Spanish Language Learners

Tue, Nov 16, 2010

General, International

Spanish Language Learners

The decision to live in Central America came about because of the sheer number of Spanish speakers in our Pacific Northwest region. The kids and I talked about an international experience of our own, one that would give us new countries, new sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures. Yet we wanted to come back to our community and share in its multilingual vibe.

We’d been playing in the northwestern U.S. with Michael (1/2 Mexican), Big Ian (all Mexican), Ray and Marcela (1/2 Colombian), and Diego and Paloma (3/4 Mexican). We knew we’d appreciate the chance to learn a bit of Spanish and gain some insights into the cultures south of our border.

So we bought Rosetta Stone for our laptop, and we figured we’d get a Spanish tutor while in Costa Rica.

The tutor didn’t materialize for some time. I suppose the fact that we had no car, no phone, very busy volunteer program directors, and limited Spanish proficiency all contributed to a situation in which no private local tutor could be found. One lady from much farther inland did come to our town to give us a lesson in September, but she never made it back the following week…car trouble? The hourly wage not worth it? The heavy rains which made the muddy drive too difficult? Who knows. She sort of dropped off the face of the earth.

But there was Rosetta Stone on our trusty laptop as our consolation. With Rosetta, you drill, you repeat, you read, and sometimes, you even get to type. I loved my first encounter with they keyboard tilde and that crazy, goofy upside down question mark. Spanish is great, I wrote to Tania, my Colombian pal in Portland, because I get to type upside down exclamation marks!¡!¡

Rosetta helped me the most, though. I noticed that while the boys liked the cool pictures and getting to use my computer, they preferred to watch TV and imitate the excited Spanish commercials on Cartoon Network. As the weeks went by, doing Rosetta became more like an obligation to them, and less like something fun. And that was a shame, because I was burning rubber on the software, getting myself through all four sections of Level 1. I was thinking about grammar, about Latin roots of words, about how Spanish differs from the French I had in school and college.  But my sons pretty much just wanted to hack around, learn silly songs, and not feel like they were under the gun to get answers right.

Enter Ivette, the Spanish tutor we eventually found——of all things, through the help of more recently arrived American program volunteer (who somehow lucked out better than we ever did in terms of finding a way to procure local tutoring). Once we got Ivette’s contact information, we embarked on a family Spanish odyssey that wound up being the very best part of our time in Guanacaste.

Ivette, unlike Rosetta, is a human being. She laughs.  She gives us a glass of cool water on a hot day.  She creates a lovely home environment for lessons.

Learning Spanish at Ivette's dining table

She listens to our stories and tells us hers. She jots down the various structures we’re trying to use in Spanish, and lets us reread them to her. She plays games with the boys and lets them win little prizes such as small necklaces or foreign coins. She is a native of the country we are visiting, and she is proud of her heritage, just as we are proud of ours. Most importantly, she makes us feel smart and capable, just as she is smart and capable.

Rosetta Stone can give me hours and hours of practice, and I am a huge fan. Rosetta Stone can occupy me on long flights, on sleepless nights, and whenever I feel like hearing and speaking Spanish back in the U.S. But I must always remember that my kids much prefer Ivette to the software, much as they prefer to play with their friends outside rather than watch TV. Television and computers can only at best be a supplement for the best foreign language teacher—a human being.

Ivette's home, a wondrous environment for learning, and being

I’ve learned a lot of Spanish compared to the boys. I am speaking in whole sentences, asking questions, looking things up in my dictionary. The boys, by contrast, seem hesitant, even passive about their immersion opportunity in a Spanish-speaking country. But I know that Ivette has given them a spark. They now know that there are tools like Rosetta Stone at their disposal. And they know that Spanish awaits them if someday they want to cultivate more of an interest in actual fluency and proficiency.

2 Responses to “Spanish Language Learners”

  1. Kim Moore Says:

    We will be in Guanacaste in June, and hoping to spend 4 hours / day for a week with a tutor to teach our 4 kids some Spanish (their mom, too). Would you be willing to share Ivette’s contact information with us?
    Thank you!


    • Ada Says:

      Dear Kim,
      So sorry…I don’t have contact info for her. We were, if you will, “low-tech” while there. But ask whoever is making your Guanacaste accommodations for some local names of qualified people, and I’m sure you will find a teacher for your kids!


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