What do you do when you decide to take your language learning to another level? For me, the answer was to go learn it in another country, and I concentrated my search on Central America. For the next part, I enlisted a companion traveler: my sister, who is also a learner of Spanish.
An Internet search led me to Don Pedro Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala. Two websites were great for this: I found Don Pedro on Guatemala365.com. And Trip Advisor verified for me that the school was legit. Lots of people had had a good learning experience. I also liked Don Pedro because they ran an after-school program for children as well, providing lunch, dinner, homework assistance and other activities. One of the first things we did upon arriving in Antigua was to locate the school, which turned out to be just a short walk from our “casa”, the house and the Guatamalan family with whom we were staying for the week.
The doors on the streets in Antigua generally opened to courtyards, and so it was at Don Pedro. It was enclosed upon entering, but opened up onto a “courtyard”. There were tables and chairs on the sides under a tin roof, trees and vegetation in the open area, and several resident turtles.
For less than the cost of a round trip plane ticket, I could study at Don Pedro one-on-one with a teacher for 4 hours every morning for 5 days. There were activities in the afternoon that I could join if I wanted to. And I’m including in this cost the week’s stay with a family, which covered all meals except Sunday.
I learned much from my teacher Helida. Besides reviewing everything I have learned so far, we also enjoyed good conversation about our lives. I strained to translate as she spoke and also tried to watch my grammar as I conversed with her. She quickly discerned my weak spots and reviewed everything I had learned (and should have remembered) to that point. I received a blank notebook to write in, and there were no texts except from books she would pull from their office for specific learning exercises. Unfortunately, a week is really only enough to get one’s feet wet. By the end of the week, I felt like we were finally ready to move on to some new learning. My sister, Linda, who is a faithful Duolingo student, also felt that her Spanish improved through the week. Over dinner conversation, our family told me that at my level, one month in Antigua would have been necessary for fluency. For someone with no Spanish background, it would take 3 months. And people do stay that long.
Linda and I volunteered one afternoon to work with the children in the after school program. As part of that, we assisted in making the tortillas to go with their lunch. I turned out to be a pretty good tortilla pat-ter. It maybe would be a super power for me, if I needed to make tortillas every day.
After lunch, we both assisted students with their homework. I helped a young man with his English homework and also tried keeping a little girl focused on her writing project. I was rewarded with a big grin when she had it completed.
Antigua in particular, and Guatemala in general, is rife with Spanish learning schools. Antigua was downplayed by many people for the fact that it is a tourist town, and you may not get a full immersion experience. My experience was that if I wanted to speak Spanish all day long, I could. And, if you’re not happy with a school, you can (and many people do) just go find another school in town, or travel to another town that has one. I would love to return, and if I do, I would not hesitate to return to Don Pedro.
Stay tuned for next time: A Stay with a Guatemalan family