David Cornado, founder and director of The Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong, wrote down Spanish vowels neatly on a whiteboard, and read them aloud one by one, “ah, eh, ee, oh, oo…” to gently encourage his students to pronounce the sounds.
“In Spanish, you just learn the pronunciation of the vowels,” he explained, “then you will know how to pronounce the word along with consonants.”
Before establishing the Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong in 2014, Cornado taught Spanish as a hobby while studying for his Master’s degree in Hong Kong 12 years ago. Impressed by Hong Kong students’ politeness and their desire to learn Spanish, he said teaching was a joy.
As students who had studied with him for years wanted to continue refining their Spanish-language skills, finding advanced instruction was not easy. The limited choice led to the birth of the school, which now boasts a team of 20 qualified native Spanish-language teachers from Spain, Argentina, Mexico and Peru. Currently, around 1,000 students from children to adults are learning Spanish with the school.
“Most adults learn as a hobby after work on a weekday, while teenagers are more academically oriented as they want to attain some proficiency certificates like DELE (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language) awarded by the Spanish Government or the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education),” Cornado said. “Kids’ lessons, on the other hand, are more fun-oriented, but also with the aim of giving them the foundation to be able to pass any Spanish exams in the future.”
In addition to classes, the school also organizes monthly activities to immerse students in a Spanish environment and learn in a relaxed way through drawing, workshops, boat trips, free guitar and seafood cooking classes, as well as a Christmas Party when students can learn more about traditions like los Reyes Magos.
Spanish competitive edge
Speaking Spanish, which is the third most spoken language in the world after Chinese and English, gives students an advantage, because it adds another string to their bow. “It can be beneficial in many ways, from travelling to one of the many Spanish-speaking countries to getting into a better school or university or developing a promising career path,” he explained.
On top of that, the growing importance of Latin America’s economies is increasing the need for Spanish speakers in Hong Kong. “More and more companies in Hong Kong and the Mainland do business with Central and South American countries, which all speak Spanish,” he said. “So there is a strong demand for Spanish-speaking employees.”
Long-term and individual
The school prides itself on its individual small-class teaching approach, from four to a maximum of six students. Cornado believes that this allows the teacher to give each student individual attention, which is crucial to ensure students continue to progress.
Small classes also create strong bonds between the teacher and classmates, which further motivates students to keep learning. This bond is conducive to “keeping a long-term happy learning experience,” said Cornado. “Changing teachers frequently does definitely not help students, who might decide to quit if their teacher also quits,” he said.
Diversified teaching and learning
Cornado discovered that many students in Hong Kong like to learn in a very structured way, which he caters to through using books designed for specific levels. Nevertheless, each age group performs better using a different teaching approach. Younger kids learn mostly through songs, games, flashcards and filling in worksheets. “Repetition is vital to help very young learners retain the knowledge because they do not yet have reading or writing skills,” Cornado said.
Six to nine-year-old children learn through books, as they already know how to write. However, lessons are always adapted to appeal to their interests, such as talking about family, hobbies or school. Adults, on the other hand, generally want to learn about grammar and conversations that will help them in work or ordering food in a restaurant.
The learning doesn’t stop after class. In addition to giving students homework, teachers also recommend online resources for students to study independently, such as through Spanish learning apps, quizzes, online audio, and exam banks from their Google Drive.
“In the coming months, we will have a Spanish library for students to read or do self-study, as well as a multimedia learning room with computers and online resources,” Cornado added.
There is no shortcut in learning a new foreign language. Cornado believes the best way to master any language is to take a beginner’s course, then immerse yourself in the country where the language is spoken.
“This has proven to be the most effective way – once you have the basics, the best way to improve is if you are challenged to use the language in your daily life where you cannot use English,” he explained. “If you can’t do this, it is very important to be self-disciplined by doing homework and revision as well as attending activities that help you practice using the language effectively.”
Cornado said the school has been growing steadily and has moved to larger premises to accommodate more students. The growing number of students in the school is certainly good news, but it can also be a headache at times. “Hong Kong people are too busy and have jam-packed schedules. Arranging lesson times that match both teachers and students’ diaries is at times a challenge!” he said.
His colleague, Dr Antonio Susperregui, moved from teaching to become the school’s full-time academic coordinator, who also customizes individual’s language-learning needs, learning paths and objectives.
Despite the hectic pace of city life and the cost of living here, Cornado said he still loves Hong Kong as much as when he first came a decade ago. “The city is as multicultural, vibrant and colourful as ever, and I can meet people from all over the world every day,” he smiled. “Who wouldn’t want to live in Hong Kong?”
Company: The Spanish Cultural Association of Hong Kong
HKGCC Membership No.: HKS1175
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