MFL: Year 7 Spanish Trip Immerses and Informs
Bede's Prep's fifth Year 7 visit to Cantabria started in the same way as all the others - with wall-to-wall sunshine and rising temperatures!
Our accommodation this year was in the heart of the beautiful old seaside town of Comillas, directly opposite the building we use for our lessons and activities - and five minutes from the beach.
We had the run of our small guest-house and the 20 children on the trip felt secure, comfortable and relaxed.
Our meals took place in the oldest cafe in town, in one of the three interlinking 'plazas' - with the best ice cream shop just next door! In between lessons and afternoon activities, we squeezed in two beach visits.
The first involved some energetic paddling, so thank goodness for Adolfo, our friendly concierge. Wet, sandy clothing reappeared freshly laundered soon after!
The first day consisted of morning lessons, which prepared the children for the all-important task of purchasing an ice cream at the 'pastelería'. A low key start after our late arrival on Sunday worked very well.
Tuesday's lessons prepared the children for their interactions with their Spanish counterparts, and what a buzz there was. For the first time this year, our flamenco lesson and football games were totally mixed events, boys and girls doing both activities. And the boys, as we could have predicted, were as amazing at flamenco, and as absorbed in it, as the girls, who also shone on the football pitch!
Wednesday's trip to Cabárceno, the wildlife park where animals have space to roam, was a big success. It was another beautiful day, hot and sunny; it started with the sea lion show and included the magnificent bird of prey display (and obligatory golden eagle photos) and, of course, the chance to watch the gorilla family going about their daily lives.
The morning lessons had equipped the children to ask questions in Spanish about Nicky, the silverback, his wives, children and adoptive mother. Our gorilla expert Lucía arrived, and it was good to see her again.
We discovered that human beings have more in common with gorillas than tigers do with lions. I feel sure that there is a connection to be made there somewhere.
Lucía answered a range of interesting questions from the children, in a mixture of Spanish and English, and it became quickly clear that the children understood the gist of Lucía's Spanish, and, impressively, were unfazed by her speed of delivery.
As it happens, Lucía also speaks 'Gorilla' - and delighted us by translating some key messages into animal sounds!
On Thursday we took a closer look at our own 'recent' history, when we visited the replica of the cave known as 'Altamira' which features the work of one, or several, paleolithic Michelangelos on its ceiling.
We considered human priorities 40,000 years ago, and it made me marvel at the strides we have made in managing our lives. I then came back to the hotel and checked the state of the children's rooms and slightly adjusted my views…
That afternoon's adventure was the prehistory workshop with our friendly expert Alis. He spoke in rapid Spanish to the children, and in some depth, about the role of fire in the establishment of human communities.
Alis then enabled the children to try their hand at some different skills, continuing to assume they were native Spanish speakers, with the difference that now he gave practical guidance in a technique or handling of a tool.
A combination of words and actions is so much more effective for achieving communication!
On Friday we visited Bilbao, in the Basque region, its old quarter and the wonderful Guggenheim Museum, where we spent some time discussing an early Picasso painting of a Parisian scene.
We studied the composition of the painting not as an academic exercise but in order to understand what the artist might be trying to communicate, and to articulate how his work provoked particular emotions in us.
Focusing on one single work of art allowed time for calm reflection and sharing of ideas, creating a sense of ownership in the appreciation of art.
We then enjoyed a variety of traditional tapas in the old quarter, called 'pintxos' in Euskera, the Basque language before heading back to board the bus.
The children's last experience of Spain was a superb play park in the centre of Bilbao, allowing them some physical freedom before the journey home.
Our wonderful guide for the week was Ismael Gómez, and he worked tirelessly all week to ensure that the children had the best experience possible.
On the last day, Ismael expressed the hope that the children would return home a little different from when they embarked on this adventure and I understood his hope that the experience might have sown the seed, albeit unknown at present, for some future element of their growing-up.
Having done my share of travelling and language learning, I am completely confident that it has.