In the UK and 14 countries around the world, Language Assistants are preparing to move to a new country to teach their native language and to improve their own language skills and cultural awareness. Jennifer Murray from Glasgow, Scotland who is blind and hearing impaired, blogs about her year as an English Language Assistant in Spain with the British Council, and how the experience has changed her.
This article originally appeared on the British Council blog - thanks to Jennifer Murray and the Language Assistants team at the British Council for sharing it with us.
In October 2011, I began my year abroad adventure in Murcia, south-east Spain. Prior to starting my placement as an English Language Assistant, organised by the British Council, I spent a week in Murcia with my family to get to know the people who would be supporting me during my stay. This was essential as it helped me know what help would be available to me as a blind person.
Although I did a preparation visit, I still wasn’t ready to adapt into a new way of life, and went over with far too many expectations. When these expectations were not met at first, I struggled to cope and it took me a few months to feel settled. For the first four months of my stay, another English Language Assistant stayed with me once a week. I made a true friend for life, who supported me during the difficult first few months and who gave me advice when I needed it most.
It took a little time to make friends, but gradually this all changed. After Christmas, I started to do more activities with my support worker outside of teaching. With the other English Language Assistants, we shared our experiences and worries, and supported each other whenever any of us needed it. It was like a big international family – if you did not meet everyone in person, you knew of them through other people. I got to know people from around the world, including far-off places such as America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
At times, due to my hearing loss, I struggled to follow a conversation in Spanish where there were a lot of people talking at the same time, but towards the end I could understand practically anything that anyone said to me! At the end of my stay, the local radio station did an interview with me regarding my time in Spain. It was very nerve-wracking for me as I had never done an interview entirely in Spanish before. However, I took up the opportunity and although I felt I could have done better, I was happy I did it as everything went fine in the end!
The staff and pupils at the bilingual primary school where I worked were very welcoming and friendly, and accepted me as part of the team from day one. Each day was different. In class with the younger ones, I played guessing games and used songs, stories and flashcards. Whenever any of the teachers were away, I used to take the classes on my own, with the help of my support worker when I needed it. At the start of my teaching placement, I was not very comfortable doing action songs with the children in the younger classes. I don’t know why, but I did not feel comfortable using body language in order to express myself. Perhaps it had something to do with my visual impairment. Despite this, I quickly combated my anxiety and began to use my body language a lot with the younger children to help them learn English in interactive ways.
After Christmas, I loved every moment of the year abroad and the months just seemed to go by quicker and quicker. Towards the end, I did not want to leave! This year abroad changed me as a person. I feel more confident, my Spanish has improved dramatically and I am seriously considering doing something similar again in the near future, either in France or in another part of Spain.
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Jennifer Murray, aged 22, is from Glasgow, Scotland. As a result of being born early, she is totally blind and has recently returned from a year abroad in Spain as an English Language Assistant via the British Council. As well as her visual impairment, Jennifer also has hearing loss, so wears a hearing-aid. She is studying Languages (Spanish/French) at university, and will be going into the third year of her degree this September.