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The art of the “English Attack”

20 Apr

Yesterday, I had a moment, as one often does, where you suddenly realize how ridiculous something is.

It all started with a field trip with the 7th graders to Malaga – the heart of the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun). Ironically, it was dreary and rather cold.

Being a big city, Malaga has a lot of foreigners and English-speaking tourists. Much to my surprise, my students were actually eager to speak English and jumped at the chance to shout “Hello!” at nearly every person who looked like (maybe) they spoke English. I assure you, this is every bit as annoying as you can imagine. But this time, something was different.

As I normally find myself on the other end of this elusive “English Attack” (the end that is constantly getting “Hello!” and “Goodmorning!” shouted at my face), I’m ashamed to say I was amused at being in the group of assailants. And low and behold, some of my students were practically begging me to tell them how to say things so they could use them to scream at a blue-eyed, fair-skinned passerby. (Ok, begging might be a bit of an exaggeration. But, they were interested in learning!)

I couldn’t help but enjoy this “English Attack”. The high point coming when one of my students shouted, “Hello. How do you say?” with such excitement, vigor and haste, that she was overcome with laughter as she ran back to tell me her great success. Only there was one problem with this particular example: she had no idea what she was saying.

Lost in the moment, with adrenaline pumping, she realized only later that she didn’t know what that particular question meant. When I told her the meaning, we were both tickled over the occurrence. I, at least, was happy to have drilled something into their heads this year! Now if only I could get them to remember what it means.

Later, on the bus ride home, I had some time to properly reflect on the day’s events. Staring at the passing rows of olive trees, I found myself asking: Why do some Spaniards feel the need to shout at foreigners? Does this only happen in English? What are the necessary components of this “English Attack”?

As a frequent victim, I have decided to put my experiences to some good and outline the important components necessary for any decent “English Attack.” Not only will this serve for future field trips, but it will also allow all those who may never get to experience an “English Attack” to share in this beautiful experience.

The first, and most important, rule of the “English Attack” is that it must only be carried out on complete strangers. It’s not necessary to actually confirm that said stranger speaks English before attacking, either. You can normally just make a guess based on any combination of height, eye color, dress, hair style, skin color, etc. A guiri shouldn’t be too hard for you spot, but it will get easier with practice.

The second rule is that this attack must be fast and unpredicted. You’re not trying to make friends here. Shout the few English words that remain somewhere buried deep in the back of your brain. Remember, you most likely wouldn’t be able to respond or hold a conversation even if these people did respond to you. So get in, get out, and move on chuckling at your cleverness.

Finally, the third rule – and this is normally pretty key – is that you should probably say something wrong, or at the very least mispronounce it. Whether you’re shouting “how do you say?” instead of “how do you do?”, or yelling “goodmorning” at 6 p.m., it’s all just part of the effect. It only makes the “English Attack” stronger.

There are some cases, when the English attacking is so good that it elicits a response from the victim. Whether it be a “hello” in return or just simple acknowledgement, these cases are usually best dealt with by some form of follow up. You’ve already got their attention, so now its time to really get them going. Why not throw in a bad word or a profanity? But remember, this is only in extreme cases.

Thus concludes the most important rules of the “English Attack”. I can only assume that the following month and half that remain of my time in Spain will allow me to conduct further research. In the event of a new discovery, I will be sure to come back and amend the rules.

Today’s Word(s): “Cómo se dice…?”: “How do you say…?”, as in: “The tourist didn’t know how to react when the young girl looked at him and shouted, ‘Comó se dice?'”


The Puente

3 Dec

This weekend we have a puente, which literally translates to “bridge” but actually means long weekend. And the Spanish take their long weekends seriously. We’re not talking about a typical 3-day-weekend here. We have off Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, giving us a 5-day-weekend and the perfect ammount of time for a road trip.

To where, you ask?

We’ve decided to rent a car and set off on an adventurous (possibly too adventurous) trip farther south to the Malaga and Cadiz provinces of Spain. First we’re heading to Malaga capital, the home of picasso and one of the more metropolitan cities in Spain. From there its off to Ronda, an old town high in the mountains with famous bridges and views. Then to the ruta de los pueblos blancos (the route of the white towns), which is a string of small white-washed villages perched precariously against a background of lush green. Then to Tarifa, the southern most tip of Spain and the windsurfing capital. From there, we head to Gibraltar, a Brittish territory famous for the rock of gibraltar and its monkeys (and we have to drive on the left! yikes!). And then its back up along the Costa del Sol and back to good ‘ole Jaen.

Check out the full map:

My Lesson of the Day: Just talking about this puente is wearing me out! I think we’re going to need to stock up on coffee and redbull?

The little oven that could

27 Nov

First of all, Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! or as they say it here in Spain, Dia de Acción de Gracias.

This year marks my busiest thanksgiving by far! Determined to share this American holiday with everyone here, I decided to make the first thing I think of when I think of Thanksgiving dinner: pumpkin pie!

So the day before Thanksgiving, Lauren and I headed to the supermarket to buy ingredients, which is a task in itself. Three stores later, we finally found almost everything and set out to make pumpkin pie – from scratch.

So we baked, and baked, and baked until nearly 1:30am using my “oven”. Most of the apartments I’ve seen here don’t come with an oven (or a dryer). And although mine technically does, its more of what we call a toaster oven. However, it did the job and the pumpkin pies were a hit.

Pumpkin pie isn’t common here, and everyone was a little hesitant at the sound of a pie made from a gourd. But I shared some with my roommates (who loved it), and I took one to school with me.

We had a small Thanksgiving celebration during our breakfast break, which we have in place of a lunch. After school, a few of my students took me out to lunch to celebrate their first Thanksgiving.

Then it was back home to start cooking a few more things for our big Thanksgiving day dinner with the foreigners. There ended up being over 30 of us for the dinner (which we ate late – on Spanish time). I think we counted 6 Spanish, 3 English, 2 French, 2 Mexicans, 1 Welsh, 1 Canadian, 1 Irish, 11 Americans and then some. Talk about a multi-cultural Thanksgiving!

My Lesson of the Day: I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.

I came to Spain and I’m learning English?

17 Nov

When I signed up to spend a year teaching English in Spain, I came prepared to learn a lot of Spanish. Little did I know that my time in this Spanish-speaking country would teach me more about my native English. My time both inside and outside the classroom has been a big tutorial in English.

My first lesson has been in British English. I had wrongly assumed that the accent was about the only thing that set us apart. That could not be further from the truth. Most of the people here in Spain have been taught British English. Between the textbooks and the British friends that I’ve made here, I’ve noticed a few differences. In addition to the funny spelling (think colour, apologise, programme, and centre) the vocabulary can be a little confusing.

For example, if someone here tells you that they are “pissed” they aren’t mad at all, but in fact quite drunk instead. And I wrongly laughed at my male student who said he wears “jumpers” because in England that apparently means sweater, not a dress worn by young schoolgirls. I’ve also adopted the term “time table” not only because its more commonly used, but its also easier for a foreigner to pronounce than “schedule.”

Furthermore, in British English, your “trousers” may make your “arse” look big, but you can combat that by putting on your “track bottoms” and taking the stairs instead of the “lift” when you go to your “flat.” Bloody confusing, isn’t it? But at least it sounds posh.

In addition to the British English I’ve been learning, my time in the ESL classroom has produced a few problems. For you native speakers, did you know that there is a difference between “going to” and “will”? (“going to” is for predetermined plans, while “will” is for spontaneous actions and future predictions. Do you use them correctly?)

And try to go about explaining the reason where and why we commonly use “whatever, whenever, however, whoever, wherever” but not usually “whyever”. And which is correct: “compared with” or “compared to”. Does it really even matter?

Then we have the sayings. Why would “fly by the seat of your pants” mean to be spontaneous? And how could one ever be “deader than a doornail” or “dumber than a doorknob”?

Needless to say, English alone has got my head spinning. Now it’s time for me to go study some more so I can try to master the language that I’m about to teach tomorrow.

My Lesson of the Day: This whole English thing has proven to be a bit of a banana skin!


And I thought I’d be teaching numbers and colors…

11 Nov

Working in the vocational studies department of a high school has proved to be both rewarding, challenging and a good laugh. As much as I’d like to say that there is never a dull moment in class, I’m teaching databases. So many of the moments are in fact quite dull. (Except for the one day where my students confused version with virgin). However, thanks to my teacher, Manolo, we’re able to incorporate a little fun every now and then into normal classroom activities.

Monolo keeps a very lighthearted classroom, partly because his students are 19 years old and above, and partly because that’s just the way he is. On the first day of school, after the normal introductions, he went around the class giving out nicknames such as “always complaining about something”, “mr. romantic”, “only girl in the classroom” and “always wears earrings” – just to give me a little insight into the the students.

And as an English student himself (he takes night classes at an institute) he also has the mentality that he wants to teach the students as much English as possible – including slang and non-traditional classroom vocabulary. That is how we arrived to this afternoon’s class.

Manolo found an article in a magazine “Speak Up” for Spanish speakers who are learning English. The entire article, which I’ve uploaded here:  TheLastLaughpdf is about websites gone wrong. For example the “Expert Exchange” company’s website – – could easily be confused for a completely different type of site. Since the article incorporated both English, computer science, and a little humor, he thought it would be perfect for me to teach.

Rather than give you the entire play-by-play, which you can probably imagine if you read the full article, I’ll skip to one of the short sections, which reads:

“If that’s embarrassing, then so is ‘Speed of Art’ a sight for designers. Its address:”

Luckily, the magazine came with a definition for the word “fart” (which is pedo for my curious readers). While the students laughed, I could tell they didn’t quite get it. Then came the question:

“Emily, what is Speedo?”

Normally when I get questions, I just offer the direct translation into Spanish. But when I don’t know that, I have two fall-back options: acting it out and drawing it on the board. Luckily, I had enough sense not to try to act out this question.

I went to the board and quickly tried to draw my best impression of a man in a Speedo. Although I’m not one to brag, it was a pretty good depiction. Everyone started laughing and my teacher said:

“Ok, we get it. But why does the guy in your drawing have to be so fat??”

My Lesson of the Day: My students may still get tripped up on grammar sometimes, but they’re going to be able to hold their own on the streets.


Your paycheck? oh sorry, I’ve been busy…

7 Nov

I’ve been in Spain for nearly 2 months now, enjoying the life and paying the costs that go along with it. While things here in little Jaén are much cheaper than they would be in a big city, I’ve finally come to realize that euros don’t grow on olive trees. And although colorful, Euros are in fact not monopoly money. It’s about time that Emily gets paid.

My agreement with my school allows for me to get a monthly allotment of money, to be paid at the end of each month. The money comes directly to the school from the Spanish government, who has something like a scholarship fund set up for all of the language and culture assistants here in Spain.  So this leaves it up to my school to pay out the money, via direct deposit into my bank account.

While I’m not exactly making the big bucks, I think my monthly stipend will be enough. And it’s plenty considering that I only work 12 hours a week. But I was starting to get a little nervous when November 5 rolled around and I still hadn’t noticed any money in my bank account. I told one of the other teachers and we went down to the secretary to investigate.

When we got there, he informed me that he had everything ready for the deposit. He’d just been really busy recently so he hadn’t gotten time to get around to processing things. REALLY? I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. Is this normal in Spain?

I guess he finally realized that I might need my paycheck to you know, eat and maybe pay my rent, because I finally just noticed the deposit into my account.

My Lesson of the Day: It might not be a lot of Euros, but make the most with what you’ve got.


Casi Española

6 Oct

As I went to sign my apartment contract the other day, my landlord asked for my passport number in place of a residence number. When she found out that I now have an official foreigners number, she announced that I’m casi española (almost Spanish).

The N.I.E. (Número de Identidad de Extranjero) that my landlord was referring to signifies that I now have the ok to stay in the country. I’ve only completed the first of several appointments to obtain my official card, but getting a N.I.E. is the first step.

With my N.I.E., I opened a bank account and signed my contract, which makes this a pretty important string of 9 letters/numbers. This number will also allow me to stay in the country until my teaching assignment is over.

As for the teaching, I’ve been slowly progressing. It’s definitely been a learning process for me and my school. We’ve been moving day-by-day to figure out my schedule and what I’ll be doing. Mostly, I’ll be working one-on-one sessions with the professors in my department, but I also will help out in one class – about databases. Today was my first day with the students (about 14 boys and 1 girl) and they all seem nice. They’re a little timid when it comes to speaking in English, but I think it will be a good year.

Today, I also gave my first private lesson. One of the counselors at my school wanted a native speaker for conversation classes with his 14-yr-old daughter. I’m pretty excited to continue with the private lessons, and it will definitely be a good supplement to my income.

Well, the sun is starting to set here in the Parque Bulevar so I guess this blog is done. Time for some tapas and bed.

My Lesson of the Day: I think I’m becoming more Spanish than I realized. Not bad for less than a month!