chapter  19
7 Pages

The Festival Incident

I began teaching English as a foreign language in 1966, a long time before many of the readers of this volume will have been born. Far too young for the job (just 19 years old), I left my home in the UK for Spain, armed only with secondary-school Spanish, a suitcase and some money. I had answered an advertisement for a job in a Berlitz language school (they must have been desperate!). That year was my baptism of fire. I learnt a lot about teaching simply by teaching (there was no EFL teacher training available in those days). I had a great time socially, and, most usefully of all, I learnt a lot of Spanish. I took that skill home with me to the UK and subsequently studied Spanish at university, where I acquired not only a better and deeper knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, but a life-enhancing familiarity with Spanish and Latin American history and culture through the vast amounts of Hispanic literature we devoured as part of our course. I loved the bright, light-filled, rainbow-coloured world of Spain and Latin America, seen through rosy spectacles no doubt from my grey, chilly, northern European student room. I loved meeting Hispanic people; they seemed to have an energy, a love of socializing and partying, a zest for friendly but heated and passionate discussion that contrasted so greatly with the glum reticence of the English. Cultural stereotypes I hear you say. Yes. I was young and believed in them.