This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

Teaching English in CR: A Student Perspective

Costa Rica Teaching News - Living abroad for an indeterminate amount of time is a common inclusion on many bucket lists. Teaching English in Costa Rica provides great outlet to put a checkmark beside that bullet point for many reasons. Learning a new language, experiencing new cultures, trying new foods, new customs and challenging yourself to do new things are normal self-actualizing inclusions. With this said, there is one point that often gets lost when discussing teaching abroad: teaching.

What is often forgotten in the ‘finding myself’ discussions of life overseas are the individuals who are the recipients of the service being provided. In this context, these are the students.

In order to provide some perspective, I was lucky enough to sit down recently with an English student here in Costa Rica. I asked her many questions on the reasons for taking English classes, the process of learning the English language and its importance for Costa Ricans. Her answers are great insight for teachers into what ESL students go through and why they are in class at all.

Carolina, 32, is an Associate Collector for Western Union in Costa Rica. For the last five years she has worked at their Lindora branch, located just west of San José. Like all Ticos, she studied English throughout elementary school and, unlike a lot of Ticos, was lucky enough to have English classes provided by Western Union through language institute Idiomas Mundiales.

 Her common points of frustration – which are not dissimilar to many other English students – are working in English but living in Spanish, the pressure and expectation to speak perfectly with English speaking clients, the low quality of public education and the expense of private education.

Here is our interview:

 Is speaking English important for Ticos?

Yes, of course. As a requirement for a better job opportunity it’s very important. It should extend until you have the basic stuff to ‘survive’ – general grammar and certainly fluent speaking level.

What is your experience with the English language?

At the beginning [English] was interesting but I learned in a difficult way, almost by myself. I have difficulties with my basics cause I learned wrongly, without a strong education. I learned like a baby but nobody corrected me, so I’ve several speaking errors and grammar also and now is so difficult to correct them. [It] is like a bad habit…almost impossible to remove. For those who had the chance to learn English in a private school [it] is easier.

Do you like English as a language?

Mmmmm that is difficult to answer. I don’t hate it but I started feeling uncomfortable and annoyed especially when I want to express myself but I just can’t and [I] get confused, don’t have the words. Nobody understands [and] I get seriously frustrated and I feel like Gloria from Modern Family.

Can you briefly describe English instruction in the public school system?

I’m 32 and studied in the public school system. My teacher was terrible. She just repeated and repeated things and made us pray the Catholic [most] popular prayer. We followed a book with grammar…and usually the test was to learn verbs in past and present. Terrible!

Can you describe what you want in an English teacher?

To be creative, proactive, patient and to correct me.

Does your Western Union provide you with English classes?

Yes, they did. But, as I mentioned the problem is me. Cause I learned without guidance. Like an emigrant but here…listening and speaking Spanish all day long.

 You said they did. Are you not taking classes anymore?

That’s correct. I started with formal classes when my job asked me to do it and gave me the opportunity for free. I stopped [taking classes] because I finished the course.  [It] is too expensive to learn English [otherwise].

How often do you speak English?

Every day. I’m sure my customers don’t understand 100% what I’m saying. I do my best to pronounce the language. I know there are worse accents here but I get in problems when I’m trying to explain something[in depth]. I do speak Spanish very fast so I automatically try to do it in English and I can’t…cause I lose the attention I’m giving to the accent.

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.


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