Leyre Alejaldre Biel has been teaching Spanish as a foreign language in international institutions since 2000, where she has developed her research on applied linguistics to teaching Spanish as foreign language, ecolinguistics and the impact of digital technologies in the teaching and learning of foreign languages.
She majored in Linguistics at the University of Zaragoza (Licenciada en Filología Inglesa), in 2012 she pursued a Masters in teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language, and four years laters she completed her PhD on Translation, Modern Languages and Spanish as a foreign language with Sobresaliente Cum Laude at the University of Pablo Olavide (2016).
Her genuine interest for understanding how languages are learnt and taught led her to work in a great variety of teaching contexts, such as the University of West Indies (Barbados), University of The Gambia (The Gambia), Mahidol University International College (Thailand), and University of Zaragoza (Spain).
Teaching is my passion and no matter the difficulties I might face as a teacher, I believe it can happen. In my quest to understand how learners learn a foreign language, and since 2000, I have travelled the world teaching in very diverse educational environments, such as The United Kingdom, the United States, Barbados, Spain, The Gambia, and Thailand. This ongoing search has helped me develop a student-centered approach that aims to create motivated learners willing to become independent language speakers.
I am an extremely motivated teacher who is willing to experiment with new methodologies, strategies and digital tools to make the learning adventure more interesting, exciting, challenging, and effective. My motivation is contagious, and my students can feel my passion in class, as they have stated in my evaluations (“she has a strong passion to teach her students”). They are the center of my teaching practice and I see them as adventurers, because learning a language is a never-ending adventure: learners seeking to experience life in a new language, who will learn to see the world through the lenses of a different culture. My hope is to walk alongside them, to motivate them in every step, and to witness how they grow from unexperienced adventurers to language experts.
As teachers we make mistakes, such as transferring teaching methodologies from one context to another very diverse scenario. In 2011, at the University of The Gambia, I realized the dangers of this practice. I was the sole party responsible for the creation of all courses in an educational milieu characterized by the lack of human and material resources. There, I tried to implement a communicative approach, as I did in other contexts: it was a big failure. My students were not familiar with this methodology, so they did not participate actively. To overcome this failure, I conducted an in-depth methodological analysis that was crucial to design a curriculum adapted to the context and the needs of learners. Furthermore, to assure that my students had an effective learning experience, I created an online learning platform to upload didactic materials and to create a digital space where they could share their work, ask questions and practice the topics presented in class. This experience made me realize, that students take risks when embarking on the adventure of learning a new language: they fall, get up, struggle during the process, but I want to assure them that all the struggles are worth it, and to do so, I make sure that I adapt the methodology to the context and their skills.
Curriculum design will determine students’ learning experience. I support a content-based teaching (CBT/CLIL) curriculum that is organized in a task-based approach because it fosters a student-centered methodology. Through this combination, learners are exposed to a dynamic and active learning process, in which content is the vehicle to acquire communicative competence in the target language. In the University of West Indies, in my course Spanish for Hospitality and Tourism, students had to create for their final tasks a real marketing campaign to promote a hotel in Spain. To achieve this goal, they researched marketing products and compared them, and finally decided how to present their product. By interacting with authentic content, learners accomplish tasks that impact the development of their interlanguage and their cultural and pragmatic knowledge. To enable, I promote a positive emotional learning environment by using group dynamics that encourage a high level of interaction among students, making them active learners and builders of their knowledge. In my sessions, I motivate students to ask questions that are answered by the whole group. I am a facilitator and observer in the classroom and I seek to guide learners on a path for successful learning. Constant feedback and positive reinforcement are tools that help my students to self-assess their progress and keep motivated on the learning language adventure.
Digital tools are a central element of my teaching philosophy because today’s learners belong to the digital era and they are familiar with the benefits and potential power of these instruments. To maintain students’ motivation, I use technology in my daily teaching practice as well as to ensure that students are exposed to meaningful input and that they develop autonomous learning strategies that involve authentic written and spoken samples that will build the right strategies to develop positive writing, reading, listening, speaking, and pragmatic skills. Additionally, technology will help learners to better understand grammar and cultural aspects by completing digital activities where grammar is contextualized within a cultural topic. This kind of activities promote a better understanding of grammar, instead of learning a set of decontextualized rules. I include ICT tools and Mobile learning inside and outside the classroom because technology breaks the boundaries that the physical classroom imposes. Consequently, an adequate implementation of ICT tools will foster language learning at any time and in any place. Furthermore, I believe that technology can help to raise students´ self-esteem and to help them feel more comfortable to participate spontaneously in class. To prove my hypothesis, I am currently conducting research on the impact of mobile learning in spontaneous participation of my Thai students.
Learning to teach is an ongoing journey. I will always have something to learn to become a better teacher, however, I can affirm that this does not discourage me, the opposite, it is my motor to continue teaching.