Friday night, we went to our first "Intercambio" - this is where native English-speakers and native Spanish-speakers get together for conversations in mixed English/Spanish.
It was a very interesting experience, and I will definitely do it again. It started slow, and no one really seemed to be in charge of it, but everyone seemed to expect someone to say "ok, start." But, since my frame of mind is now perpetually in the "expect to be confused" state, I do ok. Susan and I go to a table where there is a mother and her 10-year old daughter; Susan startes talking to the mother, and I listen a bit, and ask the daughter a question or two in Spanish. Then, someone says a word we don't know, and I get out my electronic dictionary. Wow! The daughter (María Paula) really perks up - I show her how it works, and she takes over. In a little while, we are getting a real conversation going (in Spanish). A bit later, two more Ticas sit down, and we talk a bit more in Spanish, and play a language game the María Paula knows (called STOP - one person gives a letter, and the other must write down names, countries, things, animals, etc that start with that letter). After a few turns at this, we all take a turn speaking English. Everyone expects everyone else to correct their language and pronunciation, and we all speak veerrryyy slowly. The conversation starters are very centered on family - how many brothers and sisters do you have? Are you married? For how long? Do you have children (and why not, in my case - I still don´t have a good standard answer, other than ¨we decided not to¨)? When people tell you they have 22 brothers and sisters, and 7 children, they don´t understand too easily when you say you decided not to have any. But, many do.
This Intercambio is run as a community service through the Montaña Linda Spanish school in Orosí. The strange part is that in the 3 weeks we were in the school, between us we had 7 teachers, and not one of them mentioned the Intercambio. I get the feeling that the people who run the school have lost track of the bits of information that new students need to hear about. Other examples:
Volunteer programs and how they work - you can teach English, but the preparation for the classes is vague and inconsistent.
Homework is not really assigned; you are expected to pick something to do, and then (if you want) go over it with the teacher.
They don´t give you an overview of the book or a path of study - it is all very self-paced. This is _great_ for people like Rick - he pushed himself and the teachers, learned a _lot_ in just 3 weeks of class. But for people (like me) who expect more rules... Well, it takes a while to even figure out that the pace is up to you.