Speaking English

In the beginning

Inspired by this quote from Ghost:
"In particular it can be scary enough asking a question in front of class, but when the teacher doesn't fully understand you and then they reply with the dreaded "What you need to do is, hmm what's the English for < something spanish > ?"

When I learnt German at school, I had two teachers - one was a native German speaker, one a native English speaker. I did much better with the native English speaker. Similarly, I learnt Italian and French much better from native English speakers.

Unfortunately for my later dance life, I foolishly omitted Spanish from my languages. It would have been a great help if I had; firstly in salsa and now in Tango. If I had a time machine, and I could send two words back in time to me 20-odd years ago to Past Me, they'd be "Learn Spanish" (Well, OK, they'd probably be "Buy Microsoft" or something in truth, but you get my drift).

So, this is a problem for me. I just don't understand Spanish. I'm sorry, I know it's probably a deep psychological flaw in my personality, but I simply don't speak it. And I'm too lazy to learn it.

Yeah but no but?

"Why is this a problem" I hear you ask (in English, of course).

Well, it's a problem because a lot of the classes I've taken are - effectively - half-taught in Spanish. The classes I get seduced into attending, fooled by the hype in the adverts. You know the ones - "Guest Teachers And Lords Of The Universe Carlo And Carlina Will Be Visiting For One Week Only, Teaching Their Renowned Speciality Of XYZ. Last Chance To See" etc...

So, I trot along, eager as a puppy, to learn the latest technique. I hand over my hard-earned readies, and open my mind to listen to the words of wisdom from the masters.

And the problem is... I can't understand a word they say.

Now, no doubt they are indeed Lords Of The Universe. No doubt they're fanstastic dancers and teachers, and they're imparting valuable information to me, and I'd improve in leaps and bounds if I understood it. But I don't. It's bad enough with them demonstrating some technique - but at least then, if in doubt, I can at least see what they're doing and attempt to copy it. Or failing that I can copy other students.

But, as Ghost said in the quote, it's in Q&A where this really breaks down. If I have to spend time explaining my question - for example, relying on the demo for interpreting - then I have to again rely on an interpreter to tell me what the answer is - I'm simply not going to ask. It's not worth the trouble. The interactive aspect of the lesson - the part that makes the lesson more valuable than watching a DVD - is lost.

Don't dance, just speak

Teaching is all about communication. If you can't communicate, you can't teach.

And to me, the most important part of a lesson is the bit where the teacher needs to explain something difficult. Any fool can teach something easy, after all - a new routine, for example. But when you have to explain something complex, or something that requires thought - technique, basically - then you have to be able to explain, to describe, to communicate, and to answer questions confidently and fluently.

It helps - it really does help - to do this, if you yourself share some key values with your audience. Interpreters and translators are generally employed to translate or interpret into their mother tongue, not out from it.

Now, OK - when you've achieved a certain level with language, you'll maybe want to learn it from a native speaker, to perfect your skills. But even then, you'll still want a good native-speaking teacher.

But surely all Real Tango is from Argentina?

Ballet comes from France - does that mean all ballet teachers have to be French? Salsa is from Cuba - and again, I've spent lots of time being taught by grunt-level salsa teachers, who dance like angels but who can't tell me anything.

There's a myth - an aura - about Argentinean teachers, as if somehow being born there gives you a genetic advantage as a teacher. And that's simply not true. The key part of teaching is about knowledge transfer and delivery. And that requires an ability to communicate with your students, in terms that they can relate to.

And if Argentines can't communicate clearly, all you remember is the mystique. And the rip-off, of course.

So what does it all mean?

The best class I've had was with Korey Ireland (from the USA) - the worst class was from a certain infamous London teacher who teaches nothing but patterns (from Argentina).

On the other hand, the second-best class I had was from Gonzalo Orihuela and Solange Chapperon (from Argentina). And one of the worst classes I've attended was from an English couple.

I guess what this means is that good teachers are where you find them.

 - David Bailey