Christina Dressel

Teaching English in Spain

Written by Madeleine Jepsen

The past two summers, Christina Dressel has put her Spanish major and speaking abilities to the test teaching English as a second language in Madrid, Spain.

As an auxiliary teacher, Christina’s job is to arrange activities for her students, college-aged and above, so that they can practice speaking English outside of a classroom. Each course lasts a week, with different groups of about one hundred students rotating throughout the summer. The program is sponsored by the Spanish government through the Menéndez Pelayo International University and helps participants improve their English to comply with government requirements.

“People from all over Spain go to this program for a week,” Christina says. “During the day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they do formal classes with a teacher, and they separate by level. From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., they do activities with the people like me. We help teach.”

Christina works with between fifteen to twenty people in small groups and hosts activities such as evenings in the park speaking English or heading into Madrid for a city tour—in English.

“We basically just hang out with them. My job is to speak English to them and make sure they’re speaking English to each other. Other days I plan games or organize different activities to help learn silly words in English like charades.”

English poses a challenge for the students, who are used to the more straightforward Spanish language.

“The English language just doesn’t make a lot of sense, so if you don’t have the history of it, or no reason to learn it, it would be extremely hard to incentivize yourself to learn why it doesn’t work,” Christina says. “There’s just something about the Spanish language that doesn’t allow them to speak English very smoothly. Every vowel is different for them, so when they read it, it’s very hard to think in their head, Oh, this is how they say it in English. Words like ‘thought’ make no sense to them.”

Christina’s students have a wide spectrum of experience and interest, which also provides a challenge for her as a teacher.

“It was interesting this past summer because there were some students who I just felt bad for because they had no interest in learning English. If you have no interest in learning a language in the United States, you don’t have to, but there they do.”

Despite the challenges, Christina says she and the other teachers, mostly British and Irish citizens in their twenties, are still able to foster a fun environment for learning English regardless of students’ proficiency or interest level.

“Some students are obviously there to get the certificate at the end of the course in order to get better opportunities for work, and they know nothing, and it’s harder to work with them,” Christina says. “Others are almost fluent. Some of the conversations I’ve had are really advanced, and those are always fun. But it’s also fun to see people improve while you work with them.”

Madeleine Jepsen, ‘18, studies biochemistry and journalism. Outside the classroom, Madeleine serves as a reporter and assistant editor for the Collegian. She is also involved in Catholic Society.