First week of teaching English in Argentina
Before arriving Cordoba, I’ve been told by the children’s mother that I should never speak Spanish with them for the duration of my stay. This should be fun. I haven’t spoken English since Brazil and I truly believe that I also needed practice after a long time. I’m sure most of you who speak a second or third language understand. When you’re used to speaking a language for a long time, shifting to another is a huge challenge.
I was assigned to take do language practice with two beautiful kids, Julia (11) and Gabriel (9). Although I had experience with teaching English to Japanese children before, I didn’t have any formal training in childhood education. I’m a fashion major who really wanted to be a pre-school teacher growing up. I just didn’t have the guts to specialize it in the University. During my time, to be cool, famous and pretty, you have to be that hipster fashionista kid who walks around with a head to toe statement, heading her way to the Arts and Design building of the campus. Damn, I wish I didn’t wish to be a cool kid and took up Education knowing it will serve me well today.
Dealing with kids Julia and Gabriel’s age is overwhelming especially when you don’t really know anything about children, psychologically. When you tell a 3-year old to “stop,” he will because he doesn’t know much stuff about life yet. If you tell an 11-year old to stop, they will tell you to stop too. In the end, you will accept the defeat because it’s just so tiring to fight, especially with children.
Every day, their mother reminded me, “Trisha, please be patient with the children.” I didn’t feel like I needed patience because I always had it. When my third day of teaching finished, I understood what kind of patience their mother was talking about. They are out of control! They wouldn’t sleep early; it will take 40 minutes for them to get up in the morning; they would raise their voices when they’re asked to do something they didn’t want to, and so on. It was unbelievable! I was like, “it’s 2014 and kids are already like this. What more when the time comes that I will have my own?” OMG. How would kids be like in 5-10 years?
They only listen to me when their mother is around and I’ve had enough after four days. I am here to teach them how to use English on an everyday basis and I will make sure they do. One afternoon, while we were on our way to football practice, I was asking them questions about their day at school (in English) and they wouldn’t respond. Silence. Nothing. Julia then whispered to me that they are not comfortable speaking English in front of a taxi driver (literally Jul, you’re behind him) and I understand why. I was once in her situation so I let it go.
I started speaking in Spanish…
… and that was the first time they ever heard me speak it. Their eyes went to why-didn’t-you-tell-me-sooner to what-the-f-this-Chinese-girl-speaks-Spanish-fluently. Yeah, don’t ask. I’ve always been Chinese here. Then, they started asking questions in Spanish. After four days with them, that was the first time they asked about my country, where I learned to speak Spanish, where have I travelled, why I have this accent, how many siblings I have, do I prefer dogs or cats, what’s my favorite football club, did I support Argentina during the World Cup and so on. It was amazing! I will never forget that 20-min cab ride because that was my first actual conversation with Julia and Gabriel. After that, we made some ground rules. We can only speak Spanish outside the house, nothing more. We still need to practice their English and they agreed.
From then on, they always obeyed whenever I say “stop” or “enough.” We already have a relationship. I am not just that Chinese-girl-slash-English-teacher anymore. I am their friend. Every day, they would share stuff about how their day went and that made me really happy. I didn’t even force it.
17 months and counting. I have to give myself a pat on the back for learning how the locals speak throughout my travels in South America. I’ve met a handful who never put any effort into learning the language and that made them distant to other people. Well, I didn’t mean that those who don’t put effort have lesser friends. We’re not counting who has the most number of friends here! What I am trying to say is, learning and loving a language as your own makes you develop more genuine relationships with others, particularly if you’re an expatriate. Today, I am very proud to say that I can express myself in Spanish and I really worked hard for that. I am just filled with energy and enthusiasm to learn more Spanish!
I encourage you, all of you, if you ever got to the point of finishing this long article, please, exert an effort in learning a language especially if you are traveling long term. Aside from not getting Alzheimer’s disease when you get old, you will build new friendships and the “live like a local” will be a tangible experience.
P.S. While I am writing this, Julia kept asking me to braid her hair. It’s 12:40am and I am dead tired. We baked cookies today with her friends. I guess this is better than not speaking to each other at all. Zzzzzz.