Teaching English- A new Focus
On July 11th, 2016, I arrived in Quepos for the second time. I felt less nervous, more prepared and definitely excited. This is my second year volunteering here in Quepos; I spent four weeks in June 2015 with GVI, also on the teaching English program. After my time with GVI last year I studied accounting at the University of Kentucky and decided business wasn’t for me (who knew?) and that I wanted to teach English as a Second Language. I finished my first semester and then moved back to Cincinnati and got my TEFL certification while working full time. I decided in January to return to GVI Quepos and apply what I would learn in my TEFL course.
On my first Monday all the new volunteers went to take a Spanish test so the teacher, Carlos, could get an idea of our levels. The test was a combination of writing, reading, speaking and listening. The Spanish lessons were one of the things I was looking forward to the most. I’ve only had ten hours of lessons so far this year but I had twenty last year. There are two teachers, Carlos and Runia. In Carlos’ lessons we always do something fun—go to a beach, cook a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, or even go shopping. They really help you to improve your conversation skills, especially because Carlos is hilarious but you have to pay close attention to his Spanish to understand his jokes. In Runia’s lessons, you usually learn Spanish more formally. Runia loves grammar and everything about language so you could ask her the most bizarre or specific question about Spanish and she would know the answer. I had a private lesson with her once last year because the volunteer that was supposed to come with me stayed home sick, and she taught me all about the rules for knowing which syllable to stress in Spanish words. What I learned in that lesson has been so helpful and has stuck with me all this time. Volunteers have about half of their lessons with Carlos and half with Runia. I would definitely recommend that every volunteer on this project take Spanish lessons. It’s worth the money and I’ve seen an improvement in my conversation skills as well as learned a lot about Costa Rican culture.
After our Spanish test on Monday we had a small meeting with all the volunteers and staff about the schedule for the week, which included different activities for different volunteers. Some of us would be teaching English to adolescents and adults and some would be working at the El Cocal elementary school. We would all work on construction, painting and arranging the new community center in El Cocal as well. Then the new volunteers broke off for training with the base manager while the others planned their classes for the week. In the meeting I learned that I would be teaching a two-week intensive English class to volunteers and employees at the Cruz Roja Costarricense (Costa Rican Red Cross) here in Quepos with two other new GVI volunteers. We weren’t really sure what to expect in terms of the students’ English levels, but if there was one thing I remembered from last year’s adult English classes, it was that levels were mixed but every student that was there wanted to learn English.
The next day, Tuesday, was our first class at the Red Cross. We were expecting a turnout of 5-7 students but were glad to see that 11 showed up. They were much more advanced than we expected. We had prepared plenty of lessons and activities and most of our students breezed through them. They knew numbers, letters, greetings, family members, places, the list goes on and on. At the end of the first class we had everyone turn in a sheet of paper stating why they want to learn English and if they’d taken English classes in the past. Most wanted to learn English to help them with their job and to be able to understand the foreigners in their community as Quepos is a pretty touristy town. Some of them had taken English in high school and some of them had no background in English.
Our structure for the two weeks was group classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (GVI volunteers took turns teaching and leading activities) and more individual lessons on Thursdays and Fridays (one-on-one lessons when possible, depending on number of students). We taught the students a lot of grammar as well as vocabulary. Of the vocab we taught them, some was specific to the medical field to help with their jobs and some was just general conversational words. It was nice to work with them individually on Thursdays and Fridays to see how much of the information they retained and go over and practice it with them.
All in all, it was an amazing two weeks. The students were great—they were eager and dedicated and even shared cake and pineapple juice with us. They’ve also brought a selfie stick with them to class a few times to document our classes. The two-week course went so well that we decided to continue with the classes twice a week. I’ve loved teaching English so far and I can’t wait to teach more and get more involved with the communities of Quepos and El Cocal.