peace corps

How to learn a language in 6 easy(ish) steps

I’m currently in the throes of my penultimate English Course and I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we learn language. For the sake of this I’m talking mostly about spoken language—not written. For me, learning to speak a language was different than learning to write it. Messing up the grammar doesn’t matter as much in a conversation as it does in a paragraph. So, I wanted to share some tips and tricks I’ve learned with all of you.

  1. Listen to the language—Watch tv, listen to music, listen to podcasts. Anything that you enjoy listening to can be found in another language. Here’s the important part: you don’t need to understand it. This isn’t an exercise to practice knowing what they’re saying. It’s a way to accustom your ear to the way that language sounds and its incredibly helpful.
  2. Use subtitles—This is another way to help accustom your ear if the first method isn’t totally working for you. Watch a movie or tv show with the subtitles on in the language that you’re trying to learn. This can help you make connections between the words and how they sound that you might not make as easily by just listening.
  3. Talk to yourself—I know it sounds crazy but while you’re walking around your house by yourself just have a one-sided conversation in the language you’re learning. If that feels weird then talk to your cat, dog, or plants! This will get you accustomed to forming the language.
  4. Talk to people who speak the language—Maybe you have friends who know this language or maybe there’s a church group or community group that you can join. Speaking the language with a native speaker will help you improve by leaps and bounds. Bonus points if you ask the people you’re chatting with to correct you if you make major mistakes in what you’re saying!
  5. Use an app or an online service to help you—I’m personally a major fan of Duolingo because it’s free and makes you practice listening and speaking. Plus, it now has a bot program for some of the languages so you can practice having conversations!
  6. Travel—Obviously this isn’t feasible for everyone but, if you’re able to go to an area where the language you’re learning is the native language then do it! Being there will completely immerse you in the language and force you to learn more.

The biggest thing that you can do when learning a new language is to practice as much as possible. If you want a good resource for listening check out this site for slow news broadcasts in other languages.  An excellent choice for Spanish learners is Radio Ambulante, an NPR podcast in spanish that talks about under-reported stories in Latin America. I hope some of these tips are helpful to you! If you’re ever stressed while learning another language remember: ¡Si se puede!

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peace corps

My Favorite Moment of the Bee

Hello everyone! It finally happened—my first month not posting my monthly update. I also missed my bi-weekly culture posting. Whomp. I wish I could say that I had a good excuse but, even though I have been busy it really comes down to time management and motivation. I’ve definitely let this blog fall to the wayside a bit as I focus on other projects. I’ll do better ya’ll.tumblr_lwxebvIh1D1r4kfic

July happened! I started it off on an incredible note by attending Pride in Panama City on the first. Around 50 volunteers were there alongside people from the US Embassy. The US ambassador to Panama was there! The parade traveled down the street of Panama City that borders the cinta costera and, if I had to guess, it was probably about a 3 mile stretch. This was my first ever Pride and I didn’t know what to expect—gay marriage is still illegal in Panama and I wasn’t sure if there would be people protesting the parade. However, any fears or doubts I had were completely unfounded. The parade was incredible and unifying. There was dancing, music, and lots of glitter. Some Panamanians in drag rode on the floats as Queens—a role traditionally reserved for only women during celebrations. My host family saw me on TV and when I got home my host mom and I talked about how we wished we could do our makeup half as well as the drag queens in the parade. I’m consistently grateful for my host family’s openness and acceptance of the gay community and their willingness to talk about it. Recently there have been lots of “pro-family” marches in the country protesting the gay-marriage vote (which is happening soon, I believe) so Pride feels more relevant than ever.

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After all that wonderful celebrating, I got very sick. I’m talking sitting on the toilet and throwing up into a bucket simultaneously at 4 am sick. It’s a pretty picture, right? After calling the med office I finally dragged myself to the clinic at 8 am when it opened and thanked my lucky stars that there’s a peace-corps approved clinic in my site. After determining that I had some sort of virus and was very dehydrated I got hooked up to an IV and fed fluids and some medication to help with nausea and vomiting. I slept on the table in the clinic for about an hour and a half before being released with a series of medications and 3 bottles of Pedialyte. I was sick for about 4 days though luckily without the severity of gastrointestinal distress of the first day.

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Valentine did not help with my illness

I had my first completely failed project this month! For a while I had been planning to start a reading hour for children because I had accrued a lot of children’s English books. Plus, parents were stopping me on the street to ask when I was going to do an English course with the kids (That was over the summer parents!). I decided that, rather than host a full course for kids, a reading hour would be a fantastic way to work with the youngest age group and start getting them accustomed to English. To start I decided to go through and label all the books based on their English level—no small task since I had at least 50. Then I started really getting into things. I talked to the librarian about using the library once a week after school, I talked to my principle about the idea, I papered the town with flyers advertising it two weeks in advance, and on the day of I made an announcement to the padres de familia at the school telling them that it was starting that day. I went to the library and waited, no one showed up. Maybe that day wasn’t good, no use getting discouraged. I went the next week and again, no one came. Being angry, confused, or embarrassed would’ve been easy—I could tell the librarian felt bad that no one was coming. Plus, parents kept asking me to work with their kids so why didn’t they bring them? However, it was easier to just accept it. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop trying. I plan to attend a reading hour that the librarian hosts on Friday evenings and talk to the parents that attend. I want to see if maybe the time I chose was bad, and when a better one would be. I want to see if this is a project they’re even interested in for their children. If not, the library will just get a large donation of English books!

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Practicing places and prepositions in my English Course

I’ve had successful projects as well—the third part of my English course is in full swing and I have about 20 participants! I also helped to facilitate activities for the After School English Program in Penonome. I’ve started running and will be participating in the relay portion of a marathon in November; I’ll be running 3.1 miles. This month is bringing on a lot of activities. The number one thing on my agenda is a frisbee club! I want to get one off the ground and start practicing once a week. I’ll be facilitating at two separate peace corps training events as well and then heading to the Comarca again! And, finally for the title of the post, I’ll be hosting the Spelling Bee on Friday! A few kids from my school are competing and we’ve been practicing a lot so I hope they do well. Maybe we’ll bring home the gold!

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I speak 6 Languages

Do you find verb conjugations thrilling? Does the idea of practicing pronunciation make you quake with joy? Are you slightly obsessed with the smell of dry-erase markers? No? Well maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you answered YES to any of the above questions (or you’re just wondering what I’m on about) then please; read on!

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Playing a game

My second English Course has started! We’re really getting into things and while I’m busy and overwhelmed I’m feeling very proud of my students for their dedication and perseverance. Our last class was very grammar-filled and it’s difficult to make that fun. If you have any suggestions feel free to send them my way. When working with this group I remember many of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher and, while that’s no longer a long term career goal, it’s nice to be in a teaching environment. When it comes to language learning things can get pretty tricky. Here are a few of the things second language learners struggle with:

  • Pronunciación
  • Pellín
  • Conjugación
  • Gramar rules

For Spanish speakers who are learning English pronunciation and spelling are difficult–and for somewhat similar reasons. In Spanish things are predominantly pronounced and written the same way. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with English. Students especially struggle with pronouncing /th/ as in third (they often use a hard t sound), /f/ when it follows another “f” as in fifteen (often replacing the second f with an /s/ sound), and /s/ when it is at the beginning of a word and followed by a hard consonant as in study (usually adding en /e/ sound before the s). Why is this so difficult for Spanish language speakers? Why can’t they just listen to the way we pronounce it and copy us? Basically why aren’t they Marcy in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (the namesake for this post)? Well, many of these sounds don’t exist in the same way in Spanish. Entonces, the way that ELL (English Language Learners) hears them is different. They make it make sense to them in the only way they can–by spanishifying it.

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Conjugation and grammar are difficult. It doesn’t help that some of the rules we follow in English are the exact opposite in Spanish. In English the adjective precedes the thing it describes but in Spanish it follows it. So “the fat cat” becomes “el gato gordo.” It wouldn’t be surprising to hear an ELL say “the cat fat” because they’re following grammatical rules they’re accustomed to. The important thing is to recognize what it is students don’t understand so you can help explain it to them. What’s a good way to do that? Games!!! Games get students up and moving, they get them talking and competing, and they help students teach each other. Some of my proudest teaching moments are when my students correct each other’s grammar or model proper pronunciation for their peers.

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The perils of lesson-prep

Welcome G80! The new group of TELLS and CEC arrived to country on March 1st and I am organizing their practicum week. My life has been filled with visiting schools, finding host families, delivering letters, and basically caminando por todos los lados every week to get things together. It’s been a lot but I’ve got a great support system helping me out (thanks Corina!). School started March 3rd so I’ve had a lot on my plate with that as well. I’ll be splitting my time between the high school and elementary this year and I’m really excited to start working with some older students in a setting I’m more familiar with. My elementary school just started with the Panama Bilingue program and there are lots of changes on the horizon. Panama Bilingue is a government funded program that sends English teachers abroad for 2 months to really practice their English and learn some new teaching strategies. Schools that participate in the program are moving towards bilingual education–my school is increasing the hours of English students have each week and we have two new teachers bringing our grand English Teacher Total to 4! One of the new teachers will also be teaching science but she’ll be teaching it in English. I’m excited to see how the program plays out! This year promises to be busier than last and it’s going to present me with some new challenges. I plan to face those head on (much like the fearless girl that’s currently in front of the Wall Street bull) and grow from each of them. I’m really feeling settled in my community and confident in my abilities here in Panama–I’m better at expressing what I can and cannot do for people and I’m taking time to be more mindful of myself and my well-being. As the saying goes, an empty lamp gives off no light (someone definitely said that and it only makes sense if you think of oil lamps). You have to take care of yourself before you can help others. And that’s what I’m doing.

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Taken from my front porch

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You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught 

I’ve had a lot of teaching and learning  moments over the past month. I visited home! By visiting home I learned about all the changes I had made in my 10 months abroad. I learned a new appreciation for all the opportunities I have and all the things I used to take for granted. I learned that a fridge full of food can shock me so much that I just stare at it for 5 full minutes. 

Thanks for welcoming me home! Photo via pixabay.com

The teaching moments were all varied. Zac came to visit and I taught him all about Panama. We saw the many different designs for sombreros, Zac put his minimal Spanish knowledge to the test, and we got to catch up after not seeing each other for about a year. 

There have been formal teaching moments as well. I helped a friend write his resume in English for job applications. Eli, a fellow peace corps volunteer, texted me about a medical gira that he and some other volunteers were at and told me they could use a hand translating for the American doctors that had come in. University students from penonome were there helping to translate too, so I managed to hitch a ride with them and spend two days translating and learning how to say things like “pterygium” in Spanish (it’s terijillo). And finally, I gave a seminar on increasing student talking time to a group of about 40 English teachers in Panama City! It’s been a really busy month! 

All the university students I translated with

Talking with teachers at the TESOL conference

Finally, I want to talk about the title of this post. The song is from South Pacific. You may be wondering what on earth a musical from 1949 has to do with anything but go with me here. Thematically, the show centers a lot on racism. The new US President ran his campaign on racism and people supported it. This song examines how he and his supporters came to be. The  lyrics are printed below for you: 

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.



You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I am so proud of all the people who have decided that we are going to stand up and show our new President that we will not stand for the racism, bigotry, and small-mindedness that his campaign stood on. We are not teaching hate; we are educating one another on issues that affect our citizens such as LGBT rights, especially recognition, support, and protection for trans and non-binary people, women’s rights, and minority rights. Yesterday America demonstrated that we will not allow Trump’s rhetoric and hate to knock us down and we will fight for the next four years to protect our freedoms. All of my friends that marched taught me that the next four years will be full of hope for the future. All of the people around the world that marched in solidarity taught me that we are not standing alone. For that, I want to thank you. We are all citizens of the same world and we all fight for the same things: peace, equality, and love in all its forms. 

A photo from my friend of the Women’s march in DC

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