Mission "escape the comfort zone" ACCOMPLISHED!
Updated: Apr 21, 2019
By Hannah Macro, a volunteer from England who joined Domino Volunteers to assist with English classes at a public high school in Cartagena.
I've been in Colombia for 6 weeks now and have already done and learnt so much. I am volunteering in a public school, as an English language assistant with an amazing teacher called Jairo and will be here for 3 months in total. My main task in lessons is to help with pronunciation, correct students' work and lead speaking activities. When the children are doing exercises from their text book, once one asks me to check their work, they all want me to look at their books and I find myself surrounded by students and their books!
The first week was so much fun but there was so much to take in! Especially having just arrived in a new country, living with a family I had never met before and not being able to speak a word of Spanish, I was definitely out of my comfort zone - but that's why I came to South America!
The students' English language levels are generally very low. So to begin with, it was difficult to communicate. I had been worried about my lack of Spanish in the classroom, but had been reassured that it wouldn't be too much of a problem. I quickly learnt that actions and lots of facial expressions can go very far in trying to explain something! After a month and a half, I do think it was beneficial for me not being able to explain things in Spanish at the beginning. Sometimes I have to get Jairo to explain something to the whole class in Spanish, and I practice my Spanish with them after the lesson, but I definitely think they've learnt more from me speaking English to them from the start.
It has been really interesting to learn Spanish alongside teaching English. Especially as both the students and I started from a low level, we've been going through the same challenges and hurdles as each other. This has definitely given me a better understanding of why the students find certain things difficult or not as simple as it may seem to me. My experience has given me a real fascination in linguistics, language and the theory behind language learning. It's now something I definitely want to pursue in the future, in further education and/or a career.
Learning Spanish hasn't been easy so far, but I definitely feel like I am getting somewhere! It has helped immensely that I found an amazing Spanish school to learn with, and started with 3 two hour lessons a week. Now I have a good base understanding, I have reduced my lessons but will continue for another few weeks. Learning a language in a country that speaks that language is a completely different experience from learning at home. I am constantly forced to practice, whether when buying something, asking questions, or in my homestay. Being surrounded by the language makes it so much easier as you have no choice to continue learning outside the classroom. I am always trying to figure out signs, speak to people and take in as much as I can.
My host family speak a little English, but now I can speak basic Spanish we tend to communicate in Spanish which is so good for me. I also try to teach her English too! Making friends from Cartagena has also given me an amazing opportunity to learn words and phrases relevant to things I tend to talk about. I have friends I meet with and we speak Spanish for an hour and then English for an hour - benefiting us both. Locals are so grateful to have an opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker but they don't realize how much it helps me too.
I cannot believe I am nearly half way through my time in Cartagena, but I am so excited to see what the next month and a half will bring me - and how much my Spanish will improve in that time!