Inés Orselly (French), in a history class at the Christine Picasso school. Migue Fernández
Elisa, Evans and Inés: language and culture from the native perspective

Elisa, Evans and Inés: language and culture from the native perspective

Teaching helpers. Almost 280 young people of 18 different nationalities have joined Malaga's schools as conversation assistants

Francisco Gutiérrez


Friday, 10 November 2023, 13:44

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Getting to know another country, learning its language, making new friends and, at the same time, carrying out an activity that is enriching for them. This year, 277 young people from 18 different nationalities have joined bilingual public schools in Malaga province, as well as the Official Language School, as conversation assistants. They work alongside the teachers to help the pupils, and they even receive a grant to help cover their expenses. There is nothing better than learning a foreign language with native speakers, the most authentic voice.

Three young conversation assistants told SUR how their experience is going. Elisa Mauri, 26, Italian, who is at the Official Language School; Evans Ukasinovic, 24, a Canadian at the Doctor Fleming public school and Inés Orselly, 20, at the Christine Picasso secondary school as a French assistant. Her role is to support teachers who teach non-language subjects, promoting oral skills and knowledge of her culture and traditions.

Elisa Mauri is an Italian language assistant at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas. The young woman has studied language and literature and during her time as a student she did five Erasmus stays, including Seville, Valencia and the Canary Islands. This is her first year as a language assistant and she chose an Andalusian province. "When they called me and offered me Malaga, I was delighted to accept," she said. She started in September and will be working at the centre until the end of May, like the rest of her colleagues.

Every week we plan activities that we present in class, those that encourage conversation

She said that her experience at the EOI in Malaga "has been very interesting, the students are very passionate and this makes you get much more involved. They study Italian for fun, not out of necessity, and it shows. Every week we plan activities that we present in class. I was surprised by the good level [of Italian] they have. You can tell that this is a good school, with very well-prepared teachers," she said. With the students, she tries to "teach them idiomatic expressions and to speak a lot, it's the most difficult thing, to lose their embarrassment", which is why, together with their tutor, they try to plan activities that encourage conversation.

Elisa Mauri (Italian), with one of the Italian groups at the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas Migue Fernández

She shares a flat, about half an hour walk from the school in Martíricos. A friend gave her the phone number of someone looking for a flatmate. "We met by video call and we hit it off very well. In Italy she lives in a mountainous region in the centre, so the beach is what she values most about Malaga. She also likes to walk around, its streets, monuments and museums. On the negative side, she pointed out the somewhat high costs. "They seem to be designed for tourists, not for those who live here," she said. As the grant she receives "doesn't cover my expenses", Elisa also gives private Italian classes.

Evans Ukasinovic arrived from Canada to the Doctor Fleming public school in the capital. This is his second year as an English conversation assistant in Spain. Last year he was in Almería and wanted to repeat the experience "in a slightly bigger city", although his stay in Almería "was extraordinary", he said.

This Canadian history graduate arrived in Spain with some uncertainty. "I knew almost nothing about the country," he said. Evans did have some problems finding accommodation. He had to spend more than a week in a tourist flat until he found a flat to share with other students.

Evans Ukasinovic (English), dressed up for Halloween with students at Colegio Doctor Fleming Migue Fernández

In this short time Evans is fully integrated in the school, said Francisco Caballero, tutor of the group. Evans is grateful for both the facilities he has been offered at the schoo l and for the warm welcome he has received. And also the friendly nature of the people of Malaga: "At the bank, the supermarket or the pharmacy they are always willing to help me," he said. As he wants to become a teacher, this expneil still terience is bringing him closer to teaching. And, of course, the added benefit of getting to know other cities and countries.

At the age of 20, Inés Orselly has already graduated with a law degree from the University of Toulouse (in France, the degree course is a three-year course, plus a two-year master's degree). As a student, she helped foreigners learn French, which is why teaching has always appealed to her. Spanish was her second language during her studies, so she wanted to learn it better, and she found the option of being a conversation assistant very interesting. She is at Christine Picasso high school, a French bilingual school.

In history class, she supports the teacher Raquel Rodríguez Aguilera by helping with grammar, providing games or opening discussions with the students in French.

Inés has been surprised by the good level of French, especially in the final years of ESO (equivalent of secondary school). She is also grateful to the teachers for all the help they have given her and to the students for being so good to her: "I was afraid that seeing me so young they wouldn't take me seriously," she joked. She lives in a flat shared with Erasmus students. Finding accommodation has been one of the most stressful moments. "It wasn't easy and, doing it from outside of Spain, it seemed more risky. She said Malaga city has surprised her "pleasantly. I can walk to school, there are museums, monuments and the beach! You can't ask for more". Every day she finds herself "better adapted".

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