Programa 110: Nueva Keynote con Patrick

En el episodio de hoy (aquí), Patrick nos comenta dos episodios del año pasado: En el que hablamos con Gema (Episodio 90 aquí, por si quieres escucharlo) y en el que hablamos con Natalia (Episodio 94, aquí por si quieres escucharlo). A continuación os ponemos la transcripción, pero ya os adelantamos que @Javtweet no está muy de acuerdo con Patrick…


In today’s Keynote Response I’d like to refer to some of the comments Gemma made in Programme 90 and Natalia in Programme 94. 

These programmes are from last year and I’m slowly catching up with more recent programmes, but both Gemma and Natalia raised some very interesting points that warrant highlighting. 

First of all, people and teachers like Gemma are the main reason I can’t consider myself a teacher.

Her level of dedication, training and passion for her work, despite the multiple challenges the public education system faces everywhere, not just in Spain, is commendable. 

People like Gemma put relative amateurs like me almost to shame. 

And I’ll seize this opportunity to comment on something that never ceases to surprise people when I mention it. 

I can categorically state that the most experienced, the most dedicated and the most dynamic Spanish teachers of English to whom I have spoken about language teaching and methodology have been those of the public education system as opposed to those I’ve spoken to who teach at private schools or in the Spanish system of colegios concertados, many of whom have surprisingly low levels of English in comparison. 

One contributing factor to this phenomenon is that English teachers in the public education system have to pass an entrance exam, not only testing their knowledge of English, but also their knowledge of methodology.

And the logical result is that students of English in the public education system tend to have a higher level than those of the other schools. 

I can only speak for the level of English language teaching; I have no idea what happens in other subjects. 

And Gemma mentions something regarding the minimum level that a teacher has to have in order to teach English or teach a subject in English. 

In the two years before the Covid-19 lockdown, I had, as separate students, three teachers who teach English at private schools in Madrid and who had to prepare for the B2 exam in order to continue teaching English and for the school to receive funds from the regional government. 

Regardless of their other teaching skills, which I don’t doubt for a moment, none of the three had a level that I would consider sufficient to teach English or to teach in English. And I am notoriously flexible in my definition of what is fluency and I consider that a teacher’s teaching skills are more important than the content of what he or she teaches. 

In other words, I consider that a teacher’s ability to transmit knowledge in an interesting and useful way should have a higher consideration than their expert knowledge of a particular subject. 

But I was surprised that three English teachers in Madrid would still have such a relatively low level so far into the 21st century.

On the other hand, what so often happens is that people have preconceived ideas about education and many assume that teaching is somehow, miraculously, always better in private schools. 

If and when there are differences in the levels of English between kids at private and state schools, you’ll often find that it’s because parents who send their kids to private schools also tend to spend money on private English classes for their kids, not because the teachers at school are better.

One other comment that Gemma made which brings back many memories of when I came to Spain in the early 1980s, regarding the level of English when she studied Philology at university. 

She mentioned that some people had a much higher level than hers, but I remember that every time someone was introduced to me as having studied Philology, I would panic, literally, because in many cases I was unable to understand a word they were saying to me in English. 

I don’t doubt that they knew more about English grammar than I did or do, and probably more about Shakespeare than I do, but they had very little opportunity to actually speak English.

Which meant that it was often difficult to understand them. 

And that refers back, once again, to what I always comment about the importance of fluency. 

Obviously all that has changed and anyone now studying Philology is evidently already fluent.

Another very important point Gemma brings up is the time a teacher told her about the difference between being understood anywhere in the world as opposed to speaking in the local or regional accent or using colloquial English and the importance of communicating effectively. 

So when I teach the pronunciation model of RP, even if only a minority of native speakers actually speak that like, it will help you be understood in most English-speaking countries.

Of course, depending on where you are, you might not understand what they say to you. 

But that can happen even in your own country, in your own language.

And, once again, Salvi insisted on her belief that everyone in Europe speaks better English than the Spaniards. 

And Gemma repeats what I’ve told Salvi again and again; that that perception that Salvi has does not correspond to reality. 

And however much Salvi and so many other Spaniards repeat their opinion, they will not be able to change that reality. 

It’ll be interesting to see if Salvi can now start that necessary process of believing me a little bit more because that she’s heard Gemma say the same thing I repeat over and over again.

And I’ll finish with the advice Gemma gives about enjoying what you study, setting realistic goals and looking for the opportunity to practice, practice and I’ll add, practice.

As for Natalia, another English teacher, in Programme 94, I’m glad she brought up the issue of the titulitis aguditis, which, as she points out, is a chronic condition in Spain. I won’t comment further on this, because it’s self-evident what I think about it.

What is most striking, however, is her positiveness towards learning English.

For example, regarding Salvi’s mention of her Journey through the Wilderness, Natalia points out that rather than concentrating solely on getting from A to B, we should try to enjoy the journey.

And she rightly adds that you should consider the time you spend learning as an investment, not as a waste of time or energy. 

Another major theme for her is how learning English is closely related to listening to music, well, listening to the lyrics. 

And the importance of communication and body language. The subject of body language goes beyond our Keynote Speeches, but it’s clearly an important factor in communicating.

And she mentions that psychological adaptation, what Javi refers to as that click, when everything clicks into place.

And again, Natalia’s advice for listening: concentrate on what you understand; concentrate on the positive. 

She also mentions that in her case it was more about having an ability than studying hard. 

As you’ve heard me say, that’s so often the case.

But I’d like to add that you can compensate your apparent lack of ability by being motivated. 

Motivation is always the key. But it has to be a positive motivation. In other words, you do it because you want to, not because you need to pass an exam.

Another point she brings up is that of accent. 

Again, this is very complex subject that we’ll talk about in future Keynote Speeches, but I’d just like to simplify, and say that an accent usually refers to the key, the melody or the harmony of the language whereas your pronunciation is your ability to pronounce individual words in a way that helps people understand what you want to communicate.

In that way, we can consider individual words and their pronunciation the equivalent of notes or chords in music. 

These notes or chords will sound different depending on the instrument we play them on.

So while there are a great many accents in any language, pronunciation of most of the words will basically be the same.

And mentioning music leads me to my critical note: both Salvi and Javi enthusiastically bring up that oft-repeated belief about how people with a musical ear or musical training are better at learning foreign languages.

Hear we go, again.

I have read several studies that suggest there is a direct relationship between the two.

However, every single one of those studies always ends up by concluding, by stating that while neurophysiological theoriesconnect music and language processing,the results are not yet conclusive. 

But they reflect the potential for it and that if confirmed by further studies

 the findings will prove useful as teaching tools. 

In other words, all these studies keep repeating a possibility that has not yet been demonstrated. 

And I’ve been reading exactly the same thingsince I first started my teacher training in 1979. 

It’s a bit like the possibility of there being intelligent life out there. I don’t rule it out, but I doubt that I’ll ever see any evidence of it. On the other hand, I’m not totally convinced that there’s intelligent life here on Earth.

The trouble is that when you reach my age and you keep hearing or reading about the same sort of thing over and over again you can’t help feeling slightly sceptical.

You only have to listen to interviews with famous musicians and singers whose mother tongue is not English to notice how badly most of them speak English. 

Just some of Spanish singers that I can think of that I’ve heard speaking English include Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, 

and then there’s the Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti or the conductor Riccardo Muti. 

That’s a relatively large number of randomly selected famous figures from the world of music, chosen at random.

They obviously know more English than Salvi does, simply because they’ve been using it, professionally, for many more years than she has, which makes them obviously more fluent than she is, at least for the moment. 

Their force of personality also plays a major part in that fluency, because obviously to reach the levels they’ve reached in their careers means that they have big egos and a high level of self-confidence, which also helps them not care very much about how well they speak.

The point I wish to make, and I suppose that, once again, Salvi will not believe me, is that she, with only a relatively limited experience of learning English, already pronounces better than they do.

Does she have a more musical ear than they do?


Has she studied more music than they have?

I doubt it.

Has she been speaking English for as long as they have?

Certainly not.

On the other hand, the comments I’ve just made about foreign musicians’ ability to speak English contrasts, quite nicely, with how foreign actors often speak very good English.

That’s to be expected, because actors are obviously good at learning roles and remembering speech, something that musicians don’t have to do.

So all this about having a musical ear being good for learning another language is a bit like that other theory you often hear about, the one that you can learn music through mathematics. 

One thing is that the Greeks identified three musical intervals that were especially pleasing: the octave, the fifth, and the fourth. 

And that Pythagoras showed how the beautiful musical relationship between the notes was also a mathematical relationship. 

Fine. Great! But none of that has anything to do with learning music. 

Or learning mathematics. 

Or a foreign language…

The best that can be said is that any increased activity in the brain increases its plasticity and thatcertain things have certain aspects in common. 

The fact that Fibonacci sequences occur often in nature, for example in a pine cone, or in the sunflower seed pattern and in many flowers, doesn’t mean they occur in all Nature, in all flowers. 

The number of petals on a flower, for instance, will often, in about 90 per cent of the cases, be a Fibonacci number. But 90 per cent is not always and there are many flowers that have four petals.

In vegetables, the Fibonacci sequence very clearly occurs in the florets of the cauliflower and the romanesco. And if you count the number of florets in the spirals on a cauliflower you’ll find the number in one direction and in the other will be Fibonacci numbers.

And, of course, each individual floret will have its own sequence.

But although the Fibonacci sequence is very often associated with growth, I doubt that botanists are especially interested in Fibonacci numbers. 

Coincidences are coincidences. 

And there’s no need to look for hidden meanings in everything. 

Not even in what your English teacher or language advisor tells you…

And I especially want to thank Natalia for her excellent suggestion of going to the Canary Islands to practice English. I always try to convince my students not to visit England or Dublin or Malta in summer because they’ll always meet Spaniards and spend most of their time speaking Spanish. 

But as Natalia pointed out, in the Canary Islands there are probably hotels where you’ll be one of the very few people staying there who isn’t British.

From now on, I shall recommend that to all my students. 

And I’ll give Natalia the credit for it, not least because she’s also a fan of Calvin & Hobbes!

And I also fully subscribe to Natalia’s proposal that the Key to English podcasts should be in English!

Just one final comment in today’s Keynote Response: don’t confuse the English public school with the public or state education system. 

What in Spain is called a colegio público is, in the UK, a state school or a state-funded school. 

An English public school is a very exclusive private school, much more elitist than any private school you can imagine in Spain. 

Some of the public schools that you may have heard of include Eton, Winchester, Charterhouse, Rugby and Harrow. 

Although there were originally about a dozen of them, there are now around 300, accounting for about 7% of the children at school in the UK. The original public schools, the original ten or a dozen, are still considered a cut above the rest, constituting an elite within an elite.

The use of the name public refers to the fact that they were open to the public, coinciding with a growing middle class, at a time when most schools were run by religious orders and the upper classes, of course, were privately educated at home.

As usual, the above explanation is a simplification of a complex subject, but sufficient for a general introduction.

And, as usual, thank you for listening. If you have any comments or questions related to what I’ve mentioned today, I’ll be happy to answer them in the future.

Un micrófono con una flecha hacia un archivo de word indica una transcripción de un trabajo oral a su equivalencia escrita.