Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spanish school: week 2

"We have two options" Maria Elena said as our classroom heated up in the warm sun.  "We can either open the door or we can take off our clothes.  Which would you prefer?"

Despite the noise in the hall, we decided to open the door.  Trying to stimulate more conversation, Maria Elena continued "How would people react if we took off our clothes?" thus giving us a chance to practice expressions about emotion, surprise, embarrasment, and so forth.

After two weeks in Maria Elena's 4-hour-per day class, I'm still feeling very grateful to have her as a teacher.  When our class is interrupted by people driving by with big loudspeakers mounted on their vehicles, we stop to listen, seeing if we can decipher if they are gathering recyclables, selling vegetables, or sending out some other message. 

Maria Elena has the amazing talent of being able to turn a discussion about a topic of interest into an on-the-fly language lesson.   This week's topics ranged from drug addiction and homelessness, to parents washing out their children's mouths with soap, to non-violent labor protests, to tattoos, and even included UFO's and my classmate's story about a distant relative who had been abducted by aliens in the 50's and came backed with webbed fingers that required surgery to correct.

Towards the end of the week, I was unhappy with my classmates.  A girl who has the habit of burping, whistling, and singing during classtime joined our group, and didn't seem to get the hint when the teacher commented "Do we have a canary in the room?"  Since I'm sitting next to her, each time she starts making noise I quietly say "That's really distracting.  Could you please stop?" which usually helps for a few minutes.  At one point she put her bare feet up on the table, and Maria Elena quickly asked her to put them down.

The other girls have been staying out late to party, or like to speak English instead of Spanish.  "When the conquistadors came here, they cut out the tongues of the indigenous people who spoke their indigenous language." Maria Elena said, capturing the interest of my classmates.  After she had their interest she said with a smile "I'll have to cut out your tongues if you keep speaking English."  Other times, the girls are too tired to learn...they were very confused when we learned that the word "extrañar" can mean both "to miss someone" and "to find something strange" depending upon how you use it in a sentence.  We had to review that point too much for my liking.

I can request to be moved to a different class, but I hesitate to do that just because Maria Elena is such an excellent teacher, and also because these girls only have one more week in their study abroad program.  So, we'll see how it goes this coming week.

My afternoon tutoring was with a Maria Eugenia, another teacher at the school.  She has a very calm demeanor and adapted well to how I was doing each day (some days I'm totally exhausted, and so she eases me into the lessons by starting interesting conversations).

One of the new students at the school this week was a woman who had worked as a diplomat for the US government for 30 years and is now retired.  I enjoyed chatting with her when we went to the National Museum for one of the cultural experiences.   She already speaks French and Turkish.  She graduated from college in 1954 and started working for the Foreign Service immediately.  Back then, if a woman married, she had to give up her post.  But somehow she worked around that and married another diplomat and was able to continue her career.  Next week we plan to go birdwatching together and I'm looking forward to hearing more of her experiences.

When I noticed another new student on the stairwell, I struck up a conversation with him, with disasterous results.  He's from Italy and so his Italian-Spanish and my English-Spanish were mutually unintelligible.  So that's when you just smile and nod and move on.

I've been really happy with the school.  Heck, even Ruth who works in the cafeteria took the time to write down the correct way to pronounce "1500 colones" ($3) I was trying to pay for the burrito she made me.  (Numbers ending in 500 are hard because 500 doesn't follow the same pattern as the other numbers, dang it!).

I've also enjoyed the cultural programs the school offers.  This week we had another dance class as well as a trip to the National Museum, which is in a former army barracks which was no longer needed when the country abolished the army in 1948.  Here's a photo of Alanna, Christina and I in front of one of the huge pre-colombian culture stones they find lying around the country.



And here's a photo of the way the elite pre-columbian warriors dressed with gold:
And here's me in front of a chocolate tree, pointing out the cacao fruit that makes chocolate when processed.

And here's a photo of the outside of the museum where you can still see the bullet holes from the civil war back in 1948.
This week one of my classmates lamented that now she can neither speak English nor speak Spanish correctly, which is my situation too.  But, I have hope that with the help of the excellent teachers at ILISA, eventually I'll get there.

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