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

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ESL Teachers in CR Learning Another Language

The Costa Rica Times - A common question that is asked by aspiring ESL teachers in Latin America is if not knowing the Spanish language will hinder their abilities in the classroom. The answer to that question is both yes and no.

Let’s start with the obvious. In recent times the teaching methodology that has proven most effective in terms of languages is that of using the target language only. If the context is ESL classrooms, then that language is English. With this in mind, not knowing Spanish – or the native language of your students – does not present a problem. In fact, in many cases it can actually be seen as a positive.

In sticking with the target language only goal, students will not be able to ask the teacher questions in their own language. Rather, they will be forced to communicate in English, which will only improve their communication abilities. In addition, you as the teacher won’t be able to recognize perceived cognate or translation errors that your students are making.

One of the biggest factors in providing the best learning environment possible for your students is to have them not only speaking in English but also thinking in English. Translation errors can also occur as a result of students thinking in their own language and then saying those same words in English. Any experienced ESL teacher will tell you that having this dynamic in class is a must. Not knowing the native language of your students makes establishing this a lot simpler.

With this said, knowing the native language of your students does have a lot of benefits. The most obvious being that you are living in their country. In addition to personal skill building, knowing at least the basics of the language that you encounter on a day-to-day basis will make your life a lot easier. In terms of classroom effectiveness, every aspiring ESL teacher should, at least at one time, be a language learner.

The final assignment in Global TESOL College’s certification course is to have each trainee conduct a thirty minute language lesson to the rest of the class. The trick is that the lesson cannot be in English. The idea is to reiterate the most basic, but most forgotten, aspect of ESL teaching: that your students don’t speak English.

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Listen to expats living in Costa Rica on the weekly podcast!

Whether teaching a basic or advanced level, there will be aspects of the language, and the way that you as the teacher present and speak it, that students simply will not understand. Putting our TESOL students in the shoes of having to teach people who have no idea what you’re saying –and also receiving a class in a language they do not speak – is a great lesson in perspective.

By far the most common question leading up to the start of each TESOL course is about how to teach English if Spanish is not known. As you can see, the necessity to speak Spanish, or any other language, does not exist. The necessity that does exist, however, is that of being a student of another language.

This is the most important thing any aspiring ESL teaching can do. You will learn how hard it is to learn another language, what it feels like to be a student and not understand, what makes an effective teacher from the perspective of a language learner, and how to only use the target language. With this experience, you will be a much more effective ESL instructor.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

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CR ESL Teaching; Anxiety in Your First Class

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The first day of a new job is always filled with anxiety. You want to make a good first impression. You want things to go smoothly. You don’t know exactly how everything will play out and are terrified of making a mistake for fear of repercussions. Most of the anxiety comes from not knowing what is going to happen. 

Let me take the opportunity to defuse all of that anxiety for you. In the ESL world, there is absolutely no need to worry about your first class. Your superiors, colleagues and students all know exactly how it’s going to go: badly.

This doesn’t mean anything. Almost every teacher’s first ESL class is a regrettable one. No one is judged, loses a job, or is placed in a certain category after their first class; having it go poorly is what is supposed to happen. It is what you take from your first ESL class experience and how you apply it going forward that will make or break your fate in the business.

This doesn’t only apply to those without prior teaching experience. A common thought among former high school or elementary school teachers is that their experience will automatically translate into instant success in a foreign ESL classroom. This is not normally the case. Teaching ESL is a different animal than teaching other disciplines and there is a steep learning curve just like in any other platform.

I’ve had many conversations with very experienced teachers about their shock at how inept they felt in the ESL classroom. While there is something to be said for having the experience of standing in front of a group of people and instructing them on a topic, the experience of having that group of people not understand the words you are saying cannot be paralleled.

Teaching English as a foreign language involves a much different skill-set than teaching any other discipline. The ability to convey meaning without the use of words requires practice and a lot of patience. In this light, those with previous teaching experience and those without are in the same boat in terms of ESL teaching.

In some cases, those without any teaching experience are actually better off. It is natural to take what you have learned in a career and apply it to another position, but in many cases that doesn’t correlate well in the context of ESL. Experienced teachers who try to force-feed tested approaches from other platforms often don’t find a lot of success. Teachers who are completely new to the field and are starting from square one can find an advantage in that they have nothing to compare ESL teaching to.

Where should I sit in comparison to my students? Should I sit at all? Will this activity be effective? Will they all understand it? What’s the present perfect structure again?

There is so much to remember in the beginning. Most of the focus in the early going is on these essential aspects of the class – and those with a TESOL or TESFL certification will know that everything from eliminating physical barriers to where students physically sit is as big a part of the class as any. This is why it takes some time to acclimate and to create your ideology as a foreign language teacher.

Once this happens, you can go on perfecting your craft and delivering even more dynamic classes. Just don’t be nervous about being bad at the beginning. Everyone knows that already.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

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When Should an ESL Teacher Come to CR?

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The reasons a person decides to move abroad to teach English in Costa Rica are many. For some it’s a gap year after university. For others it’s a first step in retirement. Others simply like the idea of escaping the cold winds of winter for a few months. Whatever the motive, the time of year that you decide to take the leap to Costa Rica should ultimately depend on what end you expect for yourself once here. 

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Just like there are high and low seasons for tourism, the ESL industry in Costa Rica also has points that are much busier than others. These are the end of January and the beginning of July.

The end of January is when everything has finally settled down after the Christmas/New Years break. In Costa Rica, and all of Latin America for that matter, Christmas can be considered a five month affair. With Independence Day in Costa Rica on September 15th, as soon as the 16th you can see Christmas decorations going up in stores and homes across the country. Without a significant holiday between Independence Day and Christmas, the festive anticipation ramps up very early.

With the entire country essentially shutting down for all of December, the ESL market goes with it. It takes until the end of January for people to settle back in but, once they do, the market takes off. The third week of January means back to business and everyone brings their New Year’s resolutions of learning a new language with them. This peak goes strong until April, when the surge is interrupted by another significant holiday: Semana Santa.

July marks the start of the other peak season, which runs until the end of November. With language schools doing most of their hiring in anticipation of these two peaks, those teachers looking to secure employment with the most hours should apply – or move to Costa Rica – just before January and July.

In comparing the two peaks of the ESL hiring season, January is by far the most saturated in terms of people arriving to Costa Rica. With it being winter in North America, the best weather in Costa Rica, and a fresh calendar it is the logical time to arrive.

Given this, a December arrival – and a November TEFL/TESOL course – is often ideal. A common trend to get a leg up on your competing applicants is to spend the month of November getting certified, using December to get your bearings and apply for jobs with the goal of starting to work when the market picks up steam in January. A late December or January arrival is often too late as many institutes do their hiring for the following year in the month of December.

With this said, securing a teaching job with 20 hours or more isn’t the goal of everyone. For teachers looking to move to Costa Rica to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere – and teaching more for enjoyment rather than dependence on the paycheck – coming in the low seasons may be more beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, jobs can be had in low season; the hours – and subsequently the earnings – will just not be enough to live off of. However, for many teachers in Costa Rica, money is not the primary objective. For many, this avenue of less is more is the better option. The pay is less, but so is the traffic, cost of living and beach congestion. If the experience of living abroad is what you’re looking for, and using a teaching job to pay the rent, then perhaps coming in a time not often associated as ideal might be a better fit.

January and July are the peak seasons of the ESL market in Costa Rica. If you’re looking to secure a job at those times, you’d be wise to arrive at least a month prior to your preferred start date. Coming in low season allows for more flexibility in terms of arrival date with the trade off of fewer employment benefits. When you decide to buy your ticket simply depends on what you expect from your time in Costa Rica.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

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CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Panama

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - Visa runs are a necessary part of life as an English teacher in Costa Rica. In part I of this series I discussed some of the options available in Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua. In part II, I discuss the other common destination for English teachers to take their mandatory vacation every 90 days: Panama.

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Part of the fun of a trip to Panama is the actual trip itself. Unlike Nicaragua, where Costa Rican bus company Tica Bus provides both comfort and ease in terms of getting to and across the border, no such service is available for the journey south. The only exception would be if you’ve decided to venture all the way down to Panama City – but more on that later.

There are a couple border crossings to choose from but the two most popular are the crossings near Golfito on Costa Rica’s Pacific side and at Sixaola, on its Caribbean coast. Sixaola, based on its proximity to tourist haven Bocas del Toro, is by far the most visited.

Calling Sixaola a town is an extremely generous exaggeration. The pueblo – quite literally – has a convenience store, a liquor store and an information booth that they call immigration. The local bus will take you right to where the border crossing is located. Once off the bus, walk up the hill immediately in front of you and get in line to get your passport stamped out of Costa Rica. After this you will – and get ready – walk across a bridge, which looks like it can’t hold an ant, over to Panama. Do watch your step as to not mistakenly plant down on a loose board.

When you arrive on the other side of the bridge, get in line once again to get stamped into Panama. At this point you can either continue on your journey by local bus or take up the services of one of the local taxis that will be waiting for you. If you have a group of people, or made friends during your bridge crossing, the taxis are actually quite inexpensive.

The most common and popular destination in Panama to fulfill your visa run obligation is Bocas del Toro. If you’re not familiar with this group of islands on Panama’s Caribbean coast, I highly recommend researching them as they truly are one of the great natural wonders in Central America. If you’re coming from San Jose, as most English teachers do, the trip to Bocas has two options. You can either head there from San Jose in one day, which would take about eight or nine hours depending on border traffic. The other option is to break up the trip by spending a night in Puerto Viejo, a popular and beautiful beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast situated about an hour by bus from the Panama border.

Whichever option you choose, once in Bocas you will marvel at its beauty. Bocas is a mix of a myriad of tropical islands, of which two realistically provide viable stay options. The main island, Colon, has numerous hotels and hostels at the disposal of its visitors. Colon is also home to most of the restaurants and nightlife spots in Bocas. If you like to party, you might consider this as your main hub.

If you seek a more tranquil experience, Isla Bastimentos is for you. The biggest island in Bocas, it is almost all jungle covered. The few hostels that do exist offer a very quiet and distanced experience. The island is great for hiking, exploring and is home to one of the more popular beaches in all of Bocas, Red Frog Beach, where, just as its name suggests, you can see rare red frogs.

Tours of all variations are plentiful in Bocas and for reasonable prices. One of the more expensive – maybe $20 per person – but also most worthwhile is the boat tour to Isla Zapatillas. Home to nothing but nature, you will be alone on a pristine island for the day with soft white sand, beautiful views and nothing but what you bring with you. This trip is a must.

While Bocas del Toro is by far the most common visa run destination in Panama, there are other options. Panama City is beautiful and gives a ‘big city’ feel not often found in Central America. If you can stomach the 16 hour bus ride – one way – from San Jose (or the alternative roughly $300 round-trip flight) it is definitely worth checking out. Panama City is also great for those who like shopping, as Panama is much cheaper than Costa Rica in general and Panama City has some great stores and even cheaper rates than other places in the country.

David is another great option for a quick visa run. Located on the western half of Panama, a crossing from Golfito is more recommended for this trip. The third largest city in Panama, it is only 30 kilometers from the border with Costa Rica enhancing convenience. While a nice place to visit to get a feel for ‘real Panama’ – as David is not as touristy as other places – there is not a lot to do. Nearby locations such as Boquete – including its famous hot springs Los Pozos de Caldera – and Playa Barqueta offer great attractions on your trip.

While just a sampling of things to do in both Nicaragua and Panama on your visa runs, the idea is that you are not limited to what you can do. The often maligned part of teaching English in Costa Rica can also be the most exciting. Both countries offer extensive possibilities and part of the adventure is finding them on your own.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

CR English Teachers’ Visa Runs to Nicaragua

The Costa Rican Times - Costa Rica English Teaching News - For most English teachers in Costa Rica working under the table is an unsettling reality. The thought of moving abroad to work in a country where you will not be a recognized worker is not something that would land near the top of many to do lists.

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While it can be a point of anxiety and stress for those that haven’t done it before, once in Costa Rica it is easy to see that everyone does it and it’s not really a big deal. From a legal perspective, ESL teachers are often given a free pass as they are providing a service to the nation’s population that the native population cannot provide to the same level.

Packing, traveling, where to go, safety, and passport stamps are all points that may leave a teacher sleepless a few nights before their trip. However, the silver lining of the unsettling nature of illegality for the English teacher in Costa Rica is it provides that same teacher the opportunity to do what many arrived to do in the first place: travel.

Any tourist is allowed to be in Costa Rica for up to 90 days of their original arrival. After this point they are considered to have overstayed their visit and can be subject to a variety of penalties based on different factors. As a result, English teachers embark on what is deemed ‘the visa run’- also called a mandatory vacation – every three months in order to renew their tourist visa and then return to their teaching position in Costa Rica.

The time you need across the border varies depending on who you talk to. When I arrived in Costa Rica over three years ago the company line was 72 hours. Nowadays some will tell you that length is still standard while others will claim you only need a few hours. Regardless of duration, the visa run is necessary and, if you’re going to go all the way outside of Costa Rica, you might as well enjoy yourself.

Where should you go?

Most choose options of convenience. This means going to border towns in either of Costa Rica’s neighbors of Panama or Nicaragua. Both offer diverse and interesting locations with a range of places to see and things to do. This column will focus on Costa Rica’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is a large and beautiful country filled with incredibly nice people. It is also the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, next to Haiti, and thus incredibly cheap for foreigners. The three most popular visa run locations in Nicaragua are: San Juan Del Sur, Grenada and Ometepe.

San Juan Del Sur is your typical beach town. Located on the pacific coast and not more than thirty minutes from the border it is easily accessible and a great place to hang out for a few days of R&R and away from your teaching job. Surfing isn’t the best right in town, but there are a number of high class beaches nearby with waves to challenge even the advanced surfer. It is very touristy so a lot of the locals speak English. On this trend, it is very easy to meet other travelers as it is a very well known attraction and collects travelers from all over the globe.

Grenada is about two hours by bus north of the border and is a beautiful Central American colonial town. Filled with art and history from the colonial era of Central America, it’s a great place to spend a day or two – but not three. Grenada is many things – deathly hot being one of them – and this includes boring after more than 48 hours. There is beautiful architecture, church towers to climb and even a fairly diverse nightlife. Two days though is all you will need here.

Ometepe is also a great option for your visa run. An island located in beautiful Lake Nicaragua, it is perfect for the nature lover. There is not much, if any, civilization. If you love hiking, climbing volcanoes and becoming one with your surroundings, Ometepe is for you. Given what it is, most combine Grenada and Ometepe into one visa run. This is in part due to their close proximity and also due to spending more than two days in either place is usually sufficient.

Be sure to check out my next column, where I’ll discuss some popular destinations in Costa Rica’s southern neighbor, Panama.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

 

Do I Need to Speak Spanish to Teach in CR?

 Costa Rica Teaching News - One of the more intimidating aspects of teaching English abroad is the language barrier. Without basic elements of the local language, things like buying groceries, ordering food in a restaurant and securing a date for Friday night can be tricky. This problem, however, should not translate to the ESL classroom.

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The Spanish question is one of the most common I receive. For those that don’t have experience teaching English as a second language, it is a natural thought process. The concept of a student, who doesn’t speak English, learning from a teacher, who doesn’t speak their language, certainly looks challenging on the surface. With a change in perspective, though, we can see why this is actually the ideal situation.

The best method to learn a language is to be totally and completely immersed in that language. This is why many non-Spanish speakers arrive to Costa Rica and are easily able to pick up at least the very basic elements. When you live here, you are forced to interact in Spanish. For Costa Ricans, this full immersion only exists in their ESL classroom.

One of the very first things your TESOL instructor will tell you is that the target language is the only language to be used in the classroom. There are many reasons for this, but the most important being that in order to learn, improve, or perfect a language, one must be able to also think in that language. If the effort is made to take the students’ native tongue out of the equation, the learning ability is increased immensely.

Not being able to translate for students is a constant worry for potential teachers. This is, of course, both a non-issue and a big ESL ‘no-no’. While translation may help a student understand a word or two, it is not a recognized learning technique. While also disrupting the target language focus, translation simply doesn’t work based on the logistics of the language: English does not function the same as Spanish.

This is a common point of perplexity for many. I am routinely asked by English learners and native Spanish speakers how it is I expect them to learn English without translation. My simple answer to this query is: What language was Spanish translated from for you to learn?

We all learn our native language without translation. No native English speaker learned English via translation from another language. Why should learning a second, third or fourth language be any different?

This is the challenge for ESL instructors. Students will ask. They will beg. But the answer needs to be ‘no’. Translation is any easy way out for many awkward moments in the classroom. It’s not easy to stay the course when there are ten confused faces staring at you with no idea what you’ve just said. What separates the good from great ESL instructors, though, are those that can get any message across without translating.

Do you need to speak Spanish to teach English in Costa Rica? You will need to learn at least some to live in Costa Rica. To teach English in Costa Rica not only do you not need to speak Spanish, you shouldn’t even try.

This article was published in The Costa Rican Times 

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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 (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.