Within my SOL program, I have a Spanish class for three hours every morning. I chose Advanced I, but before starting the program, I had no idea how my Spanish level would be evaluated. However, I discovered that Advanced I would be a review of most of the verb tenses, plus a little bit of vocabulary. My roommate and I thought we should be in a higher level to improve our abilities. We did well on the placement exam, but, for this section of SOL students, there is no Advanced II. So, we had to stay in the same class.
I am thankful for the review; however, it is a bit difficult to advance to a higher level when the material makes me confused about what I think I know. Also, the purpose of coming to Costa Rica, for me, is total immersion in the language, and that is not possible when the other students talk in English. I can’t fault them if they can’t understand what I’m trying to say in Spanish, but it throws off my goal of talking and hearing only Spanish.
So, to reach my goal of perfecting my Spanish through immersion, I have to put more effort in when I am with Spanish speakers. I am also thankful for my roommate, Phaedra, who has a similar level of Spanish and shares my goal of getting better with it. So, when we are together, we can practice our Spanish and help each other when we need it.
Our Tica parents agree that it’s good we were placed in the same home. At the same time ,they try to involve us in activities so that we can practice our Spanish as much as possible. So, they asked us if we want to do an ‘intercambio’ with her sister’s son. During the intercambio, we would talk in English to help him and then we would talk in Spanish for a while to help us. We agreed – that would be an awesome idea.
So, we went for the first time, Monday, June 25th. We talked to Laura, our Tica mother’s sister, and her son, Daniel. His brother, Diego, also visited, but he didn’t stay for very long. Daniel asked us about the past tenses of English, like the difference between using ‘have’ vs. ‘had.’ We had difficulty with explaining these things, but when we finally reached an explanation, we still didn’t agree on the details. Furthermore, discussing grammar isn’t the best way to learn a language when you are with native speakers. It’s more effective to have a conversation and correct mistakes as they happen. However, it is difficult to do this when the person doesn’t want to speak in English. But I enjoyed talking in Spanish with them because they are very friendly and helpful.
While living in Costa Rica, we have to communicate with people in the community in Spanish. Sometimes it’s simple and other times it’s not, but each time is a learning experience. When we buy things, we talk to the vendors in Spanish. Most of the time, they talk in Spanish, but sometimes in English. In some cases it’s difficult to continue in Spanish, especially when you want to make sure they understand what you mean. For example, a worker in a Mexican cafe spoke English mostly, so I clarified what I wanted in English. However, when Phaedra and I went to the bookstore, the man that worked there evidently thought that we didn’t speak Spanish and spoke to us in English. In this case, we replied in Spanish – that’s what we are here for, anyway.
Furthermore, when we talk to Costa Ricans, there is always the possibility of misunderstanding something. There was one instance in particular when we experienced misunderstandings. Phaedra and I went to the market to buy bread and a drink. When we were in front of where we were going to buy drinks, they asked Phaedra if she wanted her drink “para llevar aca”. And we thought that “aca” meant over there, so she could leave with it. However, “aca” meant “here”, so they prepared a cup that she couldn’t take with her. Afterward, Phaedra asked if she could get a cup that she could take, and then they finally came to understanding. But, that wasn’t the last misunderstanding. The drink that I wanted was in bottle form. I can’t remember the conversation exactly, but I also had confusion about whether or not I could bring the bottle with me. They tried to give me a bag and a straw, neither of which I needed. Finally, I asked something like, “can I take it with me?” And they replied with “Yes!” What a relief!
When I first arrived at my Tica home, sometimes it was a bit difficult to understand what my Tica mother was saying. And I felt bad when I didn’t understand something very well. The same thing goes for the intercambio. Sometimes I don’t understand something or I don’t respond in the right way, and I often feel bad for being wrong. Unfortunately, I am too perfectionistic for my own good. However, I need to understand that I am not going to understand everything. And that is okay. All the better for me to learn.