Our In the Staffroom series often features teachers who have hailed from other countries and now share their native languages with UK-based language learners. But not in November 2022.
This month, the spotlight is on our homegrown Allyson Turpin, who was originally from Yorkshire. But MFL – especially French and Spanish – became an integral part of her life from an early age. In fact, so much so that she built her career around it.
We were thrilled to grab a cuppa and a chat with Allyson recently. Here’s what she had to say about being a Brit abroad, Spanish gastronomy and the Chinese inventing an alternative moon!
Allyson, tell us about how MFL entered your life and took hold.
“So, when I was growing up there were no family influences regarding any foreign languages. In fact, growing up in the mid-sixties and seventies, it was extremely rare to even hear someone speaking in a foreign language. Maybe that was the attraction. I was drawn like a magnet to anyone who I heard speaking in a different language.
“Thankfully, I was lucky enough to start learning just a little bit of French once a week, when I was in what’s now Year 6 – and that was it for me! I’d found something I was good at. After two years of studying French at high school, I was offered the choice of learning either Spanish or German as a second foreign language. I chose Spanish, because in those days everyone did German and I wanted to be different!”
Do you spend a lot of time in France and Spain then?
“Not as much as I’d like. But we usually get to either France or Spain each year. My children grew up knowing they could go anywhere on holiday as long as it was in France or Spain!
“I still have a French penfriend from a school exchange to Béziers. We managed to stay with her a few years ago, which was absolutely wonderful.
“But, my favourite sort of holiday is taking the ferry to northern Spain. Once you land and drive to just half an hour away from the port, it’s very unusual to see another car with a GB sticker on it, or to hear anyone speaking English.”
It comes across how much you’ve formed very strong relationships with the countries that piqued your imagination as a youngster. What do you love about them most?
“Well, Spain is fabulous. We went to northern Spain last October, our first trip post-pandemic, and it was like going home.
“In Spain I love the people and the fact that they’re happy to chat about anything. My family are used to ‘losing’ me when I somehow manage to get involved in conversations with random locals. And I’ve had some great conversations over the years.
“There was the elderly man looking out to sea. He told me about how they used to see whales, and about the whaling industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. And there was the bar owner in Granada. He told me that the reason it was cold that morning was because the Chinese were inventing a second moon!
“I love coming across the regional dances and festivals in Spain; the fact that everyone is outside in the street cooking and having a great time; the art museums, buildings and bridges in Barcelona, Bilbao and Madrid; and the way of life.
“I love the fact that at 8.00pm in Spain the streets are still full of people, and that you can dance until dawn if you want to!
“And of course, there’s the food – prawns, octopus and squid in the coastal areas, and Asturian beans with clams are some of my usual choices!
“As for France, I love the fact that the regions are so different. But I have a preference for the south, for Provence, and what’s now called Occitanie. Having lived in Perpignan, I’m a big fan of regional accents, and just have to stop and listen when I hear anyone speaking with a strong southern French accent!”
And you’ve built a career based on your expertise in the French and Spanish languages.
“I’ve been very lucky, as I’ve always used my languages in my career. I first of all worked for a company that arranged English language summer courses for foreign teenagers at various locations in the UK. During the winter this involved going to France and Spain to talk to customers, mainly school teachers wanting to arrange summer courses in the UK for their pupils. It was a great opportunity for me to visit cities like Valladolid and Zaragoza, which I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise.
“After three years, I left to go into tour operating, and spent 10 years with Cresta Holidays. In my early years there, I was involved in contracting hotels for the brochures, with trips to various locations in France, as well as to Madrid and Barcelona.
“I did a PGCE after having my second child. And I’ve taught French and Spanish since then. I now work partly for my local college and partly for La Academia, tutoring mainly GCSE and A level French and Spanish.”
You’ve obviously got an extremely busy life. Is there any time ‘you’ time left after languages?
“Well, I enjoy going to see foreign language films, especially at HOME in Manchester, with some fellow linguist friends or with my daughter, (also a linguist!).
“I know we can watch foreign films on Netflix these days, and I do. But there’s something special about seeing a film with so many other linguists. It’s great to be with other people who ‘get it’!
“I also enjoy going to the theatre to see a variety of plays and musicals, but I particularly like ballet and modern dance.
“And I like walking with family or friends and usually manage to put my boots on at least once a week!”
At La Academia, we provide MFL language learning options for GSCE and A-Levels, including French and Spanish, where you might just end up with the fabulous Allyson as your teacher. Get in touch if you’re looking for language GSCE or A-Level, for yourself or your child.