (invite them to a drink, or dinner, by paying).

"Please, I invite you"
I say, when throwing my cash around in the bar.

Depends of (not on) is an extra 'wrongun' that has snuck in, and also adding 'to's in whenever talking about people as objects. "I helped to my family", or "called to my friend".

Simple much?

The biggest danger of grading your language as a teacher, is oversimplifying.
Big danger - simple.

How are students supposed to learn new words if all countries are, 'beautiful' or 'interesting', all sports or culture is 'important' and all food is 'delicious'.

One way I over simplify is to tack 'super' onto adjectives instead of using modifiers.

"It was super busy at the weekend" or "You're right, she's super nice."

When I do compare, I often add the word 'more' just so it is clear to people that I am using a comparative.

"Section A is more longer than Section B"

Half-arsed nouns

A shopping,
A camping,
A parking,
A sleeping,
A pair of Tennis
The heavy

These are nouns in Spanish. They borrow the English phrase (Shopping Center, Camping Ground, Parking Lot Sleeping Bag, Tennis shoes and Heavy Metal), and just give up halfway through.

"Don't worry, I'll bring my sleeping to the camping," I say. "Is there a parking near the shopping?"

New habits

I'm not sure I would go as far as replying 'charmed', to every new person I meet, but I do have adopted a few new social graces.

The obligatory 'buen provecho', tricks me into telling everyone (friend or stranger), "enjoy your meal". I would do well to remember, that it probably seems creepy in Britain. If you said it to someone stuffing in late night chicken nuggets on the last tube home, they might want to punch your lights out.

Likewise 'de nada' or 'a ti', is the ubiquitous response to thank you. We don't really have one in English but saying 'you're welcome' comes as second nature when I go back home now. I hope it doesn't sound too false.

Well, it's adios from me. Thank you all for reading, and enjoy your meals!

(You're welcome)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Flash in the pan

This time last year, I was just starting my journey with writing. Even with the new jobs, three moves and visiting eleven countries, I did it. I wrote. Now I am a writer.

As a relative beginner, I still feel uneasy saying this, but as sure as eggs is eggs - writers write. Writing remains a hobby for me, but dedicating time and effort to it will help me go as far as I want with it. To date, I've completed ten short stories or so and was fortunate enough to have one published recently in Storgy Magazine.

Between stories, songs, poems and blogs, I keep myself occupied by writing flash fiction. Last year I had a short piece published in Flash Fiction Magazine which was a great way to start my 'portfolio'.

My goals for this year are to keep penning short stories for magazines to get my work out into the wild. Of course I'd love some competition success too.

Holding back my best work for submissions and entry into contests can be a little difficult at times. I would like to share more, but until I achieve more publications, you will have to settle for my 'B' work. However, I couldn't talk about flash fiction so much without giving you an example, so here goes.



I’m lonelier now than when I was dead. At least the boffins in white coats kept me company, now I barely say a word all day. The only communication I have is with the Redbournes, and I do find them rather a pain.
They’re so frightfully hurried with everything, there’s just no time to enjoy a good natter any more. It seems that communication now is just a series of auto-electronic transmissions, PH checks and Pulsar display numbers. What happened to brisk country walks and listening to the Archers? What happened to putting the world to rights in the smoking room? Come to think of it, what in blue blazes happened to smoking?
The Redbournes are my reanimation hosts, my guides to the Twenty Second Century. I would have hoped that with all the money I poured into the damned cryogenic project, they would have put me with someone who understood me a bit more. Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, a pillar of the local community, philanthropist and was 16th in line for the British throne at one point. I haven’t even asked them who sits on it now. It’s been a miserable fortnight for me, and a rather miserable hundred and fifty years for Blighty from what I can gather.
I suppose I’d be lost without my hosts, Henrik and Stephanie - a fifty five year old baby without the slightest idea what to eat or even how to get anywhere. My new ‘parents’ certainly scold me like a child, part of the ‘cultural sensitivity’ training. It seems that you can’t even point out the obvious without doing something wrong. Take yesterday for example, the beast that I touched has the same rights as us thoroughbreds apparently. Stephanie slapped my hand after I touched its downy face and it immediately started clicking away on its communicator. She had to give it two thousand credits to get it to withdraw the injunction. Here I was thinking it was bad enough opening the borders, and now we’re growing lower IQ humanoids to cover the labour shortage.
Stephanie means well, but she is very sensitive, a bit of a prude. Her hair is just the wrong shade of brown and she looks as stiff as a toy soldier in her Kevlar uniform. But what she lacks in beauty, she makes up for in good old fashioned gumption. She goes off every five minutes like a buzzer telling you’ve got the wrong answer.  She even got a zapper, to stop me touching, but that’s normal - all of us cryogenic dinosaurs can’t help ourselves. Contact used to be essential, now it can be deadly. I have to settle for imaginary bottom squeezes when she’s not watching.
Her life partner is a plain bore, a robotic drone counting his electronic credits. He has an accountant’s moustache and is so thin it looks like a stiff breeze could knock him over. And he never puts that silly scanner down either. It’s an air quality measurement tool, about the size of a referee’s whistle, that sends data back to the EPO hub.
I used to have a daily stream of visitors at Whiteclyffe Manor, now the blasted Redbournes are the only people I speak to. Speaking is not common here you see, everyone interacts using their communicator. The world outside is both a cacophony of machines and oddly quiet at times.
Suicide is not uncommon among the thawed. This world can be a bit much to get used to. My sterile unit is safer than a padded cell, I probably couldn’t even break a nail in here. They must sense the despair, even though we don’t talk about how I feel. That’s probably why Henrik sits closest when they’re here, a wire barrier with his toy laser pointing around the room. He probably read it in their ‘how to acclimatise a gentleman’ e-manual.
I can hear the ground floor bulkhead opening, they must be back from work. I better get ready for my physical routine and tonight's sensitivity lectures. Blessed contact with my two jailers.


Thanks for reading. Just as a final note, I have entered a weekly 150 word competition and need your vote! My piece is called Silver Lightning and is around the 30th page of the book.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The year in numbers

Another busy year is coming to and end, but instead of bombarding you with a lengthy review of 2016, I thought I'd give you a few numbers to consider.

20  - The number of Tall Travels blog posts this year.

This is significantly less than in previous years due to other commitments and a generally frantic year. I will endeavour to keep you better informed next year.

- Re-locations

In the first part of the year, I worked with kids in Andalucía, then a Summer School in West Sussex, before moving to Pamplona to work with adults in September.

I would not recommend three moves in a year to anyone. The paperwork, transport, and reams of information that come with new jobs and cities is tough to process in such a short space of time. However, Spain is starting to feel a little more like home, and I'm looking forward to year 2.

7 - Short stories written.

This year I decided to focus on writing fiction and have dedicated time to learning the craft and putting pen to paper. I would have liked to complete one story per month, but have been writing songs, poetry, blogs, children's stories, diaries and flash fiction pieces too.

I had this short piece published in Flash Fiction Magazine, and have a short story scheduled for publication in January.

My writing goal for 2017 is to achieve success in a short story or flash fiction competition, and hopefully see one of my stories in physical print.

- The number of years I have been teaching and travelling.

You can read May's post I wrote reflecting on that milestone here. This Christmas is the fifth in six that I have been away, although I am lucky to be with the family enjoying the weather in South East Asia.

290 - An estimate of the number of students I have taught this year.

It has been an extraordinary mix of ages and stages from around the world. They always keep me on my toes and make sure I am motivated to help everybody communicate well (in English).

I like to think I am good with names, although I have gotten them wrong (very occasionally). At least most of my students this year know my name. Gone is the ubiquitous cry of 'teeeeaaaaccchhhheeerrrrrr'.

11 - Countries visited

I've been in UK, France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Vietnam, Netherlands.

I've seen a few new parts of Spain. I'll be updating the photo page of the blog with some shots from my current trip.

Next year my travel plans include Portugal, Morocco and Eastern Europe.

1000+ Kilometers driven.

After ten years of car free living, I now drive to some businesses out of town to teach. Re-learning how to operate a motor vehicle was just another one of this years challenges conquered.

That's it for this year. All that remains for me to say is have a great New Year!

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