Learning Spanish at Rancho Margot
We found a smooth boulder to set down our things beside the riverbank. The morning light warmed my skin as I began my Spanish lesson. Lorena had tight, bouncy black curls and a smile to match. She listened patiently as I stumbled over verb conjugations and danced around words I didn't know, but she understood. She responded in kind, helping me find the right words and correcting my grammar while I scribbled in my notebook. By then, I'd filled its pages.
Spanish immersion courses in Costa Rica
For visitors keen on picking up a few other expressions besides "Pura Vida!" You'll find Spanish immersion courses in any major city in Costa Rica. Most courses span 20 hours over one to two weeks and cost between $1,000 and $1,500. Most schools offer a homestay program, which usually includes food, a place to stay and a ready-made family to practice your skills on.
At Rancho Margot, students learn for 2.5 hours a day in private sessions or with small groups (depending on the number of students). Classes focus mainly on a conversational approach to teaching, emphasizing using the language in practical situations. Classes cost between $1,300 and $2,080 for two to four weeks, but the ranch also offers work exchange programs for reduced prices.
First day of class
I sat in the smaller of Rancho Margot's two classrooms with Ivania, the volunteer coordinator and Spanish teacher. We began the class with an interview so that she could assess my skills. As I stumbled through the short autobiography of how I ended up in Costa Rica, Ivania wrote some of my common mistakes on the board.
Afterwards we reviewed them, discussed the differences between imperfect and preterit tenses (preterit is used to talk about completed actions in the past), then we began our focus: learning how to improve my Spanish for my job as a travel journalist. The class ended with a homework assignment: write a list of questions as if you were going to interview someone (a regular part of my work).
The next day came with unfortunate news. Ivania was called away by a family emergency and I was left without a proper Spanish teacher. That's when Lorena, a 25-year-old Phys-Ed teacher and volunteer at Rancho Margot, offered to help me with my Spanish. Though she wasn't a Spanish teacher herself, I knew what I wanted from the classes and she was more than eager to help.
Lorena met me the next day in the restaurant after breakfast. Opting for a more casual approach - and lacking keys to the class rooms - we decide to enjoy the weather and have our lesson while walking around the farm. We walked past the vegetable gardens and sat in the shade of a plantain tree. After learning a little bit about each other (and practicing my preterit and imperfect tenses), we opened a Spanish textbook and did a practice reading.
Over the course of the next week, we practiced. Every day, we met up and walked around the farm. We start with a casual conversation and as it petered out, I read a passage out loud and answered questions about it. When we got restless, we got up and walked the trails through the forest and gardens. While we wandered, I took notes and practiced using the vocabulary from the pages. Lorena would stop to point out vegetables, plants and object and I would practice the words.
What I learned
Sitting beside the riverbank, we talked about our lives and how we'd both came to Costa Rica. Lorena, originally from Chile, had come to Costa Rica to live with her sister in Arenal. As I asked her more about her life, the words I'd learned over the last few days came trickling back to me… and the ones that didn't I looked up. But more than just learning a few words, I felt confident in the language for the first time. There I was sitting on a riverbank in Costa Rica, not just talking, but actually communicating with someone in another language.