Learning a language at a slow pace, Language school in Costa Rica
By: Eric Tiettmeyer (justin) 2012.01.06
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There were many lessons I learned in Costa Rica during my one-week
immersion into Tico culture but the one that surprised me most was learning
to live simply. I had been living a high-speed life for some time, balancing
a business, full-time school and work. Others may understand this feeling
where focusing too much in one area weakens another area, you try to
catch up in that other area, still another area weakens. I was turning
into my dilapidated '84 Toyota Tercel when the radiator had a crack
in the top the pressure kept boiling and only when overheated did it
However, when all you are served is a plate of rice, beans, and a fruit
drink for every meal in a day, life becomes very simple. No appetizers.
No choices of low fat, low salt, low anything. Just rice and beans.
I came to love the staple diet. It is these simple things that I love
about Costa Rica.
Upon my arrival in Quepos to study at a local Spanish school, I was
forced to shift about three gears in a matter of minutes. I was no longer
in the high-octane society of Southern California but simply paradise
something Costa Ricans call "Pura Vida".
Over spring break, I took some time to find out if studying a language
in a foreign classroom made more sense than simply taking the class
in a U.S. college or university. With four years of Spanish instruction
in high school and college, I had conjugated enough "to bes" to make
Calvin Klein jealous. What I found was that there is a big difference
between learning Spanish and immersion in Spanish, and I was just a
beginner as far as learning came.
The school I visited, La Escuela De Idiomas D'Amore is located in the
sleepy beach side town of Quepos just north of Manual Antonio National
Park. The school is tucked away along a busy, winding road. The two-story,
stark-white building has an upstairs lounge area complete with television;
down a narrow flight of stairs are two classrooms. The school is surrounded
by trees and plants, peeking through to a pristine view of the Pacific
Ocean. The main office is the local hangout, and director David D'Amore
seems to have the most open-door policy of any boss, constantly talking
with students about study/work opportunities, joking with fellow employees
and dealing with technological maladies in a developing country like
La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore Spanish classes are taught completely
in Spanish, with the strategy of "multilevel teaching for cooperative
learning," as D'Amore put it. Classes are made up of no more than four
students. The six levels of schooling range from beginning to advanced,
and are taught by teachers who go through intensive training for three
months, according to D'Amore.
La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore began in 1993 as a dream-come true for
D'Amore. He had obtained a graduate degree from Pepperdine University
in education, lived in Spain and worked for the Peace Corps in Costa
Rica for over two years before he began the school. After his time with
the Peace Corps, D'Amore arrived back in Los Angeles for two days, decided
it was not for him, and returned to Quepos to start the language school.
During my brief time with the school, I was amazed how fast I learned
the language. I thought I had a solid background of Spanish, and answering
a few preliminary questions to assess my proficiency seemed easy enough.
In the beginning, my interviewer, Victor, asked questions about how
I was and what I thought about Costa Rica. I carefully selected my words,
delicately conjugated my "likes" and "no likes" like a good school boy.
However, after five minutes, it got tiring. Then my bad habit of rushing
into conversation without listening to the question came back to haunt
Victor asked me "How is your house?" I thought he said "Where is your
The question sparked my five minute explanation of driving directions
to Orange County. I did not know "county" in Spanish, so began telling
him in Spanish that "I live in an orange place ... no in an orange territory
in south of California." "My house is in the water ... No it is five
miles off the water." By the time I finished I was exhausted and Victor,
wide-eyed from what he had just heard, said that he did not know what
I was talking about.
I was placed in a basic level class, a step above someone who only
knows "guacamole." It was a humbling experience on my part.
I entered my first classroom experience. My teacher was Janaette,
a middle aged Tico who said she teaches over 100 students a year. The
other student was Deke Faile, a Colorado student finishing his education
by studying at a variety of language schools throughout Costa Rica.
The class moved at our pace and Janeatte patiently repeated structures
and conjugations as necessary. At the same time, the class was a challenge.
Never had I experienced such individual attention; answering every other
question, explaining a new word to the two or trying to comprehend likewise,
and just keeping from my bad habits of doodling in the margins. Just
as D'Amore suggested, "these groups make students work." It was four
hours a day of Spanish immersion, and we seemed to cover a week of instruction
in my hometown university in one day. I was soon losing my guttural
Spanish, and was able to apply Spanish in the classroom to the outside
of the classroom.
What is your priority?
So you think a language school is expensive? Consider this. You will
most likely spend an average 2.5 years studying another language in
college, if you are a humanities major. At UC, three consecutive classes
must be taken for two years to fulfill the requirement. These classes
are an hour a day, four days a week. Two years of this instruction will
cost you 600 hours and over $3,000 in the public system.
Now consider the alternative. Students can study abroad in a language
school, which is usually intensive instruction and become proficient
(depending on your motivation). The average cost for two months of instruction,
120 hours of classroom instruction, plus room and board and travel excursion.
$1,500.You pay a bit more, but the times will be unforgettable.
In my Spanish classes in the U.S. I spoke Spanish to pass a class.
In Costa Rica it turned into an opportunity to learn about a truly interesting
culture and people. While in my homestay, an opportunity more and more
language schools are offering, my hosts Christina, Arnoldo and I would
speak Spanish about politics, travel, cars, Baywatch, and other random
topics during dinner and out under a crystal clear night sky.
There were others in the country that I met, and with my Spanish, was
able to learn about the people, history, ecosystem and nightlife in
short, gutteral conversations.
On my last day, I hitched a ride with a San Jose local, Jario and three
of his younger family members. The trip started at 6 a.m, and was sidetracked
by visits to family members on a secluded ocean front house complete
with coconut trees, and then later to visit another family at a favorite
By the time we reached the San Jose airport, it was 3:30 p.m., and
I had just spent nine hours traveling a cultural-immersion zig-zag that
would would have taken only three hours back home. But I was fine with
it. Time and language was finally on my side.
La Escuela de Idiomas D'Amore can be reached by calling 310-435-9897
or go to www.escueladamore.com.
Classes are year-round.