Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Shpeekin' Inglis. (B2 or not B2.)

It's several weeks since I wrote a post and in that time, I haven't really read anyone else's blog or even thought about blogging. Blame Facebook! So many of my friends from blogworld are now Facebook friends too and when life is a bit hectic,then a quick scan of status posts makes me feel like I'm still in touch.

But here's a brief round up....

  • Romy's performance, which wrote about in my last post. 
  • Hot on the heels of this incredible production, we had end of term exams; 
  • Ruy had archery competitions - where he walked off with one 3rd and two 1st prizes. 
  • And my students at work had their English B2 exams.

And here's some detail, as much for me to remember it all by as for a blog post in its own right...

The exam preparation was quite time consuming for me as we did the Trinity syllabus, which is very interactive and requires a lot of extra input from the teacher! (At least, this teacher seemed to put in a lot of extra hours....there is always a lot to learn.)

B2 indicates the level of English that a foreign student has to reach in order to study at an English University. And I have been preparing a class of 10 people from the offices and research department in the factory where I am working. It's been very interesting, to say the least, teaching a group of adults who have different backgrounds, different experiences of learning English but who have close and friendly working relationships with each other. Our classes - held over the lunch break twice a week - have occasionally been utterly rowdy!

I know from teaching teenagers and younger children that I've always had a sneaky soft spot for the noisy, energetic individuals who liven up proceedings - or sometimes disrupt them - and who keep you on your toes. I could name several that I will never forget and I was delighted the other day to bump into one of them, who will be about 16 now, I think. When he saw me, instead of the usual polite greeting that I occasionally get from ex-students, he opened his arms wide and gave me a big hug and said how happy he was to see me! Made my day.

Teaching adults is different. But my B2 class has been very different! There's a great phrase that sums up how it's felt teaching this lively and disparate group of people - it's been like herding cats! We have had since mid-February to start the work, which is in two main parts - written and spoken, with the emphasis on communication. The written part took place at the end of May and a few people had problems with the timing...nothing we can do about that now! The spoken part consisted of preparing a portfolio of three writing tasks done in different styles - letter, report and creative - and which can be corrected as many times as needed before submission. The teacher can't directly correct but can indicate where mistakes have been made. The final results were, in my opinion, really well done and I was pleased with everyone's efforts. At the actual interview, students go in individually and converse with the examiner for about 12 minutes. They have around 4 minutes to talk about a subject or topic of their choice. My group had an incredibly wide range of topics - from a disastrous honeymoon to producing specialist plastic film products; from a childhood in France to a childhood in Transylvania; and from the guitar to business planning! In addition, they had to talk about their portfolio, including asking the examiner some questions and leading an interactive session to find out details of a strange or unusual situation that the examiner introduces.

The examiner was in for quite an afternoon!

The date for the interview was 25th June - which just happened to be my birthday - and my students were due in both before and after the lunch break. There were three - and I picked the three that might be most nervous - before lunch and they arrived all together and definitely nervous. The other six were after lunch. (One person chose not to enter the exam, but had been in our classes - if you wonder where the 10th had gone!) But I'd met the examiner beforehand - a very sweet, gentle and rather eccentric (at least so she appeared to the Spanish folk) retired FE teacher, who spoke slowly and calmly and very clearly - and so I was sure that my students wouldn't have a problem. And the first one emerged smiling broadly. Then my only dubious candidate went in - she'd been very busy and rather stressed for a few weeks previously and I felt her speaking had actually deteriorated, rather than improved and I was a bit concerned. However, she too emerged with a big smile and a huge sense of relief. She said she surprised herself with how fluent she had been! And the final morning candidate left the room, more than 12 minutes later, and punched the air with delight!!

I went with the examiner and my friend from the Academy for lunch in the park - a glorious spot in full view of the castle. The examiner was enchanted with the place and sweetly anxious to know how the candidates seemed to be when they left the exam. I told her that they seemed to have enjoyed their conversation and felt that it had gone well. (Maybe it would help in the results, maybe not!!)

And then they arrived....a group of my B2 students came to the park BEFORE their exam...and I could hear them clearly speaking in English, ordering a beer or four! Eeek!!!

As the examiner went back to prepare for the afternoon session, I scurried over to my group just in time for George to see my face and change his order to a non-alcoholic beer. They'd already had two.
Elena was the first of the afternoon interviews and she definitely was going to be a nervous candidate especially for the interactive session, which for her was a potential nightmare. She pushes herself hard and has put in an incredible amount of work in preparation and likes to know she has her facts clear. She has given us some unintentional laughs over the period as she's tried to be 'spontaneous' in the interactive practice.... However, after two beers, she seemed remarkably relaxed. Jolly even. And on the verge of ordering another beer! I had to drag her away and we had an hilarious twenty minutes waiting for her exam, where she never stopped talking with Toni in English. I only hoped the examiner wouldn't notice - although to me, it was quite obvious that Elena's usual somewhat formal demeanour had disappeared. Fortunately, she came out smiling, though complaining that it had gone far too quickly and that she had lots more she wanted to talk about - her topic was Equality for Women.

The next two were utterly sober and quiet and sensible. One came out not too happy but as he's from the Pays Basco and much less extroverted than the rest of the group, it was in keeping. He speaks very well but he isn't the most interactive of types - and when the examiner asked whether he wanted to ask her any questions (a cue to do so), he said, no thank you!

Whilst the other candidate was in, the remaining three from the park emerged....full of beans. Lots of beans. There has been a long standing joke about using the word 'subtle' during the classes, on account of the very direct approach of one person. He's worked very hard in softening his style of writing, which bordered on brutal, but still has a tendency to pronounce the word 'shuttle'. It was the ambition of the group to use the word at least once during their interview, so the three remaining candidates were practising. In whispers, so we didn't disturb the exam in progress. It was not reassuring, though it was very comical.

Eventually, all three had been in, done their bit and come out. Then they left to return to work. As the last one closed the door, the examiner emerged from her room. I swear she looked exhausted! And she said, 'Well they were a lively bunch, weren't they? Are they yours?' - and I SO wished those last three had still been around, then I could have said - 'THAT'S subtlety!'

The next morning, the students from the Academy had their exams and then Toni, Becky (the native English teacher at the Academy, who took over from me when I left) and I waited for the examiner to finish off and give us the feedback - and the results - from the interviews.  We were all on tenterhooks and most concerned that our students had done their best. (I was also worried that the examiner might come out and tell me I shouldn't allow my candidates to enter for their interviews in a state of inebriation.) But eventually, we had our minds put at rest. All my students passed - and a few of them passed really well indeed. Alberto - with his honeymoon story and great sense of humour - had impressed enough to get 3 As, which is fantastic.

I went back to the factory to share the news and there was much whooping and hugging and a great sense of relief. We had still to wait until late July for the results of the written exams, but as the spoken part amounts to 70% of the exam, most people feel they've made the grade. And they are also keen to continue onto the next level. I may have work for a bit longer yet.

Thank you if you've made it to the end of this quite personal ramble. I don't know who will have done, but if you are or have been a teacher, you'll understand the anxiety and concerns that you have when it's exam time. And at least I've only had 9 students!! I know that they are all pleased to have passed - one or two definitely thinking they could have done better and one or two feeling hugely relieved - but I suspect my own delight and relief almost matches theirs.

And now BREATHE! It's holiday time.


  1. As an ex- language teacher I can share your excitement at your group's results. I'd like to hear the disastrous honeymoon story too.

    1. Nerves and least I lost a kilo! The honeymoon story is very funny, but you need to hear it from Alberto. I'll try and arrange it. Axxx

  2. When young and impecunious I used to cram foreign students for the Bar exams, so, yes, I do remember how it feels when they succeed! (Mark you, how some of mine did so is beyond me...)

    1. Is that 'foreign' and 'Bar' in English? If so, double wow! It's a good feeling when they pass. Only one student didn't pass on the day - and it spoilt everything for the teachers at the Academy, even though they knew a pass was unlikely for this particular candidate. (Pushy parents...)

  3. I have all my life had teachers among family & friends but none have brought to life what teaching means to them in the way your post does. Or, more likely, you are an exceptionally brilliant teacher!

    1. Oh er, Nilly! Steady on....I'm definitely not exceptionally brilliant but I am definitely enthusiastic! And definitely engaged and I do think that helps. I could almost write a book about what has gone on in our classes in the past five months - but no one would believe it! It's been a ball and I am glad that some of this fun has come through my post. Thank you for you lovely words. Axxx

  4. I too have teachers in my wider family and your experience and enthusiasm ring very true to what they have told me of their own teaching careers. I know how much you've enjoyed your teaching and how hard you have worked, so I'm thrilled for you that the exams went so well and your students were so successful. Well don,e the lot of you! :-)

    1. Funny thing is, Perpetua, I spent my whole life avoiding being a teacher. It was what everyone expected me to do and I resisted! I enjoyed the job I ended up in back in the UK but am loving letting the teacher out in me now!

      Thank you! Axxx


I welcome your comments - it makes blogging even more fun to know someone is reading!