Toni Ferrer has been a Holistic Spanish Tutor for over a decade in Manhattan and Jersey City with students ranging from babies to adults, from executives to celebrities. Learn about this fascinating approach to learning Spanish (or Catalon, or English as a second language) by reading on:
JCG: How did you get into this?
Toni Ferrer: I grew up in Spain in a touristy area. A bunch of my dad’s retired friends from England and Holland would spend their summers in Spain, and since I didn’t have school or much to do, my dad suggested I teach them Spanish. Later, my dad brought me into his office to tutor his colleagues from north Europe. They, in turn, helped me with my English. Soon, I had a waiting list.
Later, I went to school in London and then moved to Boston for college and worked in finance, and the company moved me to New York, where I continued tutoring in my free time. Then I discovered Gyrotonic, a type of holistic fitness. I got certified and after a year, I quit my “real” job and opened up a Gyrotonic studio in Jersey City, which I also used for tutoring Spanish. Hurricane Sandy wiped it out, so now I am full-time tutoring off-site while I look for a new space.
JCG: What is your teaching style?
TF: It starts with the correlation between mind and body. When you work with energy, the other person feels that, and it in turn affects you. For instance, if I don’t like the vibe I get from my personal trainer, I am going to go to another one. With tutoring, it’s the same thing.
When students come in, we often take a few minutes to do some breathing exercises or meditation. It could also be five minutes of bongers (a percussive massage tool), or I hang them upside down on the inversion table, which defeats gravity and brings more blood supply to the brain. I cannot teach a student who comes to class with a negative, worn-down, or anxious mindset. It’s the same if the student is hungry or dehydrated—so I have organic teas and water and healthy snacks.
Adult students who have jobs and families and lots of responsibilities really need to enjoy that one or two hours a week they get away from it all, so I often do laughter yoga. When you laugh for a prolonged period of time, it does wonders for the physiological and psychological state of the body. It’s the cheapest and easiest way to relax.
We all need to come from a place of calm to concentrate. Many students have commented that I am different from other tutors because I care about their personal well-being.
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JCG: How do you get students excited about learning Spanish?
TF: I try to give them interactive assignments in addition to the mundane written ones: Take a salsa class, or go to a Spanish restaurant and order in Spanish. Practice your vocabulary in fun ways. Sometimes we’ll shop at the health food store together, then I will cook with a student at his or her house, and the entire time we are conversing in Spanish—that is a lesson right there.
JCG: What are some of your challenges?
TF: High school students tend to be the most difficult because they don’t want to be there; they are failing Spanish in school and their parents want them to pass the class. Also, teenagers speak in acronyms and hashtags, which hinders their growth. I cannot teach you Spanish if you don’t know proper English. They use this casual language in formal situations, when it should just be reserved for their friends. In any language, you need to have a professional filter when you are speaking to your teacher or you are interviewing for a job.
As a teacher, you also need to know your student, because every student is different—analytical, creative, shy—and you must use different methods. Group classes present challenges, too, as you have to adapt to everyone’s pace and learning style. It’s the same with teaching a group fitness class: You will have a senior citizen, the woman who is three months pregnant, the overweight person just starting to learn about physical health. Different personalities clash, and you have to figure out how to balance all of these differences in one setting.
I am constantly studying, because everything evolves, and we don’t speak the same way today that we did 50 years ago. Plus, there are the many nuances to consider. When I say “Salud!” if someone sneezes, that just means “In good health,” which is universal. If I say “God (or even just) Bless you,” that can be offensive.
JCG: Tell me about teaching infants and toddlers.
TF: The parents often don’t speak Spanish, but want their child to learn a new language at a young age. Other times, adults want to learn as well, so we do family classes. Whenever children are involved, there must be movement, so those classes tend to be very active, a mix of playing games and doing exercises I’ve learned from my holistic health training. I always incorporate movement and lots of expression with children; that is when they are most receptive.
JCG: Considering the day and age, do you teach online classes?
TF: Yes. If a student lives far away, I use an online program that allows you to teach the lesson via video, so it feels like it’s face-to-face. We can go over assignments—interact with the documents online together at the same time. It’s really neat and saves the time of a commute in the busy modern world.
JCG: Are there any fun stories you have regarding experiences with clients?
TF: I am thinking about writing a book because there are so many entertaining moments. People sometimes come for the wrong reasons. One woman, at the end of her first lesson, said she wanted to learn Spanish because she liked Latino men and asked if I would go on dates with her and translate. That’s not what I do. (Laughs).
Link up with her on facebook here.
***Call Toni for pricing and packages (917) 324-3157 and mention “Jersey City Gal” to receive 25% off your 1st class.***
Get this awesome tote when you buy a package!
*Additionally, if you refer a student, you’ll receive a $15 check after the student books a 5th class, and $30 if you are the person with the most referrals on the first day of each season.*
Why not add a new lingo in a new way to your repertoire for the new year?