25th June 2014
At Celtic School in Cardiff we know that English language learning doesn’t just happen here in Wales! In all corners of the world people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities come together to learn English for their futures.
My name is Emelyne, and at Celtic School my day to day role is Marketing Officer. I have experience of teaching English as a foreign language from my year spent in France as a British Council teaching assistant and private tutor. Sometimes I will lead the Conversation Café at Celtic.
Last month I travelled to Costa Rica. During my time there, my partner and I had the opportunity to volunteer teaching English in a local village school, at which I jumped at the opportunity to be back in the classroom.
The village of San Francisco is in the northern most part of Costa Rica, in a remote jungle area called Tortuguero, on the Caribbean coast close to the Nicaraguan border. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a highly protected conservation site. The whole of this area is on water and locals navigate the Amazon-like canals by canoe or simple motorboat.
In the mid- 1970’s, an American came to Tortuguero, the ‘Land of Turtles,’ to research about the turtles on the Caribbean beaches there. He realised that many turtle species breeding there were endangered and if the local people didn’t work together to stop poaching and preserve the turtles’ habitat, then some of the world’s finest leather-back and green turtles were, with time, at danger of becoming extinct. This American conservationist convinced the local people that the way forward was conservation and eco-tourism!
For the local people of Tortuguero and San Francisco, eco-tourism is their main livelihood. Therefore it has been vitally important for the native Spanish speakers of this remote region, as with most of Costa Rica, to have a good grasp of the English language in order to be able to communicate with the tourists coming to see the wildlife. If locals can speak English they can work in a restaurant or hotel, run their own guest house or water taxi service, or become an accredited bilingual naturist guide.
The eco-tour company, Costa Rica Expeditions, runs an education project from Tortuga Lodge in Tortuguero. This hotel and travel company has trained members of staff to teach English at the small village of San Francisco upstream, which only has a primary school. The secondary school is too far down the river for many children to be able to continue their education past primary level.
Therefore, the teachers from the Lodge go to the village every afternoon from 3 – 5pm to teach English to any children and teenagers who want to come and learn. Learning English is essentially the only formal education that children aged 12+ can access in San Francisco village. The young people here know that by learning English they will have a future in the eco-tourism industry.
So one Tuesday afternoon we decided to take a break from exploring the rainforest for monkeys and parrots and take a boat upstream to volunteer at this school. We arrived at the bank side and entered into a haven of tropical delights. There were no cars, no roads, just a welcoming path lined with banana fruit trees and colourful bungalow houses. A couple of children, one on a bike, passed alongside us and called out “Hola Gustavo, buenas dias!” He was saying hello and good day to his teacher, who was with us, and Gustavo responded, “Pura vida!” This is a common Costa Rican greeting literally meaning “pure life.”
We had great fun meeting the students who all enjoyed introducing themselves to us, even if at first they were a little timid to speak English in front of native speakers! They all happily wrote their names on the board and told us their age, as well as teaching us some Spanish phrases such as “pleased to meet you.” The children in our classes ranged from 8 to 14 years old. We learnt the alphabet song, found England (and Wales!) on the world map and then settled down to some trickier sentence structure and grammar exercises in small groups.
The students were glad to put their pens down afterwards and take part in our ‘letter run’ game which involved tiring ourselves out a lot racing one another to the opposite side of the classroom and back collecting the letter of the alphabet that had been called out in English. Team Crocodiles beat Team Lions but there were winners all round, as everyone knew the alphabet well by the end of the game.
Spending an afternoon with these beautiful, vibrant, energetic youngsters truly showed me how much you can do with how little you may have. These students may only have one class to go to every afternoon and one subject to learn, but what a wise choice has been made to teach them that one subject that is English. It will become their skill for life in our generation of globalisation and give them more opportunity than they could probably ever even imagine right now. Celtic School believes it too can offer this to its students:
“We teach English today so they can live their tomorrow.”
At Celtic we know the opportunity of learning English can bring great possibilities for every student that chooses to study with us and ultimately makes that choice to learn English as a skill for life. Like for the children we taught that afternoon in the village school in Costa Rica, English can and will have the power to open doors onto a new kind of future for you.
These children are certainly going to have bright futures in Tortuguero if they continue learning English every afternoon…
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