Trainee teacher Kate Walker talks about her formative first lessons with a group of adult learners in Mallorca .
Four hundred years ago, Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote: "Forewarned, forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory." The advice didn't help Don Quixote de la Mancha much, but I'm hoping it will help my six Mallorcan students and me as we embark upon our first language lessons together. After completing two weeks of intensive Spanish lessons, I am only too aware of the potential difficulties ahead in my role as a trainee teacher.
Three of my students work within the tourism industry and want to learn English in order to progress within their chosen careers. Jorge and Inéz are local hotel workers, while Erika is a German tourist representative from Cologne. As my students know the elementary rules of the English language, I decide to focus on vocabulary that will prove useful for both the hotel workers and the students learning English for other reasons.
The six pupils seem nervous in the stifling heat of a June Mallorcan morning. Resolutely, I remove the first object from my suitcase: a hotel reception bell. Its high-pitched "Ding!" quickly draws curious looks and laughter from my students, followed by rapid chatter between an elderly man and a young woman in Catalan. I wonder if they are questioning my sanity.
We run over the vocabulary necessary for making a hotel reservation, including room types and the length of stay. Most of all, my students want to be able to use their new vocabulary during conversations, so the lesson focuses on speaking. Split into three pairs, I distribute prepared cards that illustrate the kind of reservation required - with bathroom, breakfast included, sea view, etc - which encourages the learners to make specific requests in complete sentences.
Marta and Erika seem the strongest students from the group, so I ask them to demonstrate, one acting as the reservations clerk, the other as the customer. The latter hits the bell in a scene reminiscent of Faulty Towers, and the students clearly enjoy the role-play and the language it enables them to use.
While reflecting on the highs and lows of my first lesson, I am struck by the disparities among the students in terms of age, profession, gender and national origin. I need to provide an opportunity that will allow social engagement during the learning experience. The topic fit for purpose is food.
As I wait for my students to arrive for the next lesson, I pull the second resource from my suitcase: a collection of British food-magazine articles and clippings. Following the test-teach-test method, I introduce my students to the names of local and international foodstuffs using pictures, restaurant menus and some realia. In particular, we focus on ordering in a restaurant setting in pairs, one student acting as the customer and the other as the waiter.
Speaking from my own experience, a strong motivation for learning a new language is a desire to understand the culture in which the language is spoken. For that reason, I introduce and explain some traditional British food, which my students in the hospitality industry are already familiar with. But some of the other students are surprised to discover that curry has become a staple of the British diet.
As it is lunchtime, we move on to the final component of my lesson: the sandwich shop. I spread my real ingredients on a long table, together with plates and cutlery brought from the school kitchen. I mix up the pairs, inviting three of the students to act as sandwich makers and the other three learners to act as customers. Using the vocabulary and sentences they have just learned, the students make sandwiches and salads for one another.
Marta - a university student and part-time waitress - particularly enjoys this activity as it engages her kinesthetic learning style. To my delight, my students sit down and get to know one another over lunch, before heading home for a siesta.
The following week, Palma de Mallorca is stifling, the island and its residents enveloped by heat. While Mallorca's glorious weather is one of the main attractions for many tourists, it makes for an uncomfortable learning environment. At the outset of my third lesson, Alejandro - a 72-year-old retired construction worker - suggests we meet early in the morning for our remaining lesson. In the meantime, we focus on a topic of universal interest: the weather.
Although my students are in the early stages of learning English, I show an online BBC weather forecast in order to introduce some of the vocabulary. Again, my students are keen to speak, so after using a simple worksheet reinforcing weather conditions, I pull more resources from my suitcase: a giant wall map of Scotland and some weather symbols. I show my students where the main cities of Scotland are located and then ask them to write a short weather forecast in pairs, which they will present to the rest of the class. Of course, students are keen to use the most unusual weather predictions, resulting in hailstones in Glasgow, and thunder and lightning in Edinburgh.
I am pleased because two of the less forthcoming class members - Alejandro and Adrián, an administrator at the Universitat de les Illes Balears - are much more confident today when speaking in English in front of their classmates. But overall, the class is much less energetic than on previous occasions, although I suspect this may be down to the heat.
My previous lessons have all been classroom-based, which seems a shame given the surrounding landscape. I am also conscious of the fact that I have not delivered any lessons that have engaged my audio learners. In order to rectify this, I send my students on a fact-finding mission in Palma de Mallorca, the hometown of three of my learners.
Split into two teams of three, I give both groups a small tape recorder, which contains details of the separate routes they must take and the information they must gather: the number of restaurants located on Avigunda Jaume III, the cost of a two-night stay in an double room with bathroom in the Hotel Saratoga, the chicken dishes served at Ca'n Carlos, and the dates one can rent a boat from the harbour. My students complete the task surprisingly quickly, with Team B - named RCD Mallorca after the local football team - returning to the language centre first. While we wait for Team A, Inéz - a receptionist at a small hotel on the island - comments on how differently one views the city from a tourist's perspective, a point that we later discuss as a group.
This is my final lesson with this group of students, and I feel somewhat flat. Alejandro smiles as he hands me a small card in an envelope, and my students wave as they leave the classroom for the final time. I remove the street map I had been using from the notice board and return it to my suitcase. Slowly, I open the card. It reads:
Turn right as you exit the school. Take the third street on the left and cross the bridge. Turn right down Avinguda Santa Maria and you will arrive at house 22.
Alejandro, Inéz, Marta, Jorge, Erika and Adrián
I walk, card in hand, and arrive at an unassuming home on a back street of Palma de Mallorca. I'm about to knock at the door when a pair of wooden shutters open on the third floor. An elderly women looks down at me and grins. "Un momento, por favor," she calls, and I can hear footsteps from within. The door opens and Alejandro emerges into the dazzling sunlight wearing his beloved RCD Mallorca shirt, beckoning me to enter. I find my five students seated around the kitchen table, and realise that my experience as a trainee teacher has not only aided my personal development, both as a person and as a practitioner, but it has also established cross-cultural relationships, irrespective of factors such as age, nationality, gender and language.
"I hope you like curry," grins Alejandro.
· This piece was entered for the Suzanne Furstner Foundation scholarship award. Click here for more details