Learning the Language in Lumbisi
Pola Henderson is our Greenheart Travel Scholarship winner who is participating on a volunteer program in Ecuador. She also has her own travel blog site: JettingAround. Check out her videos from Ecuador!
I was a Spanish learner on-and-off since college, until a few years ago I had decided to get serious about the language and sign up for classes. A few factors helped the decision.
Hola, soy Pola
I live in Chicago, which has a large Latin-American population, and therefore it’s easy to meet people to practice with. Also, a friend introduced me to salsa dancing, which in turn got me interested in Spanish-language music and the Latin culture in general. And for a long time I wanted to travel to South America.
After a few visits to Spanish-speaking countries – and successfully communicating with locals despite limited fluency – I knew that Spanish would become a fixture in my life. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. After completing basic and intermediate courses, I was ready for more and took conversation classes. But I felt that that wasn’t enough. The next step was more travel and immersion.
Greenheart’s volunteer program in Ecuador has given me an opportunity to live with a host family and work at a local day care center. Both have contributed to my language learning, yet in different ways.
Interacting with my hosts has improved my listening comprehension and speaking skills. We’ve had many conversations at the dining room table with the hosts and their extended family. We’ve shared stories, discussed news and soccer, even watched talent shows together. I don’t get to do all that in Spanish every day.
At the children’s center I don’t speak much, but I’ve learned a lot of new vocabulary. Some of it I picked up by listening to the teachers speak, part of it I researched on my own (i.e. names of toys or objects I saw in the classroom and couldn’t name in Spanish). And my command of imperatives greatly improved! There’s always something to tell the kids to do (or not to do)… ¡Venga por acá! (Come here!), ¡Siéntese bien! (Sit well!), and ¡No así! (Not like that!) are some of the most common phrases.
Speak some more
I’ve taken opportunities to practice Spanish outside of home and work too: ordering food in a restaurant, going shopping, or taking public transportation. I listen to Latin music nearly every day and have switched my phone/email/social sites to Spanish. Every bit counts.
Being able to understand different people when they speak at their normal pace, in non-classroom situations is rewarding, although not always easy. There are times when I have to ask for clarification. It can be intimidating, but what helps is realizing that the goal is communication and not being 100% perfect all the time.
In my experience, people notice the effort and are often willing to teach you more.