I never realized what a daydreaming student I must be, until only ten minutes into my first Spanish class in Antigua, Guatemala. I imagined taking Spanish lessons to set a firm foundation for my months exploring Central and South America because I realize my distant high school lessons and strange mix of words learned along the way are comical, but not enough to build connections with people I meet. It is always interesting how doors open, and when a Spanish school was recommended, I was able to sign up immediately at a great price with homestay accommodations that included all meals and instruction. What I didn’t realize, and the really exciting (but challenging for a daydreamer) thing about taking Spanish lessons in Antigua, is that the lessons are offered for full days with one teacher for each student. Each student works in a small cubby outside space with a teacher conversing and guiding each minute to meet their specific needs.
PLFM School is in the heart of the city, with a beautiful garden appeal surrounding each mini classroom. It’s quaint, friendly, and sets of positive tone from the entrance area. My teacher, Anna Mercedes, began our first session with a simple verbal assessment where she quickly discovered that I needed a lot of work. While I often understood the gist of what she said, I found myself tongue tied for responses and answering with simple nouns, head nods, and shoulder shrugs. We started our lessons at the beginning and I quickly found myself feeling more comfortable speaking, but still wondering how many ways there are to say “to be” and “to have.” After two days…with five and a half learning hours each day…I can share uncomplicated thoughts…but only in the present tense. I am only studying here for a week, but I think this is a great learning situation, for MUCH less than the cost of college courses, so I dream of coming back someday for an extended visit. (The class cost $185 for the 27-1/2 hours of one-on-one instruction and my accommodations for the week include a private room and all meals for $90…see, much cheaper than a semester of Spanish in college.)
The program homestay is intended to provide opportunities to put learning into action during meals and shared times. I hope my family wasn’t disappointed on day one when I sat down to eat and realized that cognitive overload had set in, and I could only smile, nod, and say “muy bien.”
While I am keeping my head above water, I can’t deny that I am using some tried and true techniques for making it through the days…pre-plotted bathroom trips to check my cell phone, distracting the teacher with stories about my life and questions about hers, coughing to demonstrate need for a drink of water, cracking jokes about my limited Spanish skills, taking a few extra minutes to get back to class after breaks, encouraging field trips to the market to practice using vocabulary words for fruit and vegetables… Yep, working in a high school has benefits…I have learned from some of the best.
During the first break period, I met Shona from California who is here studying for a few weeks. We became fast friends and will travel to Lake Atilan together this weekend. I think I will stay in Guatemala for another week and a half before heading to Belize…more to follow!