So now I’m here in Antigua Guatemala and just finished (Sept. 6, 2008) my first week of what will be four weeks of intensive immersion Spanish language schools. It has all been going extremely well. I have my own full time instructor, Axel who I’m with from about 8am to 12:30 each weekday. This is Axel in the picture looking out over Antigua’s main town square and plaza.
From the first time Axel and I shook hands all we’ve done is talk. No formal structure, no meaningless grammatical exercises, no text books, not more teacher’s dirty looks! <g> It is a fantastic way of learning, at least for me as I get to drive the conversations (surprise surprise!) and there is none of that “Today class let’s talk about going to the market” as is so often the case of formal language learning in my experience. Instead we just talk about whatever I’d like from my family, my job, the sailboat and the grand adventure, music, etc. So it is all very relevant and I am forced to figure out how to say what I want to say and understand Axel’s responses and questions to me.
I started with literally NO Spanish (right Skyler) and so it all sounds rather impossible, and to be sure the “conversation” is very halting and slow, but it really does work. We don’t talk at all in English at all, other than when I need to ask what this word is or that is in Spanish, and even most then most of the time I ask in Spanish as in ¿Cómo decir “sailboat”? (velero) or by describing it in the Spanish words I do know or we’ve just gone over. We both write down a lot of words on paper so I get to see the spelling and see them visually which is SO important for my way of learning and processing. Otherwise you use a lot of context to get through it all, some gesturing and pointing, some drawing and of course a LOT of patience on the part of Axel! But gradually my vocabulary grows, I figure out how to put sentences together and get my point across. It is still very frustrating at times as I struggle to pull up words he has already given me or find more that we haven’t covered, but in just the course of these first 5 days I can already see a HUGE leap forward from where I started, which was of course zero! And our conversations are surprisingly “deep” and for example on Thursday we had a great discussion about our mutual likes in music and how we both like it when new artist record old songs BUT only when they add new value by making it their own and not just copying the original.. It sure ain’t Look look, see Spot run!
My ear is also getting very good so as I’ve always found, with my French and German for instance, I’m able to understand much more than I can say. This is also where I finding being immersed in nothing but Spanish speaking people to be of major assistance. This town is full of other Spanish students like me so I do try to stay off the beaten path and not fall into the comfort zone of speaking English with all of them. On the other hand, I’ve had some conversations on our morning breaks with some of the other students and they are all very interesting as well. And back at the host family where I sleep and eat there are two other students staying there; David from Germany and Yisha from Israel and they are most interesting to talk with. Of course I’m the oldest student, or teacher for that matter, in sight by a long stretch as most of the students are in their 20’s and here as part of their travels in the area and most are heading home soon for University or work.
Hostess with the Mostess
Taking the host family option, where I have my own bedroom and 3 meals a day Monday through Saturday, has also been a very smart choice. It is a very modest home, typical of the area with three generations of the family here. I have the most contact with the oldest lady as she does all the cooking and sits with us for each meal, patiently letting us try out our Spanish and then chatting away to us about anything and everything which is just great for my comprehension as all the words and meaning go flying by. In the picture here you can see our eating area, Yisha and our host as we sit down for dinner the other night. Meals are all simple but very tasty and the just what they would have which I like a lot. As is the custom, lunch is the big meal of the day.
I have a small but adequate bedroom all to myself that is up one level and just one room by itself that has been added on at some point. The picture above of is taken from outside my room door of the volcano nearby. An active one with lava still flowing is just behind it and is a common trip to take but I have not had time to go yet.
My room is about 3 meters square with two beds and a small desk as you can see in the picture here. If you click on the picture to get the large version you can see that Ruby is also doing her homework and studying up on her Spanish as well as looking over my shoulder and correcting mine!
¿dónde vas siguiente? = Where to next?
I’ll be here in Antigua through next week completing my second week of Spanish at the same school and instructor to get what I hope will be a good foundation. Then next weekend I’m quite excited to be heading further West from here, up a bit higher to Lake Atitlan. The word "atitlan" is a Mayan word that translates as "the place where the rainbow gets its colors". and Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing." How can I NOT go??
I will likely spend some of next weekend (Sept. 13, 2008) in the largest town on the lake called Panajachel and then will take the ferry across the lake to the small village of San Marcos La Laguna which is is a village at the edge of Lake Atitlan in the Sololá Department of Guatemala. The majority of the population are Kaqchikel-speaking indigenous Mayans. San Marcos is the home of the Pyramid centre which is a magnet for meditators and alternative therapy enthusiasts. however my attraction is to the almost spiritual beauty and tranquility of this very small pueblo which happens to have a Spanish language school recently open there. Unfortunately they don’t have a host family option there yet but that may be yet more serendipity as I’ve found an incredible Hotel Aaculaax that is on the lake side and has these amazing rooms built into the hillside. I’m going to be in either the Cascada or the Mirador room and if you check out those links and pictures I think you’ll see why I’m so excited. These are a bit more expensive than the home stay options I’ve had here in Antigua, but at $235 for the week I’ve decided to treat myself. I’m worth it right?! I’ll post pictures and details after I’ve been there for a while to let you know what it is all like. But based on my research this is a destination that many of you might want to check out further as it seems truly magical.
After San Marco I’m headed back to El Salvador to another relatively small village called Suchitoto which is about an hour northeast of San Salvador. The name Suchitoto, means flower bird(Pájaro Flor) in nahuat, the language of the main indigenous group that inhabited this region. Suchitoto is a small colonial town in the department of Cuscatlán, located only an hour north east of the capital city of San Salvador. With cobblestone streets and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Suchitlán, Suchitoto has preserved its historical architecture of the late 1800's, and is known as the cultural capital of El Salvador. This town has been recommended to me by quite a few others I’ve met and they have a Spanish language school there that I’ll be attending. Will be interesting to see how the Spanish is any different and also to see the differences between the cultures of El Salvador and Guatemala
So that’s the update for now folks! I’ll do my best to post more between learning Spanish, work and travel.
Hasta la próxima vez mis amigo!