'Rafael is keen to teach the students about his country, his hometown and what it is like to be young and Spanish’.
'Rafael is keen to teach the students about his country, his hometown and what it is like to be young and Spanish’. Image ©

Mat Wright 

Modern Language Assistant Rafael is making a real difference to Mark Milarview's pupils. Read on to find out what value he is adding to modern language classes in this Scottish school.

In 1989 Mark Milarvie worked as an English Language Assistant in Spain. Now, he is the Principal Teacher of Modern Languages at St Margaret’s High School, North Lanarkshire and has over 20 years’ experience teaching foreign languages. This year he is working with Rafael, a Spanish university student and Modern Language Assistant. Rafael’s time is split between St Margaret’s High School and one of the local feeder primary schools. He is very active in both, helping to enhance the curriculum, and implement the 1+2 language policy.

‘What stands out most about Rafael is his willingness to work with pupils of all abilities’, said Mark. ‘He supports everyone from those with a good level of Spanish to those who need extra motivation and linguistic support. This is particularly helpful when students are preparing for their exams, as he is able to spend a lot of focused time with individuals and small groups to work on their pronunciation and conversational speaking skills.’ 

Rafael said that having exposure to a native speaker can be really valuable for pupils and teachers alike and helps build confidence: ‘I can provide them with more suitable words or expressions, native pronunciation, and cultural insights to my country that they would not be exposed to if they didn’t have a Language Assistant’, said Rafael. ‘The fact that they have been exposed to ‘real’ Spanish is something that everyone has enjoyed and benefited from. The students could practise what they learned from their teachers with me, and saw that it was actually useful. The teachers have also enjoyed having a native speaker around as it helps them to improve their own Spanish.’ 

Rafael is very able, making him a real asset to the classroom. ‘Although he is only a student himself’, Mark explained, ‘Rafael demonstrates capabilities way beyond his level and is able to lead classes independently when necessary.’ ‘He provides invaluable support in the classroom, helping take the pressure off teachers by picking up work outside of his immediate remit.’ For example, Rafael led evening language sessions for the parents of primary school students who were about to transfer to secondary school after the summer. ‘He taught basic Spanish phrases and even prepared some Spanish tortilla for them.’

Having a ‘real’  Spanish person in the classroom can really bring a language, but also another culture to life. ‘Rafael is keen to teach the students about his country, his hometown and what it is like to be young and Spanish’, says Mark. ‘In the build-up to Easter, Rafael gave presentations to his classes about how he and his family celebrate Holy Week in Spain.’ 

As a Modern Language Assistant, Rafael has shown a real interest in getting involved in wider school life. He volunteered to chaperone students on a recent visit to watch a Sunderland football match, and has also spent some of his free time talking to students around the school who have been curious about speaking to him. Mark said that pupils were really keen to ask Rafael about his ‘story’, his life and his home, and to generally get to know him better. ‘He is a hugely popular member of the school. He lives in the local community and has integrated well. It feels exciting for pupils to have him around and learn more about his life.’ 

UK schools, find out how you can apply for a Language Assistant who is a native speaker of French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Italian, Russian or Irish. Applications are still open.