Sunday, December 6, 2009

Language School Rip-Offs

How I wish I had paid more attention in high school and college Spanish! But back then, I thought learning another language was a waste of time. And I think, for most Americans it's not necessarily a waste of time, but most of us don't have a language partner to practice with (and this is key to success in learning a foreign language).

America is so huge that unless you happen to live in a border town or Miami, pretty much everyone will speak English. We're not Europe where they have whole countries the size of Rhode Island (and if you've ever been in RI, you know it's pretty dang small).

Who knew then that I would grow up and marry a Puerto Rican and Cuban man whose first language is Spanish?

In my quest to learn his language, I've probably spent close to $10,000 on private lessons (hey, language lessons ain't cheap) and countless hours of frustration.

And I have to admit, my language skills aren't that great. Mostly I think it's a confidence issue and also the awareness that my teachers and Leo all know English. It's very easy to slip back into English when the going gets rough in Spanish.

So I decided that the next time the military moves us (which could be as early as this October--we find out our choices of cities/hellholes in January) instead of sitting around on the couch for the first couple of months looking for a good job, I would send out resumes in advance (something I didn't have the luxury of doing when we moved to San Diego) and then spend a month or so studying Spanish in another country.

I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn't fall into the easy trap of expressing myself in English when I couldn't in Spanish. I first looked at Puerto Rico but that's hella expensive.

Spain? No way, they talk funny and use weird verb forms over there :D
I tossed out Mexico since I spent last Christmas there in Guanajuato and Guadalajara and it's too close to where I live now.
Costa Rica, meh. Been to San Jose and trust me, it's nothing special. My mom lives in a little town called Boquete in Panama but I've already been there a few times.

I considered Chile and Peru but finally settled on Buenos Aires, Argentina since I also want this to be a vacation. A learning vacation, but a vacation.

A sabbatical if you will.

Next I started looking at prices. They're pretty comparable so I wasn't sure how to choose. But one school, which made me give them my contact info before they would send me anything which should have been my first clue, offered a free online "language testing ability" quiz.

I took it one time and got an Inicial level (this is the lowest level). Ok, I thought, maybe it's because I had had a glass or two of wine. I tried again the next day and got an Inicial level again.

Completely enraged at this point, I asked Leo to take it (again, hubs is a native Spanish speaker) and he got Elemental. (the next level up). They did have one question using the vosotros form and Leo did move from PR to Miami when he was 9, so I thought maybe his Spanish isn't all that either.

Then I had one of my Spanish teachers take it. This woman has taught Spanish for years and is very thorough and precise. She grew up in Venezuala and Spanish is her first language.
She scored an Intermediate 2. (not the highest level).

At this point, I'm like this test is absolutely ridiculous and designed to fail you and crush your spirit. After all, even though I got Inicial, to me an Inicial level is like "uno, dos, tres..." I could read everything the test was asking and that, to me, is certainly not Inicial.

Here's the link if you would like to try the test for yourself and see how you fare.

Having worked in a language school for awhile, I know that many are complete rip-offs and aren't in the best interests of the students.

At the school I worked at, our "training" consisted of us coming in to observe another teacher's class for 1 hour before we began our own classes. Did I mention, this training was unpaid and completely voluntary? So, many people didn't bother.

There was no grammar test given, nor were you asked to give a teaching demonstration or anything. Some of the people they hired there were so sad. But I digress.

I do know that for dollar ratio, language schools can be very expensive. For example, private lessons at our school were $60 per hour. That's $1 per minute! Needless to say, not many students availed themselves of this "privilege". (BTW they paid the teachers $16 per hour)

However, I want to visit Buenos Aires and I sure don't want to sit on my couch for 2 or 3 months driving myself and Leo crazy while I job hunt and try to get acclimated to another city.

Has anyone out there had good experiences with language schools? If so, any recommendations?

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