I am completing my third week of school in Antigua, Guatemala. Most people wonder why I left Spanish-speaking Panama to learn Spanish here. In Boquete, it is difficult to learn Spanish quickly for a number of reasons.
First, many people speak English only and that includes most of our friends. Second, many of the locals want to learn English and will answer your Spanish-spoken questions in English for practice. Third, although we have an excellent Spanish school in Boquete, their bread-and-butter clients are students who come in for several weeks of intensive study, not us locals who can’t/won’t devote 20-30 hours a week to classroom instruction.
I chose Antigua for a few reasons. David and I have been here before so I would not be distracted by shopping or sightseeing. My homestay hostess, Sarah, speaks to me in Spanish only although I think she speaks more English than she lets on. For the last week, I have been the only guest in Sarah’s house so she has plenty of conversation directed solely at me. More importantly, she corrects my mistakes – which are almost always verb tenses.
I chose the Don Pedro Spanish School. The most popular schools were all rated high but I chose Don Pedro. Most likely, the teacher is more important than the school and I got lucky.
Claudia was the unfortunate soul that got me. She was a kindergarten teacher so has a lot of patience with ‘slow learners’.
I have one more day of instruction before leaving Saturday morning. I have learned a lot. For four hours each day, Claudia (my private instructor) teaches, drills, practices, corrects and otherwise pounds Spanish into my brain. Today I read a ‘longish’ story, maybe on a 5-6th grade level, and I understood almost everything. I did not know words from the story dealing with skiing, knolls etc. but I knew that the pretty girl turned out to be a battery powered robot. I still need a few seconds to remember the correct verb tense but I am much better.
Learning another language after a certain age is difficult. I was always a great student that could read and remember everything. Bit here, I felt like I rode the short bus to school almost every day. I would study 15-20 irregular verbs at night until I “knew” them. The following day it seemed like I never saw those words before. I am not used to being the dumb one but the harder I studied, the worse I got. I never understood how my very bright students just didn’t “get” something. Now I fully understand.
I wish I had taken more Spanish in Florida before we moved since it was available at every community school, community college, public libraries and colleges for little or no cost. I must make an effort to continue practicing or I will lose much of what I gained during the last three weeks. All in all this was a great experience but I’m ready to be home!