I’m greeted by a nice chap by the name of Antonio. ESO is his baby and he’s got a staff of around 6 teachers working every day. He offers Spanish and English classes, both at the school, and via Skype video chat for when you go home. This is a small school in comparison to some of the others in Antigua but it’s definitely not without its charms, like most buildings in Antigua, there are various rooms set around a central courtyard/garden. Teachers and students sit at small wooden tables, arranged around the courtyard, all working away, trying to get their verbos irregulares down pat.
I’m Introduced to my new teacher I’ll be studying with for the next week, her name is Janet and she’s a little Guatemalteca who’s friendly and welcoming. We start chatting and before long I realize that she’s already started teaching me Spanish, at this stage I speak very little – Hola, adios. I’m not sure what to expect from these classes. Part of me thought it was going to be like school was, where I was the kid in the back of the class, farting and blaming it on the special ed kid.
But it’s different. It’s just 2 people talking. It’s not stressful, you learn at your own pace. One person speaks Spanish and one person listens, comprehends part of what was said and replies in broken Spanglish. Lather, rinse, repeat, until magically you find yourself understanding what your teacher is saying, replying to basic questions and performing basic conversation.
It’s magic, really, that in just a week you can improve your Spanish drastically. You develop a relationship very quickly with your new teacher, it’s the same for everyone, you will sit there for 4 hours a day every day, talking about your life, their life, and trading stories. By the end of the week, my new maestra knew more about me than many of my friends back in London. I even scared the hell out of her by telling her a few of the debaucherous stories from my travels. Later on I speak to my Spanish friend in Spain on Skype and we have our first ever conversation in Espanol. It’s obviously basic, but she’s amazed at the progress that I’ve made, my ego is stroked and I feel great.
The classroom is not only in the classroom either; it’s wherever you want it to be. It’s your money, so you can go wherever you want, you can go to any of the amazing cafes in the town to sip the famous Guatemalan coffee, you can have breakfast, wander around the markets or do your weekly food shopping, as long as you’re talking, and more importantly, listening to your teacher, you’re learning.
At night you stay with your assigned Guatemalan host family who feed you, and do their best to make sure you’re comfortable. They’ll provide meals, a bed, (sometimes) internet and sparkling repartee. They will be your family away from home and usually the mother of the family will want to adopt you as one of her own. It’s true that I’ve fallen in love with several 50-something Guatemalan women here in Antigua.
And the cost for all this: 20 hours of Spanish, all your meals, a private room and an experience you won’t forget… all for a lot less than $200? Pfff. I’ve spent more than that on a night out in London!