Problems for Learners in Costa Rica Teaching English to students in Costa
Teaching English to students in Costa Rica is probably one of the easiest countries in the world in which to teach English. First of all, English is now required in the schools, Spanish is much closer to English in most sounds, almost identical alphabets are used, the general culture is open, the students like to talk, and the education of Costa Ricans is relatively high. However, there are several problems that can be encountered, some of which are rather unexpected, which include pronunciation, spelling, discipline, motivation, and general education level. There are certain pronunciation difficulties that Costa Ricans encounter. The primary one is with the 'th' sound. There is no sound like that in Latin American Spanish so they want to say it with just a 't', 'd', or 'f' sound and not place the tongue out between the lips. I often ask them how 'thank you' sounds when said by a Spaniard ('gracias' which sounds like 'grathias') and they usually understand, but still forget how to use it sometimes. Another difficult sound is the difference between 'b' and 'v' because in Costa Rica there is no real difference between the sounds, they both sound like a 'b'. The final one that is typically more difficult is the 'z' as Costa Ricans want to soften it to a 'si' sound. As with any group, some catch on very quickly and others really struggle to make the correct sounds. Another problem that Costa Ricans (and the rest of the world) encounter in English is with spelling. Spanish spelling is very phonetic whereas English is such a mixture of languages and roots that the same letters can have multiple sounds and sounds can be formed in multiple ways. For example, even the same sounding word can be spelled differently (hear vs. here, two vs. too). The rules in English spelling are not 100% either. Almost every rule is only applicable most of the time and sometimes we have rules that are only applicable occasionally. Children in Costa Rica are not used to strong discipline in the classroom or at home. They are allowed to be children and run and play which is a wonderful trait, but this makes it very difficult to gain control of a class. It is impossible to place games or fun activities at the beginning of the class because you cannot get them back under control for the study stage. Any board work or true lessons must be done in the first few minutes before they get too restless and fun activities saved for afterwards. Motivation is another problem to learning English in Costa Rica. On the one hand, Costa Ricans are being forced to learn English in businesses, in the schools, and due to the large number of tourists. However, Costa Ricans have a very 'pura vida' lifestyle, which means the 'good life' and transforms itself into a very laidback, tranquil lifestyle. Again, this is a great characteristic for living a long, happy life, but they are often very against studying, preparing for tests, or really putting in an effort to learn the language. They often come to class expecting you to put all of the information directly into their brains without ever having to put forth any effort. It makes for a frustrated teacher when they can't remember anything you taught them just two lessons before because they haven't looked at the materials since it was first covered. Finally, the general education level can be a problem for adult learners. Many do not have education past the sixth grade and so they don't really have a firm grasp on the grammatical structure of Spanish, so if the teacher tries to explain the grammatical structure of English, it is a lost point. They want to know why the verb changes and when, but they don't have an understanding of the structure of their native language to make comparisons and contrasts. To conclude, Costa Ricans will probably have an easier time than many other countries when learning English and therefore, teachers will enjoy teaching them. However, there are still difficulties in pronunciation, spelling, discipline, motivation, and general education that can be encountered when trying to teach English. The teacher who is prepared to overcome these will find that the experience will be even more enjoyable.