Clases particulares – the good, the bad, and the cradle robber

One of the stores in Plaza de la Luna teaches a Chinese word a day

In early November, after talking with both Emily and myself, the bilingual coordinator at our school posted a sign-up sheet for those interested in private English lessons (of the paying variety). This one piece of paper opened up vast opportunities for me, and since mid-November I have been meeting one-on-one with various teachers and students for what are commonly known as clases particulares.

The first person to approach me was a French teacher at the school. She wanted lessons not for herself, but for her two daughters. They are the only school-age kids I give private lessons to, and since November I have been meeting with them every week. The older daughter is especially keen on learning English and soaks up her second language like a sponge. The younger of the two girls is at a very basic level, much lower than the kids I am used to working with at school. Luckily, she is interested in discussing and comparing our two cultures–she has inquired about gospel music, prom, etc. It is challenging for me to think of ways to make learning interesting for her while working with a limited vocabulary. While the older girl and I can talk for an hour without pause, the younger girl and I use flashcards, play memory games, and slay quite a lot of hangman.

Vacation Survival English is the name I give to my meetings with one of the math teachers. She wants to know conversational English for traveling purposes, so we go over one specific grammar rule before acting out scenarios that could take place in a hotel, an airport, or a store.

Another teacher I’ve been meeting with also wants to perfect his English in the hopes of passing a language exam. I got to know this profe when I began a (free) English conversation hour during our 25-minute recess on Tuesdays. During the one-on-one sessions, however, we review grammar basics, discuss differences between British and American English, and sharpen pronunciation.

If you are still reading, you are probably wondering:

1)      If I will say that I have time to meet with anyone else

2)       When I will stop babbling about this topic and post some more pictures already!

I do meet with one more person, but these sessions are different, I promise. I meet with yet a third teacher from my school twice a week, and it was her idea to structure the meetings as an intercambio, or language exchange, instead of paying for an hour of English. I jumped at the chance to practice my Spanish. Each Wednesday and Thursday we have an hour in English followed by an hour in castellano. During the English portion we work on philosophical terminology, as this teacher is preparing to take a test that could qualify her to teach philosophy in English. I ask practice questions that may appear on the exam then listen to responses about lesson plans and group projects and classroom management. We practice pronunciation: Aristotle, Locke, empiricism, rationalism.

During the Spanish hour we focus heavily on conversation–speaking and pronunciation are my weakest points. My notebook always comes along for the ride, and I ask my partner to explain certain phrases and colloquialisms I have come across but don’t quite understand. Above all, it is useful (and humbling) to have someone listen closely to each syllable and correct me when I falter.

Since we are helping each other, it is easier to take and impart criticism. These moments are distinct from simply speaking with a friend. I can’t help but marvel at the richness of both languages, and still get excited when we realize idioms match up or differ greatly. One example? The Spanish word for “cradle robber” (asaltacunas), conjures up the same image as its English counterpart. It could be argued that my Spanish has reached a new level if I know how to hold a conversation about cradle robbers….but that is a story for another day. I’ve got to prepare my clases for this week.

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  1. So, will Chinese be the 37th language you will learn?? If you go by the store every day, you can acquire quite a large Chinese vocabulary!!

    • Cassandra

      I pass by the store several times a week, but nothing ever sticks. I think I need to hear the pronunciation…

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