Learning a new language is a very daunting experience for most of us. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about going to Spanish school in Xela, Guatemala. I had a lot riding on this, more than most. Aside from the obvious advantages of being able to communicate with people in one of the more commonly spoken languages, I would also be able to join the conversations with Erica’s family at gatherings- which is super important to me.
We chose Guatemala as they pride themselves on speaking slowly and clearly and have no shortage of high quality schools to choose from and Xela seemed perfectly our speed. We spent our first couple days checking out numerous schools, searching for the best fit for us. Our preference was to find a school in a good location but we also had the following requirements:
-The staff must be patient and friendly.
-They must pay their teachers a fair wage.
-They must have volunteer opportunities.
-There must be an option for a home stay.
-They must offer other after school/weekend activities.
After our initial searches, we were surprised to find several schools that met our requirements. We narrowed down our final options based on how honest and friendly the staff was at one of the schools, even allowing us to tag along on their activities before we enrolled.
On the morning of my first day, my anxiety quickly faded. All the pressure I was expecting from being in ‘school’ was nowhere to be found. This was amazing! I got to choose what I wanted to learn and focus on. I got to set the pace of lessons and stay on the material until I felt like I really understood it. I even got to choose how we spent many of the days as well. This meant that we had ‘class’ while walking to the bakery, sitting in the park, or going to the museum. And what made it even more awesome was that I learned more in the first week than I did in an entire semester taking Spanish in college!
Everything was all sparkles and unicorns after that.
Everything except my brain being fried from so many hours of constant learning. Oh, and the languages becoming so blurred that much of what came out of my mouth outside of school was a confusing mixture of English and Spanish. At that point I didn’t even have the brain power to correct it or care. The best course of action was to try and stay focused on Spanish 100% of the time, but that sure isn’t easy when work has to get done. All I could think of to keep me going was future trips and being able to speak Spanish abroad – kind of like dreaming of puerto del carmen holidays.
Another downside was that we weren’t able to stay long enough for me to get more than a basic grasp on the language, thus limiting the volunteer opportunities we had available to us. However, our homestay really made up for that. We spent every dinner with our host family laughing hysterically at the rowdy conversations that were had. Bilma and Jorge were a riot. And while Guatemalan food isn’t particularly exciting, Bilma’s cooking had no shortage of that tasty secret ingredient, love.
After 3 weeks of classes I still don’t feel comfortable adding Spanish to my languages on Facebook, although, I can definitely understand quite a bit more and hold very basic conversations. I still have a long way to go but I think I can start by updating FB to add Spanglish.