This Monday I started teaching at la Pureza, the Catholic Primary and Secondary school. As an auxiliar, my general responsibilities in the classroom, as I understand them, will consist of helping the main teacher to lead oral activities and give the kids a chance to interact with a native teacher. Auxiliars are not supposed to lead class by themselves, or make lesson plans beyond preparing short units. Doing so would be highly impractical for me, since I’m divided between two schools, and thus have each class only once a week. La Pureza had asked me to arrive at nine, but hadn’t really finished arranging my schedule – this kind of inattention to organizational detail is the downside of the famously chill Spanish take on life. Overall, the environment is good for the side of me that is impatient, hyper-conscientious, and has become attuned to living at New York City speed during the past four years. However, there’s a part of me that sees how easily things could run much more efficiently and avoid frequent near-disasters. The math teacher briefly went over the material I would be helping him with that day. Math is sometimes taught in English in the Balearic Island in compliance with trilinguism, or the instruction of subjects equally in English, Spanish, and Catalan. There is currently active debate on the issue of trilinguism with the Supreme Court and the Sovereign Government of the Balearic Islands at a total standstill, each declaring the position of the other equal – maybe it says something that I consider this kind of apparent contradiction very typically Spanish.
I assist with math in the first and second levels of Secondary School, students between 12 and 14, so the math is very easy, but, there are still things I’ve forgotten (not surprising). I will have to learn along with the students – the catch is that all the instruction and materials are in Mallorquín! In the math class, the teacher had me explain a concept or do an example problem for the kids on the board, after he’d already done a similar problem in Mallorquín. He promised me he would speak Spanish in the class, but he always forgets. He began teaching math in English last year as part of trilinguisism and told me several times on Monday, “My English is very bad —” he was apologetic, but also very sincere about trying to use his English in the classroom and the combination was funny and endearing. Before I introduced myself to the students, he told them in Mallorquín, “She doesn’t understand a word of Spanish or Mallorquín – well, clearly she understands a little, because she has to eat sometime,” which was his way of saying they should always speak to me in English. After I would help him out with an activity in the classroom, his way of saying “Good job,” was “Eres una machina,” or, “You are a machine.” a Spanish expression meaning you’ve done something perfectly – but he kept saying it English as well. The kids were really sweet and excited to hear that I was from the United States (!).
After class, I met up with some of the other auxiliars here in Manacor. All four of us are doing homestays with families that have young kids and so far all of us are really enchanted with our families and grateful we have the opportunity. One of the families has a vineyard, and I think we’ve all had the opportunity to socialize and see a fair amount of the island. Since I sometimes find Harrisburg lacking in things to do, I was apprehensive about living in a place as small as Manacor, which has a population of about 40,000. However, I ultimately decided to live here as I knew it would be tempting to socialize mainly with Americans if I lived in Palma, which is the main city on the island, of about half a million people, and has a lot of auxiliars. (Not to mention get distracted with partying – Palma is known throughout Europe for its beaches and parties!). After talking with the other auxiliars, I think we’ve all done similar calculus and agree that as long as we make friends, there will be plenty to do in Manacor, and Palma is only a train ride away on the weekends.
On Tuesday I started at Simó Ballester, which seems to be regarded as a school with a lesser reputation; everyone says, “A lot of immigrants go there” (which in Mallorca effectively means Moroccans). I will be helping with ages 9-11 there and realized early on the difference in helping students who hardly speak a word of English, especially when dealing with large classes, and teachers who are balancing many sections, so end up sticking largely to the book. Finally, neither of the teachers explicitly explained to the students that I speak Spanish, but not Catalan, so the students kept speaking to me in Mallorquín, the language they usually use. I already feel like I can often get the gist of what is being said… but not well enough to answer a detailed question or give instructions. I was helping correct exercises where the students had written a short paragraph describing their best friend. While I was helping one girl, the student next to her started saying the other’s description wasn’t accurate – the person she was describing didn’t have glasses, didn’t have green eyes and so on. She knew this because her friend was supposed to be describing her, but had just copied phrases from the book.
“Has hecho mala,” the other girl said to her, meaning, “You have done wrong.”
There were a couple other funny moments like this, like when the teacher asked for a volunteer to make copies (everyone instantly raised their hand!) and, after she’d chosen someone, another boy asked to go with, so the first “wouldn’t get lost.”
Tuesday ended up being very long, because after getting lunch and going to the Caixa to open my bank account, I went to help a local here who gives private English lessons. One of his other teachers contacted Miquela last night to ask if I could help out, and I agreed, even though I knew I’d be tired from teaching four hours at Simó Ballester. My experience at the center is maybe the best encapsulation of laissez-faire Spanish demeanor that I could think of. I knew I would have three small groups of seven and eight-year-olds for one-hour lessons, starting at 4. I arrived half an early, as requested, thinking the director would give me lesson plans or tell me the lesson structure he uses – we made coffee, then chatted very informally, and he said how easy the groups would be, that we should just introduce ourselves, talk a little bit, play a game, and the hour would be up. We went down the classroom and most of the materials he used with the age group he’d taken to a different location.
… and that was the entirety of my preparation for my first time solo teaching English.
After I’d done all three groups, I started to get down a little bit of a method: introduce myself in Spanish, explain that I speak Spanish but not Catalan, teach in English then repeating a few basic phrases in English several times, so they could pick them up. By the last group, I realized the students still had difficulty saying things like, “My name is…” or “My birthday is…” so I had to repeat it before they said it. Of course, all this information would have been useful to know before I started teaching – and it seems absolutely unbelievable and totally insane to hire me without knowing anything about my experience and giving me no preparation! On the other hand, if I knew how touch-and-go everything would be, I never would have agreed to help out, and things had improved by the time I had the last group. I had all of them tell me their birthdays in English, then I said we would sing to the girl whose birthday was closest. When I said this, one of the girls in the class asked me, “And while we sing, can I take off my shoes and dance on the table?” It was really fun to have them all get so excited, and try really earnestly to learn (at least a little) English at the same time.
I could go on forever about everything that’s happened since I got to Manacor – it seems totally unbelievable that’s it only been five days. In terms of everyone I’ve met and learned about life on Mallorca it really feels like I’ve completely started a new life here.
Something I didn’t really comprehend is the huge importance of Mallorquín, which is the regional dialect of Catalan that is spoken here on the island. I knew that existed, but I think assumed it would only be spoken by older people or in specific situations, I think because I find that in the US, local accents seems to be fading away. There are certain colloquialisms unique to central-PA, but I would never say most of them, and neither would the majority of my friends. But here in Manacor, even though everyone is totally bilingual and speaks perfection Spanish, literally EVERY conversation between locals takes place in Mallorquín. My host mother, Miquela, is an instructor of English and explained to me that she instinctually speaks to her children in Mallorquín, that to speak to them in English or even Spanish would feel unnatural and she can only do it intentionally.
Luckily, I think I’m going to be able to understand Catalan/Mallorquín pretty quickly. (Nobody can tell me how much the two diverge exactly, or rather, everyone says something different, from “they’re exactly the same” to “this is very Mallorcan” with every phrase I learn). This is important, because all my classes and classroom materials are in CATALAN, which means I pretty much have to know what’s going on. I think this is going to put me in the unfamiliar place of being able to understand better than I can read, because I believe that, like Spanish, Catalan is spelled phonetically (in Spanish, the phrase is “idioma transparente,” or “transparent language,” which I think is lovely). I haven’t yet been taught how things are spelled, so I can’t really recognize the sounds from how they’re written on the page. Some of the words look French to me, but that doesn’t help me any. I’ve noticed already that Catalan contains sounds that don’t really exist in Spanish, and the endings are changed in certain ways that seem regular and recognizable. It’s hard to trace the language linguistically, as people say that, as compared to Spanish, it’s closer to French, Italian, and even English! This seems totally contradictory, but I also understand what they mean when I hear it spoken.
One of the schools where I’m teaching – La Pureza – is Catholic and has Infantile, Primary and Secondary, so ages 3-16, and seems to have a good reputation here in Manacor. I toured the school my first day in Manacor – hazy, jet-lagged, fresh from the airport – and everyone was really welcoming and even said to me “We’re like a big family here” (in Spanish of course).
Last Friday morning, Miquela took me for a walk through the town before I went to la Pureza for more direction and orientation. To be honest, it’s really hard not to like Spain, since the weather is always so good, and all the buildings are so pretty, even in a small town, like Manacor. For example, the public library:
The view from my window:
At la Pureza, two teachers sat me down and explained to me nicely but also seriously that, since they’re a religious school, that the teachers must set the example and the students copy everything they do. Of course, after going to Covenant, I didn’t need any introduction to these sorts of concepts. On the other hand, the concept of Evangelical Christianity has absolutely no meaning here (there are a few Evangelical churches, but not enough that there is any sense of “Evangelical culture”). The female teacher explained to me the female teachers try to dress in a way that is basically modest, then looked under the table and said the shorts I was wearing were “muy shorts.” Then, very apologetically, the other teacher asked me if I would be able to take out my nose piercing. I said it would be too difficult to take it out everyday, but I asked if I could put in something smaller, since I was wearing a ring at the time. The whole situation was very ironic to me, as due to the culture and language barrier, there was no way for me to really explain just how familiar the whole situation was, so I think they left worrying just a little bit that I’m this sort of counter-culture American chick from halfway across the world and I can’t understand the wholesome instructive environment they’re trying to cultivate at their religious school!
Afterwards, I went by Simó Ballester, which is the public Primary School (ages 6-12) where I will be teaching. It was the first contact I’d had with them, as I had received error messages on all the emails I sent and hadn’t received any sort of instructions from them. I buzzed in through the front door, then found the Secretary’s office, and announced “I’m the new auxiliar” – because, where else was I supposed to start? I got introduced to the director and from there we arranged my schedule so we could have things organized going into my first week of teaching.
Over the weekend, I got to meet the families of Miquela and Manu, my host parents, as well as a visit to Palma and the coast – lots of new things and all really lovely. Manu has three older sisters, who are all married with kids and live here in the Palma, and they get together every Saturday, making for a really noisy and crazy gathering at his parents’. Before we went, Manu said to me, “No te asustes,” which translates as either, “Don’t be frightened,” or “Don’t be startled.” At the time, I was in the middle of such a barrage of adjusting to everything, that I felt both I couldn’t help being frightened, and also that pretty much nothing could scare me. True to his word, everyone in the family broke into multiple loud discussions almost as soon as they’d arrived – in Mallorquín, of course – though both Manu and his sister explained to me in Spanish, “I know it sounds like we’re fighting, but we’re not.” Everyone started asking me questions (about where I’m from, my family and – of course – whether I have a boyfriend) and the welcome was really lovely, but of course speaking Spanish in front of so many people made me nervous, perhaps even more because I can make myself understood, but still speak with lots of errors, which means people will smile and respond, and I can go on obliviously believing thinking my Spanish is so good (until I catch myself in the middle of a really obvious error, and then I realize how far I really have to go).
During lunch, one of Manu’s brother-in-laws (who is anti-iglesia or “anti-Church”) got into a discussion with Manu’s mother (who is deeply Catholic), because they had decided not to baptize their child who was recently born. The mother was waving her spatula at him, saying how important it was in the sight of God that children are baptized in the church, and responded, “No me digas tonterias,” which means something like, “Don’t tell me this foolishness.” They were both being on purpose a little over-the-top and playful, but I’m sure there are serious disagreements that run underneath. It was really a privilege to see another family, with such a different culture, navigate this kind of difference, which has become very familiar to me.
So far my Spanish has served me much better than I was hoping for, and I can already tell that meeting Spanish people through Miquela, and also having Spanish coworkers will be much more immersive than my experience as a student of Granada. This first week, everyone has been telling me how good my Spanish is, which is nice to here, even if people are just being generous, or flattering me. I think part of the reason why everyone’s been so nice is they’re just glad they don’t have to speak to me in English – most people speak a little, but not generally very well. The necessity of speaking Spanish has actually been very liberating – in the States, “practicing” Spanish feels sort of artificial, like everyone is humoring this little hobby I have, but don’t bother to really work at very hard; here, on the other hand, it’s really a sink-or-swim situation, and I know my Spanish is the surest middle ground that exists in any given situation.
On Sunday, we went to the coast in the morning. I was on the beach for about half on hour, distracted from my reading, because it was so incredibly beautiful I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe I’m living here, I can’t believe I’m living here.” It began to rain, and I crowded into a bar nearby with a crowd that included Spaniards, Germans, Brits, and me. An older German couple asked me, in German, if I wanted to sit down. Weirdly enough, a Jack Johnson album that I listened to a lot in 10th grade, was playing on the radio. Afterwards, I found Miquela and Manu, who’d gotten caught on the rain while walking with the kids. Miquela said, “Qué disastre! What a disaster!” This habit, of saying the same thing in both languages, is something I catch myself doing sometimes.
That afternoon we had lunch with Miquela’s parents and younger sister, a much quieter atmosphere than Manu’s family. During lunch, I learned that the Mallorcan way of saying, United States, when Miquela told her mom where I was from.
“l’Estatds units!?” here mom asked, very surprised, since she had assumed I was from England, which everyone here does, since they don’t speak enough English to place my accent. Miquela’s sister and friend had been at a futbol game, and when they came, her mother was teasing her saying they were very dressed up for a futbol game, and they must have been with their novios (boyfriends). “Amigos,” they corrected her; not boyfriends, just friends. Later, the mom was saying that I should find a Mallorquín boyfriend, and Manu jumped in saying, “Rachael, you don’t want to bother with boyfriends, just keep them as friends.” At this point Miquela introduced me to the Spanish equivalent of “friends with benefits” which is “amigos con la derecha o roce” and translates directly as “friends with the right to caress.” I fond this phrase really funny and the likewise with the English equivalent. Afterwards, I discovered that there is a Spanish wikipedia entry dedicated to this concept, which has a very serious and formal tone. The first sentence defines “amigos con la derecha a roce” as “a relationship that intends to combine bonds of affection, an attitude of friendship, w intimate relations.”
I really enjoy my conversations with Miquela, since we’re both bilingual enough that we can explain to each other the connotations of words and also have patience with each other’s way of speaking. I’ve realized that a lot of my nervousness with Spanish actually derives from having to speak to knew people constantly, since I’ve never really had an intimate friend who I spoke with in Spanish – and, of course, getting used to a new person’s way of speaking, and they to yours, often under a time constraint or with background noise, can add a lot of stress to something which should be easy on its own.
PS Promise to include more photos next time with the family and kids once I get to know them a little better!
1. helped a confused man in Penn Station find his way to JFK so he could catch his flight to Chad, remembering my many NYC public transit nightmares when I was new to the city
2. on the plane, I finally watched Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, which was very Wes Anderson in terms of visual style, obsessive attention to detail, and (self-conscious) “quirkiness.” I like the Anderson’s films for different reasons (Rushmore because of it’s awkwardly precocious protagonist, Moonrise Kingdom because it’s so wide-eyed and sincere, Royal Tenenbaums because it’s probably the definitive Wes Anderson movie), but this one really delivered in terms of balancing parallel storylines elegantly and really amazing use of detail.
So, definitely recommended … if you’re the one other person in the world who hasn’t seen it yet.
3. Attempted to order my usual cafe con leche in the Madrid airport, and got the ultimate Spanish snub when the cashier spoke back to me …in English. Luckily I’ve had many times to mess up my Spanish since then.
(Also: aside on the Panasonic headphones pictured — auto quality is nothing more than decent, but I like the design a lot, and looking cool is also important to me?)//
4. a teacher at one of the schools where I will be teaching very kindly picked me up at the airport in Palma and then showed me around the school once we got to Manacor.
He interjected a couple times with English words he knew – like “soccer” and “beer” and “married” – so I joked later that he knows all the important words. Everyone here learns a little bit of English, but (much like in the US), they don’t learn it very well.
(this is an #artsy detail in Palma airport)