Merry February to everybody!
If you are studying Pan's Labyrinth, or will, you are in luck. Below you will find an interview with Mr Juan Fernando Martín Albalat in which he deals with that, the use of music in the classroom, cultural recommendations, and the teaching of Spanish in the UK. Much to unpack!
For now, have fun - and see you soon!
Mr Juan Fernando Martín Albalat is passionate for languages. Trilingual, he speaks Spanish, English and Italian. A graduate in English Literature, and double MA in both Translation and Education Studies, he has lived in the United Kingdom since 2019. Previously a Spanish language assistant in King's College School Wimbledon (2019-2020) and Charterhouse (2020-2022), he now teaches Spanish in Cranleigh School. He is a practising musician, collaborator in the Bulletin of Advanced Spanish and a researcher in cultural, adaptation and music studies. He joins us today to discuss his many experiences in his still young life.
What is the biggest difference between teaching in boarding schools and teaching in day schools?
First of all, the difference is very big because in a boarding school you have more time to prepare things than in a day school, but on the other hand we have to be at the school much more. We even have to do boarding duties, which is when we have to work in the house where the students live. It's all very reminiscent of Harry Potter.
Personally, I love working here because you get to know the students better. You don't just see them academically, but also in their growth: there are talks, there are events, markets, dances... And you live with them like in a big community. Like in a small society, after all.
And between boys and girls?
I have always been lucky to have boys and girls in my classes, not like in other boarding schools where there is only one gender, but, in my opinion, the interaction between male and female students changes as they get older. Our goal as educators is to introduce them to an equal and pluralistic society, since there is not only one gender in life. And I like to see that this is changing in this country, as large academic institutions such as Charterhouse and Winchester are becoming co-educational and adapting to the changing times. In my opinion, it's a very positive thing for the development of the students and also for the teachers.
As a musician, do you introduce songs in your classes and how do you do it?
I like to teach the kids a bit of everything with songs. Generally, English students are completely ignorant of Latin or Hispanic rhythms, so for me it's important that they understand that outside these borders there is another music, another musical experience... But without a doubt, they are songs that must be related to the didactic unit of the moment, whether you are going to teach grammar or vocabulary. For example, to teach the subjunctive, there is the legendary Resistiré by Dúo Dinámico.
However, to teach and deal with a more relevant topic for A-Levels, such as immigration, Clandestino by Manu Chao, which recounts the experience of an illegal immigrant.
After several years working in the UK, what has your personal experience of teaching in this country been like?
Living in the UK has given me a lot professionally and personally. I think that since I left Spain, I am a different person. I could say that I have improved in some respects - I have become more open-minded as I have been lucky enough to teach in very international schools, but I have also learnt a lot about the English-speaking world. Being a student of English Philology in Madrid, I have gained a much deeper knowledge of this country, its roots, its cultures, and its people. In short, it has been a totally enriching experience, it has made me explore another way of life, both inside and outside schools.
In schools I think there is also a different mentality when it comes to your work. Sometimes it's a bit like Game of Thrones, with people who are very ambitious and want to have power. But for me, the most important thing is to enjoy my teaching, my colleagues and, why not say it, my holidays.
You are a big film buff, why do you like Pan's Labyrinth?
Can you believe that at the beginning I didn't like the film? However, now over the years I have come to appreciate what Guillermo del Toro did. Pan's Labyrinth is a fantastic film in every way - I love it because every time you watch it, you find something different: you can talk about the post-war situation in Franco's Spain, but also the hypocrisy of the military and religious class. Also, as a big fan of fantasy, you see Ofelia dreaming of a better world, as she is suffering a lot from the consequences of the war. There are even references to the Second World War which, if you are a history buff like me, you will appreciate very much.
What would you say are the elements of the film that students will find fascinating?
The duality between the fantasy world and the harsh realities that plague Spain is one of the elements that captivate the students I teach the most. Also, all the parallels that Guillermo del Toro creates between the two worlds help a lot to understand the film.
Finally, it is a film that is based on the premise of disobedience, which is also very much related to adolescence. The phrase 'obeying for the sake of obeying is only done by people like you' is a fundamental phrase to understand Guillermo del Toro's premise in this film.
What sources (books, documentaries, films, Youtube channels, comics, music) do you recommend for hispanists to explore the post-war world and Franco's dictatorship?
It depends on what you are looking for. As for documentaries, El silencio de los otros is a wonderful project by Pedro Almódovar's production company El Deseo, and when I saw it, I was fascinated by it. And it's also here on the BBC.
If you want a play, without a doubt, Las bicicletas son para el verano. Although Historia de una escalera is also tremendous, where you see the generational differences during the Franco era.
Another book I liked a lot was Entre visillos by Carmen Martín Gaite, which depicts very well the life and customs of provincial towns (probably in Castilla y León) during the Franco era. All the repression of the time, the imposed Catholicism... Tremendous!
If anyone wants a book more related to the world of Franco, we should all call Paul Preston, who has a wonderful biography of the Galician dictator and where he wants to explore the human figure rather than the general, but I'm only talking hearsay, as I haven't read it yet.
And finally, where do you think are good places to travel and practice Spanish?
I always say that Madrid is a fascinating capital to learn the language: it's walkable, with a wonderful public transport system, and for a capital, it's not as expensive as other cities in Spain like Barcelona or Bilbao.
Without a doubt, if you are interested in learning Spanish, I would go to Madrid, Salamanca or Granada. They are affordable cities that are small and easy to get around. They also have an exciting history. Madrid has the most important museums in Europe, apart from Paris and London; Salamanca has a wonderful offer for learning Spanish; and Granada is one of the most beautiful cities on the Iberian Peninsula.
However, if you want to explore beyond the Atlantic, perhaps the most interesting destinations are Mexico, Peru and Argentina. Forgive me my Latin brothers and sisters, but these are the countries that most catch my attention in terms of accent and ease of learning the language. Maybe Argentina is not so easy to learn the accent, but they have a beautiful one.