Last week our Founder, Iacopo Di Rico, sat down with Jordi March, a Spanish teacher at the British School of Barcelona and a Pearson examiner. Jordi has 9 years experience as a Spanish teacher, three of which he spent as a Head of Spanish at Epsom College.
Read on to find out about Jordi's views on why motivating students is challenging, his experiences with teaching languages in the UK and Spain, and his teaching tips!
If you don't have time to read the full interview you can find a summary of it here.
Why did decide to go into teaching?
It wasn’t planned. When I was doing my MA which was on Conference Interpreting, there were lots of international students and I started teaching Spanish to a group of my friends, and I was enjoying it and I found it really rewarding to just watch them grow more confident each day. Then I carried on with my MA and started working as a conference interpreter and I was then offered a scholarship to PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) in the UK and I was like, okay, I really enjoyed teaching informally to young adults maybe I will enjoy teaching secondary as well and I said I’m going to go for it and if I don’t like it I would have spent a year living in the UK, i will have improved my english and do a better job as an interpreter then I just really enjoyed it and so I stayed in the industry.
What was the biggest challenge in, that languages teachers face and how have you adapted your teaching methods to solve this?
I think there are multiple challenges actually. One of them, particularly teaching in the UK or teaching in international schools where english is, you know, the Lingua Franca, one of the main challenges is well, what is the point when we can get about in English and everyone understands and everyone wants to practice actually. Now that I'm teaching in Spain I am trying to encourage my students and their parents to enjoy activities in Spanish. And they are saying well its really difficult because we sign our kids up to football and the people they play with want to practice English so my students are spending all their time speaking English and they are finding it really hard to live the language.
How does this compare to the UK.
In the UK it depends on the setting, I suppose. For example, when I did my PGCE it was in a deprived area where people wouldn’t go on holiday and some people had never left the town where I was teaching and you know trying to motivate them to learn a language that is spoken in a country where, you know, no one in their family has ever been to, or ever even considered going to, was a big challenge. We also had a challenge linked to google translate, students were saying why do I need to learn Spanish when I could just speak on the phone and it will translate it for me into English.
During the pandemic, how did your school adapt to the challenges it faced and did any of the changes they implemented stay in place?
There was remote teaching, of course, and in 2021 there were students that were not coming back into schools because the parents were not confident sending them to school yet. So there was a period of hybrid teaching, where most of the students were face to face but you had to broadcast the lesson and the student was hopefully on the other end. That became a challenge especially durning assessments because the assessments didn’t have the same value. It was evident that at times students were unsupervised and you could see google translated work and that sort of thing. Luckily we moved on from that and we don’t offer hybrid teaching anymore. However, we have kept, well its not school policy as such, but the digital learning has improved massively. In all my lessons I don’t use paper anymore, I just use it for assessments and every thing I do is on OneNote, so if the student is unwell, they can still follow the lesson. If there is homework it is set on Teams as an assignment, that way no one will fall behind if they can’t come into school.
Do you find it a bit cluttered, you mentioned OneNote and Teams, are you finding that there are too many online resources out there? Or do you think it’s manageable?
I think right now it is manageable, but then again it is my decision to use OneNote, I am the only teacher in the department that uses OneNote exclusively. Other teachers use their exercise book in combination with OneNote and other teacher are 100% old school and just use exercise books and that works as well. I am not saying one is better than the other, like I said, I think that the downside of what I’m doing is that there is less hand writing. However, at my previous school there were times when there were too many resources. Like we were using This Is Language, LingaScope and more. The problem was that every platform was delivering something similar but not the same. Right now, with the way i’m running it, it is more manageable you know, Teams is just for assignments, OneNote is where all the work is done and we have a subscription to Blink where the text books are and I use that for revision only.
Do you believe there is a difference between studying for an MFL exam compared to other subjects?
I found that the form of exams in other languages made it very easy to, you know teach to the test, where as languages are you know so open ended that you know students have been trained that you know thats what you need to do in order to get an A* in that subject. Whereas in languages there will always be words that they have never seen before, there will always be questions they will not understand. You can’t teach the test even if I wanted to. And that makes many students insecure and they find that it’s unreasonably challenging, and they think ‘why would I do that, I would rather do a subject where I can just get home and study this revision pack and learn this case study and I know I will get an A* if I do that.’ That just doesn’t happen in language exams.
Could that happen to language exams?
I hope not. because I think, you know this is part of what languages are, it’s not just a subject you learn, it’s a skill you develop. That’s the way that I see it. In the past, it used to be that case, you know there were controlled assessments where you would just learn a passage off by heart and then you would be asked to reproduce it in an exam setting. You would get amazing grades, but you would have no idea what you said and all you could de is reel that passage off. You didn’t know what it meant and that made languages less popular because you were putting the work in for nothing. What is the point beyond that.
Could you see assessments moving online?
I suppose that is coming our way, there are already many assessments like Cambridge English exams that can be done online I think I would prefer if exams were kept on paper. I think hand writing is still very important and we need to be able to justify to students that we are still writing languages, otherwise what is the point in even learning how to hand write.
What is the best exercise that you use to prepare students for the exam?
For A level, I would say practicing the type 3 questions are good. These are the questions where students have to work things out. I find that often, students, they just scan through the text and just transfer what they see into their answers. Students struggle with reading the question, understanding exactly what they are being asked, and work things out from the passage. The phrasing of the question will determine the phrasing of their answer, so it is important to understand what the question is asking them. I often see that students have written their answer and the information may be there but the format of their answer can lose them marks.
How do you prepare students for those types of questions?
One of my mantras is ‘Use the question to phrase your answer.’ To get this across I introduce these high level questions lower down the school, for examples I introduce aspects of DELE at KS3. An example of these questions is, in the text it said that it was January and it was cold. and the question was what season does the story happen in? and initially the students answered with January. Which is not a season, the question didn’t say ‘when’ it asked for a season, yes January is in winter but thats not what the question was asking. So by teaching students to use the question to phrase the answer they will be less likely to put ‘the season is January’.
As a Pearson examiner, what tips would you give to students who are coming up to their exams?
I would say read the question, use the question to phrase your answer and check how many items the question has. If it’s a one item question and you give 2 answers, only the first one is marked and the second one is ignored, even if it was the correct one. The exam paper is your biggest ally. Sometimes you know students should be concise and avoid giving very long answers.
Which exam section are students least prepared for?
Probably the grammar section. Part of the reason is that grammar is something that they learn about in MFL they are not taught it the same way in English. So we sometimes had students who had no idea what an adjective was or an auxiliary verb. To students its alien terminology, they are not used to thinking about grammar.
I know you have touched on this already but what is the main difference between teaching Spanish in the UK compared to Spain?
It can be more challenging in a way teaching in Spain but again it depends on the setting. When you teach in Spain you don’t have that incentive of oh when you go on holiday to Spain you will need to know Spanish. I have students who have lived here for years and they don’t need Spanish. An other challenge is that students who live in Spain have many fossilised mistakes, because they can usually get meaning across but they make lots of mistakes that have never been corrected. For them that is now correct Spanish and it is very difficult to unlearn something.
This week's worksheet is a reading exercise based on this interview, download it below! It is also be available in our worksheet section which can be found here.