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Language Learning By Studying Abroad-The Best Way To Learn

Updated on June 15, 2016

Language Learning in Costa Rica

Language Learning By Studying Abroad. When I arrived in Costa Rica, Central America for Spanish immersion it never occurred to me on the plane ride, that nobody, I was going to speak to me in English while language learning. I realized at that point this was no vacation, I was really going to have to study language and the stress was almost unbearable. I arrived in by studying abroad. Alajuela, Costa Rica on Saturday afternoon, which in theory would give me a day and a half to relax before starting classes at el Instituto de Cultura y Lengua Costarricense on Monday morning. Like most plans, my idea of relaxing for the rest of the weekend never happened. Immediately starting at the airport I was greeted by my "tico mama" (my host family's mother), she started speaking to me in Spanish, asking me questions and telling me about my stay. Although I taught in a school back home that had a student population of about 80 percent who spoke Spanish to me daily, I could understand what she was saying to me language learning is difficult, and I did not have the skill to answer. I spent the weekend under extreme stress with the language. The children I worked with were in early elementary school and were easy to understand and speak to with my limited Spanish language skills.

Language learning was never ending, each weekend was filled with a new places and travel and it became second nature to speak Spanish to other people. While studying in Costa Rica I not only learned the language, I also studied the culture.

If you ever read my other lenses you know that my husband and I lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. We were making a new life in Pasco, Washington with our eldest daughter and her family. So taking a job in the Spanish school was an economic choice rather than a sane one. So, after my first year of struggling in the classroom, I decided to try an language Immersion program to speed up my learning, hopefully making teaching easier.

Each day at the Language school I had to walk to the bus stop and ride a bus to class. The first day my "tico mama" rode with me to show me the how to get to school, how to pay the bus fee and what I should expect at school. All the way to school she told me "vive en el barrio de Trinadad. I had no clue why she kept saying it to me. She dropped me off at the school and waved good-bye. In the her language she told me the neighborhood was Trinidad and I would need to know how to get back later.

Hyper Smash

My accomodations for my language study stay

My husband insisted that I travel to Costa Rica alone, so I would get the full effect of immersion. He knew we would be talking in English together and didn't want that to get in the way of my learning. He wouldn't let me go to an immersion program in Mexico, he thought it would be too dangerous for a woman to travel alone there to study language.

There were may domestics who worked to care for my "tico " home. My room was made up fresh each day, my clothes were laundered and ironed and set on my bed when I came home from school, the shower and floors were mopped and swept. Fresh flowers were placed in my room for me to enjoy.

Although there was no air conditioning it was very pleasant in the room. Most of the home are constructed of cinder block making it cool inside. In my room I had a private bath, a bed, a wardrobe closet, desk, chair and lamp. It was very private and was a separate building from the main house where I took my meals. My Spanish language moved right along.

Things to Bring for Your Stay While Language Learning

I discovered that each days meals consisted of black beans and rice, lots of fruits and vegetables. and coffee con leche (half coffee and half milk)water for drinking. So I highly recommend bringing granola bars, and other individually package food to snack on during the day and in the evening. This made language learning a great experience.

Language Immersion

Would you ever consider language immersion to learn another language?

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Getting to Language School

Breakfast in Costa Rica

My day started with a plate of fresh fruit prepared for me by my "tico mama" along with a bowl of black bean and rice (gallo pintos).

The bus ride to language school - Learning the Spanish Language

Each morning I walked through my neighborhood of Trinidad to the bus stop on the main road. There I met my new school mates and traveled abour 20 miles to school The trip cost 40 colones. There are approximately 500 colones in and American dollar. On days my schoolmates had extra lessons and stayed after language school I splurged and rode in a cab for 80 colones. I tipped my driver 1 American dollar and had a friend for life he would wait for me anywhere I wanted after the first ride. I later convinced my school mates we could use the cab to visit places the buses didn't go after our language lessons.

We hadn't realize how inexpensive it was to use the cab and had avoided doing so for about a week. After that we used a cab to go to the mall, grocery shopping for snacks, and visited some local zoos and attractions.

My First Day of Spanish Language Class

The first day of language class was fairly easy and it put most of my anxiety to rest. We played traditional Costa Rican games, sang children songs, and learned what was expected of students. We were each given bottle of water and told the water in Costa Rica was some of the world cleanest. We were also told to refill the bottle each day at the bottle filling station on campus.

We took a break in the afternoon and returned to take a short quiz which determine our basic language skills. This was then used to break us into groups based on our skill levels. School ended at about 1:00 PM each day. On this first day we were taken on a bus to experience a traditional Costa RIcan meal.

This is where my trouble started that day. After lunch we were brought back to campus and told to find our way home. Ah Ha! I walked downhill from campus to the bus stop with several other students. We were instructed in school that day we were not allowed to speak English to one another. This is where is gets good. None of us knew where we lived, so how would we know which bus to get on to get home?

Several buses stopped but from what we remembered from the morning trip to learn language they were going in the opposite direction we needed to go. All of a sudden I remembered seeing a Phamacia (Pharmacy) with the alka seltzer boy standing on the sign posted above he store near the original bus stop.. So, I told my new companions that I remember the pharmacy and the alka seltzer boy. When a bus came going in the correct direction we asked him where the this sign was. He told us "en el barrio de Trinidad" and that we should take the next bus.

We rode the bus home realizing that we all live in the same neighborhood. When we got to the Pharmacy with the sign we got out and saw the sign telling us were en el barrio de Trinidad. I learned that this was how language immersion worked, it forced you to take chances, talk to people, and get over the fear of speaking a new language.

A photo of an open air classroom on campus.

A language classroom on campus high up on a hill, be sure to bring your walking shoes.

A classroom on campus high up on a hill, be sure to bring your walking shoes.
A classroom on campus high up on a hill, be sure to bring your walking shoes.

A typical walk to the bus stop coming down the hill fromlanguage school

A typical walk to the bus stop coming down the hill from school
A typical walk to the bus stop coming down the hill from school

Learn key phrases before your language trip.

I high recommend you learn some basic language skill before doing an immersion program. I used Rosetta Stone, I learned an amazing amount of words from it, my teaches were impressed and my classmates always asked me for help with words they didn't know themselves.

A New Cultural Experience Every Day

SpeakingThe Spanish Language Everywhere I Go

After the first few day things got better, I made some friends and we navigated our way to shopping malls, we watched movie Hancock in the Spanish language at the local theater, negotiated prices at the open air markets, an found books to read in Spanish at the local bookstore. We were getting confident with our language skills.

Once or twice a week after school the school arranged to take us to visit many things. One day we went into Gracia a city that was settle by the Greeks and had a wonderful meal at a local restaurant, learned how to use the bank to get money, visited local shops, and visited beautiful churches. Each week we visited a new town and soaked in the local culture while speaking Spanish the entire time.

We visited an orphanage a and brought the children toys and books. We visited trade schools, cemetaries, public and parochial school to observe the facilities and how classes were taught. We learned that Costa Rican schools boast a 100 percent literacy rate. The Costa Rican government disbanded it's military in 1948 and redirected the money toward education. Many large companies now rely on educated Costa Rican citizens to work at their companies locally.

On the weekend trips were planned for us to visit tourist sites. We went to the hot springs for massages and soaked in heated volcanic pools afterwards. We visited the Isla de Tortuga (Turtle Island) and traveled on a 2 hour cruises to get their, We had a meal cooked on the beach, with steel drum band playing background music, followed by snorkeling and sunning on the beach. We visited the tropical rain forest and saw several monkey families, saw wild toucans, and other wildlife there. We went zip lining, some brave soles tried bungee jumping off a bridge over a river.

All of these activities gave us the opportunities we needed to make the connections we needed to learn Spanish. During my immersion I went from a beginning Spanish Speaker to an intermediate speaker, writer and reader. I'm sure I would not have made such good progress without the immersion. I strongly suggest that if you want to learn a new language you need to try immersion. The cost of the program is not very expensive, however the air fare cost over $1000, the price of school included breakfast and dinner at my "tico" home.

Some of these pictures were taken with a disposable camera

My father was a professional photographer, he would call them pictures not photos.

Lunch in a cabana near the beach

Lunch in a cabana near the beach
Lunch in a cabana near the beach

Beautiful flora and fauna near a visit to the beach

Beautiful flora and fauna near a visit to the beach
Beautiful flora and fauna near a visit to the beach

A relaxing view of the beach on la Isla de Tortuga, Puntarenas

A relaxing view of the beach on la Isla de Tortuga, Puntarenas
A relaxing view of the beach on la Isla de Tortuga, Puntarenas

Traveling across Costa Rica on the weekends when I should have been studying language

A monkey in the Rain Forest, screeching at me to leave.

A monkey in the Rain Forest, screeching at me to leave.
A monkey in the Rain Forest, screeching at me to leave.

A traditional coffee cart

Some of the carts are as large as a school run, they were used to transport coffee to the coast of Limon for export. Must have been a rough trip as it would have been pulled by oxen on wooden wheels.

Handmade coffee carts were once used and were pulled by oxen to transport coffee for export, made in Sarchi

Handmade coffee carts were once used and were pulled by oxen to transport coffee for export, made in Sarchi
Handmade coffee carts were once used and were pulled by oxen to transport coffee for export, made in Sarchi

Costa Rican Coffee an Exported Crop

Coffee growing on a Coffee Plantation Owned by my "Tico Family"

Coffee growing on a Coffee Plantation Owned by my "Tico Family"
Coffee growing on a Coffee Plantation Owned by my "Tico Family"

Growing Coffee and Bananas

Fresh picked coffee " cherries"

Fresh picked coffee " cherries"
Fresh picked coffee " cherries"

Earthquake and Volcanos

Experiencing the rumblings for the first time in my life.

Our tour bus arrived at Arenal just in time to witness an eruption

Our tour bus arrived at Arenal just in time to witness an eruption
Our tour bus arrived at Arenal just in time to witness an eruption

A cute tourist cottage near the heated volcanic pools in Arenal Hot Springs

A cute tourist cottage near the heated volcanic pools in Arenal Hot Springs
A cute tourist cottage near the heated volcanic pools in Arenal Hot Springs

One of the many Catholic churches we visited on our tours

One of the many Catholic churches we visited on our tours
One of the many Catholic churches we visited on our tours

Inside a Church

This is the alter area of the church, it is very colorful and smells of ancient wooden pews. There is a glass coffin with the preserved body of a former minister of the church. We were not allowed to take pictures of it.

The Famous "La Chola" statue in downtown San Jose

The Famous "La Chola"  statue in downtown San Jose
The Famous "La Chola" statue in downtown San Jose

School Children

These children were on recess from class as their teachers (maestas) ate lunch. The played unsupervised for 1 hour each day on the grounds of their school. They have very few books to read for pleasure and love for their school to receive them as gifts from visiting tourist from the U.S.

Retire in Costa Rica and Live Like Royalty

Retiring in Costa Rica

Many American as well as citizens of other countries retire in Costa Rica each year. The reason for this is Costa Rica is an inexpensive place to live, especially on an American retirement income. A home comparable to American standard can be purchased for a fraction of the cost The warm climate helps to produce an abundance of fruit and vegetable. Costa Rican coffee in some of the finest available around the world.

Labor is cheap maid, gardeners and other domestic help can be as little as $5 American dollars per week. So many people choose Costa Rice for these reasons. How would you like to retire in a place like this?

Costa Rica is located in Central America, between Columbia and Nicaragua, with average temperatures ranging between 64-80 degrees year round, It's unique locations offers the pacific ocean on the west side and the Caribian on the east coast. Health care costs are low and the quality is exceptionally high. Many Americans travel to Costa Rica for inexpensive health care services. Overall it is a excellent place to retire for people wanting warm weather year round and low cost of living and low health cost.

Have you ever studied a foreign language?

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    • stick-man lm profile image

      stick-man lm 4 years ago

      I took two years of Spanish, but I can't carry on a conversation.

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      I studied German in high school, was an exchange student for a year in Brasil and learned Portuguese and studied some French and Spanish in college. I want to learn Chinese now.

    • junkcat profile image

      junkcat 4 years ago

      Just in high school I don't remember much