One of the blogs I read without fail over my morning cup of coffee is Chiriqui Chatter. The city of David and Potrerillos are in the Province of Chiriqui in the western part of the country bordering Costa Rica. Several months ago Don Ray, the blog’s author, wrote about meeting with students at the American School in David who were studying English. Native English speakers would meet with the students once a month to help them train their ears to hear the English language. One of the hardest things to do when you’re studying a foreign language is to “hear” it. I find that I “speak” Spanish much better than I “hear” it.
I remember so well when I landed in France without speaking French, that I didn’t hear anyone speaking French. All I heard was noise. None of it made sense. It wasn’t even babble. It was simply static that I couldn’t comprehend. I remember quite well the day as I was walking back to my boat after visiting Antibe’s wonderful open air fruit and veggie market I HEARD A WORD! Out of all that noise there was a distinct WORD. Not only that, it was as if the entire town had held a meeting the night before and said, “tomorrow we’re going to teach Richard a word,” because everywhere I went I heard that word. I don’t remember what that word was, but it was the start of my immersion into the French language.
I thought these sessions were an excellent idea and got in touch with a young lady named Patricia and asked to be put on a mailing list if they had one so I could attend when I finally moved full-time to Panama. Yesterday I went to my first meeting. The instructor is a young man named Marvin who actually attended American School when he was a lad before living in the States and in London, England, for several years.
It was thought that there were going to be five or six gringos (by that I mean anyone foreigner whose first language isn’t Spanish) coming. I was the only one who showed up possibly saving the day’s agenda from total failure. I had a great time. Guess it’s the ham in me. My year teaching Nautical Science at West Jefferson High School in Gretna, LA, stood me in good stead. I was placed at the teachers desk and easily went around the room asking questions of each of the students, all adults I should say, making them tell me why it was they wanted to learn English. Everyone answered that it was, first, to advance in their jobs and secondly the challenge of learning something they thought was important to them. Several of the students are teachers, themselves, and apparently learning English has become a requirement for them.
In turn I answered their question to me. They were, I’m sure, those they ask all the gringos who come to their sessions. “Where do you come from?” “How do you like Panama?” And from the girls, “Are you married?” What do you think of Panamanian women?” “Do you think you will ever have another girlfriend?” Hmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder if they’re hinting at something? Of course I’m old enough to be grandfather to each of them.
The session lasted for about an hour and a half and didn’t seem that long at all. It whizzed past and I think everyone enjoyed it. I made sure everyone participated and the level of fluency was quite good for people who had only been attending classes once a week for the past six months. There was a real level of dedication here.
When the Q&As were over cake, snacks and sodas were brought into the classroom.
I didn’t bring my camera with me and in any event I rarely take pictures of people. Perhaps I believe, just a little bit like so many indigenous people do, that each photo takes a little of that person’s soul. But Don Ray has graciously given me permission to use photos from his blog of his previous visits to the class.
These two girls, whose names I don’t remember, are teachers The gentleman, Guillermo, is a hair dresser. Many of his clients are foreigners who don’t speak Spanish but DO speak English, and he believes, rightly so, that if he can learn English and be able to talk to the women his income will increase. I don’t know the woman in the photo.
Most of the women who attended were teachers.
These girls teach at American School. Those smiles weren’t just for the camera, they were on the whole time the class was in session.
The lady in the center of the picture and the one on the right work for Super Baru, one of the supermarket chains in Chiriqui. They are studying English hoping to advance in their jobs. I don’t know who the woman on the left is though by the blouse she’s wearing I’d say she’s on the school staff. She wasn’t there yesterday.
The girl on the right is a lawyer and the other girl is an environmental engineer. I have to confess that while I was polite with the guys and made it a point to be sure they were included in the exercise with so many attractive women in attendance…well, you understand.
Finally there were these two. Though Don pegged her as a teacher in the post where I picked up the photo, she said she was a physicist. One with a winning smile. Oh, yeah, there’s a guy in the photo. He was a nice kid and had one of the better grasps on the language of the entire group.
I’m looking forward to next month’s get together.