We recently caught up with Helen Wright, the Spanish lecturer at Penwith College, to talk about what it’s really like to study Spanish at A Level.
“Despite having been here for many years, I still find my subject exciting and learn new things every year from the ever-changing Spanish-speaking world. It is an honour to share what I know with the next generation of world citizens.”
Helen has been part of the Truro and Penwith College team since 2002, teaching Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Spanish A Level is a great choice. Not only is it an A-Level which is highly regarded by the best universities, being a facilitating subject*, it also gives you an edge in the world of work, and it is wonderfully varied and fun to boot.
I love teaching the syllabus to young people. We essentially dip our toes into loads of other subjects, but in Spanish (¡claro!) and in relation to the Spanish speaking world.
For example, we study subjects that affect society like the role of social media, changing family structures, youth employment in the 21st century, immigration and multiculturalism - such subjects can involve discussion of divorce and birth rates, the need for Spanish graduates to emigrate to find work, to name a few.
We also explore films and literature. We watch a range of films, but study ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ in detail. The novel we look at is called ‘El Otro Árbol de Guernica’. Our depth of analysis is not that of a Film Studies or English Literature A Level, because we are doing it ‘en español’. However, doing this allows us to have variety in the course in terms of materials,
A large topic area in the second year is history. For this we cover about 100 years of Spanish history, encompassing the civil war, the fascist dictatorship of Franco, the journey back to democracy in the 1970’s and the legacy of scars and division that are still felt to this day in Spain. Students always find this really engaging and eye-opening. This topic is greatly supported by both the film and the book mentioned previously.
In addition to this, you will learn all about fiestas, festivities, music, art, cultural heritage and architecture. “Running of the bulls” in Pamplona and the controversy of bullfighting, flamenco, reggaeton, Picasso, Macchu Pichu in Peru and Gaudi’s wobbly buildings in Barcelona, for some more examples.
This course really does take you on a colourful tour, giving you a basis to work with when you come to explore further into a chose area as part of your independent research project. For this, you can choose to study pretty much anything related to the Hispanic world, which is a great opportunity to enjoy the subject and to grow as an independent learner.
So, that’s the content minus one very important element – Grammar.
We start the course reviewing what you have already covered at GCSE to ensure that everyone is on the same page, but we get it nailed! And then we grow it to encompass great complex structures that stand out both in exams and in conversations when you use the language in your real life.
All of this is taught across the 4 skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. Classes are generally conducted in Spanish, and you’d be amazed how quickly you get used to it. They take place in our designated language classrooms which have computers for all, so that we can listen, research and practise individually with ease.
For speaking practice we are very happy to be able to offer each language student thirty minutes a week of 1-1 tuition with our native speaker Julie. This means that by the time oral exams come around, your speaking skills and confidence will be very high - ready for the exams and for any holiday in a Spanish-speaking country!
Your commitment (apart from the obvious classwork and homework) would be to dive right in, enjoy the language and remember that you can never do too much when learning a language, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a slog – music, comics, magazines, films, documentaries… all come highly recommended as extra boost material and are all available in our learning centres here at the college.
Oh, and did I mention we organise a fantastic study trip to Spain every year (so long as there isn’t a pandemic!)?
Please do get in touch if you would like any further information – my email address is email@example.com.
Gracias y hasta pronto.
*Facilitating subjects are a handful of A-level subjects commonly asked for in universities’ entry requirements, regardless of the course you’re applying to – this makes them a good choice to keep your degree options open.