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How I Use my University Degree as a Language Assistant

I want to stress that, before beginning my placement with Meddeas as a Language Assistant and a Cultural Ambassador, I had never undertaken any form of teaching whatsoever. This lack of experience led me to have many concerns, almost all of which were unfounded.

My principal concern was that I could potentially find the teaching experience monotonous. I have always loved doing a variety of activities and couldn’t picture myself doing the same thing every day. Perhaps you are the same?

How wrong I was to be worried! Being a Language Assistant and a Cultural Ambassador with Meddeas is such a wonderfully diverse experience. It is anything but boring.

Getting Teaching Experience as a Language Assistant

Seville streets
As I live in Seville, I get to walk down beautiful streets like this every day

One of the things that I enjoy the most about my Meddeas’ experience is the fact that the teaching experience is extremely wide-ranging. In fact, although I wasn’t expecting it, I often get to bring in aspects from what I studied during my degree, into my Language Assistant activities. This is because my degree subject, Geography, overlaps with one of the most important aspects of being a Language Assistant: being a Cultural Ambassador.

My Duties: Language Assistant and Cultural Ambassador

On the surface, your role as a Language Assistant may seem solely focused on improving your students’ English language skills. While this is certainly an important aspect of your role, there is another equally important aspect.

Being a Meddeas’ Language Assistant is not only about helping children learn a foreign language but also about helping them to understand the cultural differences between your home country and Spain.

As a Cultural Ambassador, I have the privilege of sharing our way of life with our Spanish students, some of whom have never even left Spain. Being a proud British citizen, it’s my duty to explain all the idiosyncrasies of British life: why we love drinking tea, why we are all so terribly polite, why our plugs have three pins rather than two, etc.

Being a Cultural Ambassador is great as it gives me the chance to tell the students how much I love my country and to help them learn my native language and some differences between England and Spain – that they would not otherwise know.

Myself with the British flag in the school entrance
As a Cultural Ambassador, I explain the cultural differences between Great Britan and Spain to my students

Before beginning the program, I studied Geography at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. I currently teach at an all-boys school located in Seville and am enjoying every minute of it!

My Geography Bachelor Degree and ESL Activities

As a Geography graduate, I am used to studying different cultures and ways of life. I draw heavily on aspects of my degree and the subject I love in my role as a Cultural Ambassador. The way in which I utilize my university degree within my lessons changes a lot depending on the age of the students I am helping to teach with the main teacher. I tend to teach younger students with games and activities, as this helps them to both stay engaged and learn to enjoy the language learning process.

Games involving Geography have been some of the most popular I have done with my students. One game I played with my students involved matching the name of the European country to the country’s relevant flag. Once matched up, I asked them to describe the flag, which helped them to remember vocabulary to do with patterns and colours.

Another one of my student’s favourite game is a fast-paced game that involves a lot of action. Each child gets a fly-swat and has to hit the word I say. Once you’ve been to the Meddeas Induction Meeting, you’ll know this game very well! While you normally do this with words, I did it with the flags as well in order to reinforce the English names of countries, and it went down a treat.

Activities with Secondary Students

Although my degree is somewhat useful with my younger students, it’s during my time with my secondary students that I really get to apply the exciting concepts I learned during my degree.

My favourite part of geography was always human geography, the study of human communities and cultures, and the general way in which humans interact with the planet. The older a student is, the more important it is to deal with topics they consider to be relevant, and that interest not only them but also you.

If you are not engaged with the topic at hand as a Language Assistant, how can you expect your students to be engaged? Bringing in news articles that relate to human geography allows me not only to push my students, but also to enjoy thoroughly our discussions. Recently, we’ve discussed a range of environmental topics, focusing especially on the terrible fires in Australia.

Not only did we discuss the extent of the fires, but also how social media has been used, both positively and negatively, to spread information about the fires. Discussions such as this, that feel relevant to the students, greatly increase engagement and participation within my lessons.

The notion of sustainability and its importance to humanity is another topic that has dominated my discussions with my older students, partly due to the fact my students find it interesting.

Questions regarding sustainability and the environmental impact of humanity have led me to hold profound conversations with my students where they self-assess their own habits in relation to the environment. It has also been extremely interesting for me to see how our cultural differences frame the manner in which we approach global issues such as sustainability.

A Great Opportunity to Share your Language and Culture

In conclusion, there’s more to being a Meddeas’ Language Assistant than simply correcting speaking mistakes or helping with a child’s pronunciation. We get the privilege of being Cultural Ambassadors and share our language and culture. This is an incredible opportunity to share not only our respective cultures but also our respective passions.

My self with fellow Meddeas Language Assistants
My fellow Meddeas’ Language Assistants and Cultural Ambassadors

While I studied Geography and this has been the focus of my article, I know fellow Meddeas’ Language Assistants who have been able to use their passions for music, history, and drama to connect with their students and enhance their overall teaching experience.

Using my degree within my ESL lessons not only helps my students to engage, but also allows me to express my interests throughout my lessons. I highly recommend you to try it when you become a Meddeas’ Language Assistant!

By Sahan P., 2019/2020

18 June, 2020

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