Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Slave of Duty

I've been saying from the beginning that Baza reminds me of my own small town - a lovely, charming, healthy place to grow up - but it's a stifling place for young people to live, with little higher education, opportunities or excitement for those longing for a taste of the world.  This is hardly more evident than in languages.

I moved to Spain to learn Spanish, to immerse myself in the language so completely that I'd be oozing castellano out of my ears.  Well, sleepy, rural, monolingual Baza is the perfect place for me to fill my aural cavities with stuff that would bewilder an ENT, but for those trying to go the other way, Baza is a vast, hopeless wasteland.

Despite the number of British retirees kicking around in this part of the world, hoping for some sunny peace and quiet to finish out their days, Baza is very much a one-language town.  While, as in Australia, most of the more common languages can be found and used in the big cities, once you hit the countryside your chances of finding a second language start to plummet, and the young English-learners of Baza are a tad desperate.  My first few weeks in Baza were about finding ways to politely tell people that no, they couldn't book one of my private English classes because I wasn't running any private English classes.  This threw more than a few people for six.  In a town where native English speakers pretty much consist of the overseas language assistants (and those reclusive retirees), classes with us are in high demand.  I discovered during my first week at flamenco class that my teacher was the woman who'd sent a message via my high school that she wanted to host the school's language assistant, in exchange for said assistant (me) speaking English to her two girls at home.

While I quickly nixed that idea (and my coordinator promptly 'forgot' to ask me until I'd 'already' found my own apartment), she wasn't the only one.  Another teacher approached me on first meeting to ask about setting up an English-language play session with her under-10 daughter and her friends, and didn't seem to believe me when I said that sorry, I wasn't offering classes.  I was even chased down the street one night after leaving a shop because the shop girl wanted to know if I'd help her practise English every week.  After a very long chat in Spanish, during which she explained that she's undertaking post-secondary studies through a local high school and attending a private language school in the afternoons, I had to tell her that I've in fact come to Spain to learn Spanish, not to help all of Spain learn English.

In amongst all her pleading, though, she raised a really good point.  There are a lot of people in this town that really, genuinely want to learn English - far more than you'd find wanting to learn a second language in Australia - and almost all of them have no opportunity to practise with a fluent speaker, let alone a native speaker.  Even the English-speaking teachers in the bilingual program at my school don't speak English in class nearly as much as they speak Spanish.  Granted, the kids often need Spanish translations to help them follow the English explanations, but they get little enough English as it is.  I often represent the biggest English-language influence in these kids' lives, and for some of them it's all of half an hour a week.

So it leaves me feeling more and more guilty, every time I say no to someone and leave them to founder through their English studies at home. As one of Baza's only English speakers, I feel almost duty-bound to offer English classes not because I want to, but because so many people around here need them and they just don't have any other options.  It seems kind of hard to justify my efforts for one person to learn Spanish - me - when I could be helping 20 or 30 other people to learn English!  The problem is, I've paid $2,000 in the form of a return plane ticket in order to learn Spanish, and €8/hour for English classes can't even hold a candle to that.  Of course, guilt is so nobly above such mercenary considerations and nags at me all the same.

In fact, I had this entire conversation with one of the women in my flamenco class a while ago.  What's most remarkable is while I completely understand the perspective of all the locals here who are pestering me for lessons, it appears that not one of them can see my point of view!  Even when I point out that I work at a school speaking English to the kids all day long and don't want to trot off to even more classes in English every afternoon, everyone seems to think I'm making a funny.  Heaven forbid that I moved 16,000 kilometres around the world to live in a country that speaks the tongue I want to speak day in and day out - oh no, I must have flown for a over a day and a half just to spend all my time speaking to them in a language I can find back home!  Of course, that makes such good sense - at least, it does to them!

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