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The three language conundrum…

Julie with her Spanish teacher students
Julie with her Spanish teacher students

Jay Hirons, Julie Staley and their team tutor at the kip McGrath Education Centre in Palma, specialising in teaching maths, English, Catalan, Castilian, business studies, and sciences to the bi and trilingual children in Mallorca. They offer classes outside of regular school hours and have established themselves as an important cornerstone of education for many of the island’s children who are studying at state and private schools. Now Kip McGrath has thrown open its doors to other teachers in order to help them to prepare to teach in English as well as Castilian and Catalan.

The Balearic Government created quite a stir in September 2013 when it initiated TIL, the decree which insists that students of the Balearic Islands’ compulsory education are taught in three languages, Catalan, Castilian and English. The intention is that the introduction of English as the third language will help Balearic students to communicate across Europe and will empower them to succeed internationally which although a noble aim is quite a demand to make.

Kip McGrath Mallorca, tutoring, private lessons Teachers went on strike in protest to this compulsory introduction asking how a Government could expect teachers to learn to teach in a third language in such a short time and with no support or training.  That’s a pretty good question and Jay, Julie and Martyn at Kip McGrath decided that it was time to show solidarity with their colleagues and lend a hand.

At the end of last year Kip McGrath launched a language scholarship programme designed specifically for their fellow school teachers in Mallorca, and the results have been fantastic. “We wanted to give back to our community so we deliberately reached out to the schools to offer our help. We didn’t know how we would be received but we are very pleased to say that we are currently educating a dozen educators” said Julie Staley.

The teachers who come from a mixture of primary and secondary schools are extremely dedicated, coming to lessons after their own school days have finished and settling down with the Kip McGrath teachers for language practice. Catalina Peňafor Valcaperros who teaches Contemporary History and History of Art at San Caetano in Palma is adamant that it’s worth the work: “Learning to teach in another language is a lot of work, but we do it because we love our job.”

It’s not as simple as just learning a language either as methodologies have to change with the language. Cristina Pons Anglada who teaches history at Arcangel Sant Rafel brings up a very good point: “Is the goal that the student learns the subject or the language? That’s the question that we have been wrestling with”.  Whereas Joan Ginard who teaches Technology and Physics at Aula Balear thinks that having to learn how to teach in another language is honing his skills. “I think being made to present my lessons in another language has made me a better teacher”.

All of the teachers who are studying with Kip McGrath are making progress. “We are tutoring them to Cambridge English First Certificate level. Some of them are already ready to take the examination and others will take longer to get there. But they are all improving” said Martyn.  And they are full of praise and gratitude for the generosity of the Kip McGrath tutors for committing time and resources to helping them. “It’s important to us that we participate and we know that children who we teach at Kip will also directly benefit from their school teachers have improved levels of English, so everyone wins in the end”, said Jay Hirons.

The process is not a quick or easy one though as Catalina wanted to point out. “Right now I can go to a class with only a piece of chalk. The transition period for me to teach in Spanish to teaching in English is going to be slow and difficult. We don’t even have the text books in the right language yet”.

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  1. I just found your blog and can see that it is going to be very interesting! I speak, read and wrtie Spanish and, of course, English and live in the US. I worked for many years assisting in Kindergarten and First grade Spanish literacy classes, but have now retired.
    The title of this post caught my eye because I have just finished reading a book by Lucia Graves entitled, “A Woman Unknown.” She is the daughter of the English poet, Robert Graves and was raised primarily in Majorca. She writes about being trilingual. Her native language is English. She was born in England and her father moved the family to Majorca in 1946. She then learned to speak Spanish and Catalan and her education in Majorca was in Catalan. She talks a lot about moving between the three languages. She went on to study at Oxford and later became a translator, translating her own father’s books and others. She now lives in London. If you have not read the book I think you would find it very interesting, especially the stories of oppression under Franco’s regime.
    Good for those lovely teachers learning English to help their students learn it, too.
    If I only lived in Majorca I would be there volunteering to help them and loving it.!
    I’ll be back reading your blog!

    1. This is a very late comment but I cannot resist supporting the views of Caterina above. “A Woman Unknown.” is a wonderful book and clearly shows that writing skills can be hereditary as is the case with two of her brothers William and Thomas. Williams autobiography “Wild Olives: Life in Majorca with Robert Graves” is also a great read. Tomas have written several books, both in English and in Catalan, such as “Bread & Oil: Majorcan cultures last stand” and “A Home in Majorca. A practical guide to the traditional house and rural life” also must reads.


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