Monday, April 9, 2012

Nicaragua Mia (The Gringa Learns Spanish)

I'm not in Granada to pray or to party—I came here to brush up on my Spanish language skills. On my first day here, I visited several of the language schools for foreigners. I'm glad I waited to enroll in a school until I arrived in Granada, because I ended up not liking very much the school I thought I would like best.

Nicaragua Mia school
My criteria were: must be able to start immediately and must be able to have classes for most of Semana Santa; must offer homestay (all schools do, so that was easy); must be owned and operated by Nicaraguans and not foreigners, as I want my school fees to go to locals; and must feel “right.” The headmistress at Nicaragua Mia gently corrected a few points of my grammar as we spoke, the only headmistress to do so, and I decided it was the school for me.

My goals for this week were 1) to brush up on my grammar and vocabulary in preparation for a month or three here in Central America and 2) to decide if this one-on-one tutoring format was a good learning style for me and thus whether I wanted to a few more weeks of Spanish school somewhere else.

field trip with sylvia to coffee museum
I've been taking lessons for four hours per day, starting at 8 am to beat the heat of the day, with a tutor named Sylvia. I like Sylvia a lot as a person and as a tutor. She strikes a perfect balance between conversation and structured lesson, and she's very personable.

My Spanish is definitely better than when I arrived. I still make tons of grammatical mistakes and don't know all the words I want to know, but I try not to let that stop me from speaking. After hearing so many people butcher the English language without shame during my travels, I'm a lot less shy about giving it a go in another language. I can understand anyone who works with foreigners very well, because they tend to speak a little more slowly and to pronounce most of the sounds roughly as they “should” be pronounced.

Funny observation: when I'm not paying attention or I'm stressed out, I still slip into Italian. I haven't spoken Italian in 10 years and only studied it for 2 years. I've had 5 years of Spanish total and use it more frequently and recently than Italian. Italian is that deep in my subconscious—guess the Cornell tuition was really worth it.

Though I've enjoyed the lessons and they've been a great review, I don't think I learn best in the informal, one-on-one setting, and I do better with structured, classroom setting. For example, I never really mastered the imperative tense in previous Spanish classes. I worked on it again here, but couldn't seem to pick it up, because the explanation wasn't very linear. On the other hand, all I needed was a brief review of the preterite and imperfect tenses, which I had previously mastered, to be able to use them in conversation.

Nicaragua Mia offers an activities program in the afternoons, except for Semana Santa due to the holiday crowds. I wish I were here a different week, because it would be great to have something to do in the afternoons besides wander around the city and miss Dave.

My review of Nicaragua Mia: great school. The headmistress checked in to see how things were going with my host family (more on the host family later), how the lessons were going, how I was enjoying Nicaragua. Sylvia talked with me about the difficulties with public transport on Good Friday, and I agreed that it was better if we skipped our lesson. I went to school that morning to study anyway, and the headmistress offered me a make-up lesson with another tutor for Saturday, if I wanted it. That was unexpected but so appreciated, as I was feeling a bit stir-crazy with not much to do. There were two wee gringo children studying with their parents this past week, and the little games and activities their tutor created were so cute. It's definitely not a university-level Spanish course, but it's very good for what it is.

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