Penélope García Rodríguez studied English Philology at the University of Oviedo and went on to study an MA in Applied Linguistics at Birbeck and her PGCE at King’s College London. She has been Head of Spanish at St Paul’s Girls’ School since 2002. We caught up with her to talk about her professional experience and share tips for GCSE and A Level students ahead of their upcoming exams.
Did you always want to be a teacher?
Yes, my grandmother was a teacher and since primary school I have had teachers who have inspired me to pursue this career.
You have studied in Spain and England, what are the differences between the two countries?
Education in Spain was more rigid when I studied at university. The programmes were very defined, and the academic routes were not flexible. But that was many years ago. I imagine that since then there have been many reforms to adapt degrees to the educational aspirations of the 21st century. The possibilities for individual research and collaboration between students must have transformed the university experience.
From studying my PGCE and my Masters in the UK I would highlight the small group teaching and the tutorial system, which allows for a more fluid dialogue between lecturers and students. The best thing, without a doubt, is giving students the opportunity to study in several countries: that is what is really enriching.
Do you have any advice for young learners of Spanish?
I advise them to read, watch television, cinema and theatre, and listen to music in Spanish to bring to life what they have learned in class. Learning a language is a transformative experience that should not be limited to classrooms, books and exams.
What are your favourite books, songs and films from the Spanish-speaking world?
You can’t choose… there are so many! I would highlight Nada by Carmen Laforet, which explores female resilience, Gardel’s tangos because they vividly evoke an era, and Buñuel’s films for their avant-gardism.
Do you think that linguistic immersion is helpful to learn a new language?
Without a doubt. And only from a technical point of view: it also reinforces motivation and the feeling of “belonging” to the culture and society of the language studied.
What is the best thing about being a Spanish teacher?
Seeing my students grow intellectually.
There are now many students who are worried about their GCSE and A Levels. What advice would you give them in these key weeks?
Master the conjugation before you do anything else. Languages are cumulative subjects, so you probably have already learnt most of the vocabulary and structures that you need to know. Eat well, sleep soundly and be fresh and ready to think clearly on the day of the exam.
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