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Costa Rica Update #7: Saliendo Mi Hogar

Posted by kevinwolz on July 4, 2011

After just six weeks in San Joaquín, it already feels like home. I have grown very close to my family and am so grateful for what they have done for me. When I leave tomorrow morning to begin Phase 2 of my summer, it will be tough to say goodbye. I have no doubts, however, that I will visit Costa Rica again, and I have already told them that I will be back. The language and culture that I have learned in this part of my summer have done more to advance my Spanish and open my mind than anything else I have done previously.

That said, I am ready to be done with classes, papers, and a routine schedule. I am extremely excited to move on to Phase 2 of the summer, where I head out to work on several sustainable farms in southern Costa Rica. Possibly more than anything, I’m excited to get out of the city. I have really begun rejecting all things “gringo” lately, and I am very much looking forward to a purely Tico, Spanish-speaking experience.

My Spanish has progressed dramatically since I first arrived. While I arrived with a fairly comprehensive understanding of Spanish grammar, I was still speaking after translating what I wanted to say in my head, and conversation was choppy at best. Now all apprehension of speaking has gone, and mental translation is a thing of the past. My vocabulary has also improved, but this is something that simply takes time and you almost can’t force upon yourself. Rather than listing all the verbs that I’ve learned, I think language fluency is best described via important situations that drastically force one into speaking quickly and accurately. Below are some situations that I consider some breakthroughs on my road to Spanish fluency:

Making Reservations Over the Phone: Trying to have a conversation over a bad phone connection is much harder than speaking in person, where you can at least see the person’s lips (this helps more than you probably realize).

Handling a Crisis: When the tickets for the last bus home one weekend sold out before I could get one, I had no choice but to express myself well.

Taking with Children: This may seem like an odd one since children tend to have a smaller vocabulary and talk about less complex things, BUT children are also the most willing to laugh and point at you if you make a mistake. This is demoralizing. In my last week of school, we made a presentation in front of a class of about thirty 3rd-graders…talk about a test. When several of the students told me “Habla muy bien” (You speak really well.) after the presentation, I was ecstatic.

Ranting: Nothing improves your Spanish-speaking capabilities like a good adrenaline rush. After having a horrible experience at the local bank, I headed to school and let loose a giant rant to my professor about it. After I calmed down, I couldn’t believe that I had just said so much so quickly. Thanks, ignorant bank tellers.

Being Funny: While learning a new language, I think the hardest thing to do is to actually express your true personality as you’re speaking. It is truly amazing even how much one’s voice can change between speaking two languages…personality goes the same way. When I first showed up in Costa Rica, I only used Spanish for survival and communication. Now, I can actually use it to make someone laugh.

Idioms/Slang: Costa Rica surely has its fair share of odd sayings and slang words, all of which take quite a while to figure out. Learning and understanding the phrases/words is one thing, but actually being able to respond in the same style is on a whole different level. I certainly haven’t spent enough time here to develop much in this area, but I think I can at least say that I don’t speak “Textbook Spanish” anymore.

Arguing: When you reach the top of the tallest mountain in Costa Rica and the park rangers tell you that they not only lost your $25 lodging ticket but also forgot to tell you that you were supposed to rent gas for cooking before climbing the mountain, you have no choice but to respond in anger. In the end, I didn’t have to pay again and had the ranger lent me gas…arguing is an important aspect of fluent conversation.


Random Costa Rica Pictures


One Response to “Costa Rica Update #7: Saliendo Mi Hogar”

  1. Joan said

    Enjoyed your latest blog and pictures. Nice to see your Tico Mom and looks like you had some fun, too! You’ll have to show us the dance you learned!
    Onward to the farms! Eagerly awaiting the next blog.


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