It does not feel like I’ve been in classes for a week. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve been doing this for months. Although time has absolutely flown by, I feel exhausted by the work of the past week. 35 hours of Spanish in one week is no joke! But I am showing the results of it – I’m growing more and more confident in my abilities to communicate, I look for opportunities to speak Spanish with others instead of trying to avoid them, I’m actually using verb tenses other than present, and my ability to understand oral Spanish is growing rapidly.
Today at the end of class, I reviewed the week with my teacher. I’m so happy with what I’ve learned. He said next week we’ll cover imperfect, future, conditional, and maybe subjunctive. Oh, is that all? 😆
So here’s my regular routine. I wake up each morning around 4:30. I’m not kidding! I’m not trying to – my alarm is set for 6!!! (I can’t tell if it’s still jet lag, or if it’s because I’m so exhausted by the end of the day that I generally fall into bed by 8:30 or 9, or if it’s the fact that it’s dark by 6:30 so my body can’t shift time zones effectively.)
I usually stay in bed until 5:30, lazing around, doing some reading. Then I get up and get ready for the day. Breakfast is served around 7. Usually I can squeeze in around ten or fifteen minutes of studying before breakfast. That helps me impress my teacher when I get quizzed on the work or vocabulary from the day before! 🤓
After breakfast, my classmates and I head out to our 8:00 classes. Every student has one-on-one classes with their own teacher, so just before 8, there are a lot of teachers and students streaming into the school.
The school is built in the colonial style. Like so many buildings here, it’s got a big courtyard/garden, and everything is more or less open air. I sit upstairs with my teacher. If we stand up, we can see the peak of Volcán de Agua, and often birds fly into the climbing plants that line the balcony.
My teacher and I generally spend the first hour or so of class in general conversation about whatever comes up. This is exactly what I need – the opportunity to practice using Spanish, developing my listening skills, and learning random vocabulary along the way. Often our conversations take us into territory that I’m very happy to talk about, but partway through an explanation or a story I will think, I do not have the vocabulary for this conversation!!! Then there’s a lot of creative explanation by me to use he vocabulary that I do have, or a lot of “¿Cómo se dice…?” to learn out what I need to know.
I’m not kidding when I say that we have talked about incredibly diverse and far-reaching topics. Here’s a small taste:
- Lots and lots about Canada, Ontario, and Mississauga – geography, culture, politics
- What it was like to live through the Guatemalan civil war
- How maple syrup is made
- The Safe Third Country Agreement
- The story of my family’s immigration to Canada
- The educational system in Canada vs the educational system in Guatemala
- My hike along the Niagara recreational trail earlier this spring
- What it’s like to walk out on the ice on a frozen Great Lake
- Ice fishing
- How I use Google Classroom and technology in my classes
- The Guatemalan social services system
Sometimes those conversations actually last longer than an hour. Today my teacher and I just talked for two hours, all the way until break! At 10:00, music is played over speakers, signalling break time. I head downstairs and talk with friends for a bit. Break is a quick fifteen minutes, and then we’re back to work.
Often after break, my teacher and I will go over my homework from the night before. Then we’ll spend time learning/reviewing grammar concepts, doing activities to practice the grammar, practicing oral work (like a list of 20 or 30 questions he asks that I answer), reading exercises, and written work. I studiously take notes for any grammar concept so I can review it later on.
At 12:00, music signals the end of classes again. My housemates and I head home together. My housemates are finished classes for the day at lunch, so they’ll often begin homework before we eat so they have lots of free time. I’ll often sit with them and study. Today I took a nap before lunch instead. 😴
We eat at one, and then I head back out for class, which begins at 2:00. My housemates, meanwhile, go off to explore. They visit ruins, take buses to little villages, or find cute cafés to sit in. I was worried about feeling left out, but the truth is that I’m happy to spend time in class. (Yes = 🤓.) My purpose in being here is to learn Spanish, and classes are the way to reach that goal. My host was skeptical that 7 hours is necessary or helpful. She told us on our first day of classes that four hours is best. After that you’re too tired and you just need to practice what you’ve learned as you shop or explore. Maybe that’s true for many people, but I think I’m a different case. I know so much scattered and random vocabulary and grammar, and classes are the way for me to put all of that into context. As my housemate Hanna said, “Your work here is to connect the dots. I’m just looking for a dot – any dot.”
Morning classes generally follow the same pattern as afternoon classes – conversation for as long as we sustain it, and then grammar or verb work, practice, oral work, listening work, written work. I finish classes at five and head toward home. I usually take a different route so that I can walk past something new and see a little something of the city on my way back home.
Once home, I begin my homework. Early in the week, my head was so full and homework was hard. I realized today that yesterday was different – much clearer still after seven hour of classes. I’m hoping that means I’m over the tough first learning curve. After dinner, my housemates and I often spend time studying, talking, or maybe even squeezing in a little reading. Then I fall into bed exhausted to begin the cycle anew the next day.
So, I’m down 35 hours of Spanish. 35 hours of classes to go. Bring it on! In the meantime, I’m very happy to have a weekend in order to take a break from classes, rest my brain, see the city a little, and be a tourist.