One of my big accomplishments of the summer was to finally finish up the core “Basic” classes to reach A2 certification in the Catalan language. While Americans would assume that I am “fluent” as they do with anyone who can say more than two sentences in a language, I am officially at a low intermediate level with the language. Some days, when not working or speaking in English very much, I am probably at a mid intermediate level, but this is extremely inconsistent and I doubt I could pass the B1 test if faced with it.
For anyone interested in this quest, you can see why I did it, how the process works and my account of B1 and B2. The B3 class started out much the same as the B2 class. There wasn’t as much attrition from B2 to B3 as there was from B1 to B2. I suppose this is because people assume that they’re rather close to the certification and they should finish it. It also helps the CPNL only gives you a year to complete all these levels so there is an immediacy to get it done on that front as well.
As I said, my class was similar to B2 in that there were a couple of South Americans, various Europeans from countries such as Italy as well as others, one guy from Pakistan, a girl from Cameroon, and one girl from Morocco even. There was a solid quarter of the class that could run circles around me as far as functional knowledge of the language, 50% that was at the same level, and the rest, somewhere below.
While the composition of the class was not terribly noteworthy, the first day was given that we had a substitute teacher. This was very strange and while my B1 class had a substitute in the middle because the main teacher hurt her shoulder, to have one on the first day was a bit off-putting, especially as the class was a tough, three hours a day, four days a week schedule for four weeks and the first day is just, “Hey, my name is such and such, now introduce yourselves”. The guy who stood in was good though and controlled the class well.
The second day, the actual teacher showed up, didn’t mention as to why she wasn’t there the day before and started going through the same first day things again as she had missed them. At first I liked her. She was younger than any of my other teachers and seemed to have more energy. Also, she was married to an American and was the first teacher who was fluent in English which had been something of a frustration for me as my previous teachers weren’t (with the exception of the substitute in B1) and they couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand basic language elements which were more or less parallel with Castilian. The simple answer is because I’m not fluent in Castilian, but then again, many of the students in the classes who were from the Americas weren’t either as language education in North and South America is terrible…
Despite initially liking this teacher, problems quickly emerged between her and me. It should be stated now that I am a relatively horrible student. Any class where I’ve been successful in is a tribute to the teacher who saw that I learn in a very organic, hand’s on way–not by wrote memorization. This worked in the US, but not in Spain, where everything is by the book, extremely structured, and with the teacher as the master of the classroom, dictating to students. Undoubtedly, I would have failed out of school had I grown up in Spain.
It was this huge difference in educational systems where I think the core of the problems between this teacher and I lay in that she had her way, it didn’t work for me, I tried to get out of the way to let the class proceed, and she didn’t like that. Coupled with this was the fact that to those I talk to, when I’m thinking hard about something or working out a problem, my face goes completely dark and I look like I’m about to throw a brick at you. I’m also quite large, so most people immediately feel threatened by this. It’s useful when dealing with potential muggers, but in everyday communication, it’s never served me well.
All of this as it is, the teacher and I would probably have been able to muddle through the course, said goodbye and that would be that. But there was an added problem on her side that she seemed to feel that if she didn’t directly confront students about their problems with the language, then she wasn’t doing her job. Naturally, anyone who was being called out on something in front of the rest of the class is going to freeze and then, like a terrier, the teacher would just dig in more.
For me, this meant my “darkness” would increase and I would try to shrink in size. For the girl from Cameroon, who admittedly was struggling a great deal it meant that there was one class where the teacher had her near tears, couldn’t see it and made things very uncomfortable for myself and other students I asked about it afterwards. For a younger guy from El Salvador, he used my tactic, but having a more boyish face, he was able to just shrink away.
Day and day went by like this. Some students dropped out. I’m not sure if it was due to general attrition or not enjoying her teaching style as we were all there by choice. The Cameroonian girl disappeared one day as well and it was obviously due to most days having the teacher standing in front of her, berating her in front of the class. As this girl only spoke French and the teacher did not, it didn’t help things either.
Then one day, during a group exercise, the teacher actually called me out of the room while everyone else was working on an assignment. We had that conversation fully in English where she basically let me have it, telling me that I was a “dark force” in the classroom and that day after day it was hard to teach with that. I laid out everything for her, explaining the differences in American and European teaching styles and that confronting a student directly in front of the class meant that they misbehaved, not that you were trying to help them. I pointed out the issue with the girl from Cameroon which she dismissed as her being passed when she shouldn’t have and so it wasn’t her (the teacher’s) fault that she fell behind. Then of course it all became clear that she was simply oblivious to this aspect of her teaching approach and nothing I was going to say was going to fix the problem and in fact only make it worse.
Thankfully, after my “talkin’ to” there were only a couple of days left in the class and she and I seemed to be at some level of toleration of one another. Then the final days for the test came. It was a curious thing given that this test was a certification of your language level that would recognized across the entire EU. This made it quite strange that the person teaching the class would be administering the test, but so it was.
The written test was one day and the oral the next. Ultimately, I thought I had done far worse on the written part, but it turned out decent in the end. The oral part I didn’t do as well on and I fault that primarily on the teacher sitting there texting someone while I was trying to read the instructions which I found utterly ridiculous. Just as I finished, she told me that she would like to see me do an extra presentation on the final day when we received our final scores to apparently “make up” some of my lacking participation as she saw it.
This bit made it quite clear that, despite the previous talk, we weren’t on any form of stable ground as I had understood. She wanted to make it understood that she still held all the cards in my passing this level of the class no matter my actual ability (which is actually above the class given that I’ve had radio interviews in Catalan and interact with my in-laws in the language.) This again made me question why the person teaching the class was also the one giving the certification. Also strange was that it wasn’t just a test that gave you certification in you language ability, it was also based upon participation in the class (25 of 100 points if memory serves), which was fully at the teacher’s discretion, which is why I ultimately played along with her power games and prepared this extra presentation for the final day.
In receiving my final grade, I had actually done considerably better on the test than I had thought (I’m also a horrible test taker) and received something like 87% on it or a high B. You only needed 70 or 100 points to pass the class and if it was based just on this test, I would have been fine. But, then there was the participation part where she gave me 8/25 points.
I knew this was coming, but I was still surprised to see it given that I did participate in every class, I attended every class (never arriving late I might add, although the teacher did sometimes), I did every homework assignment, and I had even done extra work as she had asked. In the end, my score was 73/100 which was just passing and was complete bullshit but obviously allowed her to take out her passive aggressive anger on me in a way that will be part of my permanent record. I can only hope she found some degree of satisfaction in showing her complete lack of professionalism and ability.
While I will move on, it was extremely disappointing. The CPNL was overall a good program and my other teachers were good at their jobs. To then encounter a teacher such as this who gets petty and has a teaching style that makes it seem like you’re to be marched off to a gas chamber if you don’t know the answer to a question is disheartening. Catalan is very difficult language to learn and students need a good deal of encouragement. To see them drop out because a teacher can’t understand how to teach (and is probably doing this as some backup job for steady income) is hard to watch and makes me wonder as to why she even has her job as she is obviously not qualified for it.
As for me moving on to another class, it remains to be seen. This system doesn’t work terribly well for me and this last experience accomplished little with my having to review and relearn all the material that was covered from this class as this teacher did very little to go beyond what was listed chapter after chapter in the book. There are advantages in gaining the certification levels though and so who knows, maybe I’ll continue at some point after I’ve spoken Catalan longer in real world settings that allow me to work out the language in a more optimal manner.