Friday, March 22, 2013

Immersion School, it’s different, its hard, it works

Hard at Work
Our teacher Vincenta, she has the patience of Job
1st day of school, sooooo nervous
School Gift Shop
Outdoor meeting area for large events


 New Idiom – Chu cho (Pronounced Choo-choe) – Salvadorenos use chu cho for dog. Most people who know some Spanish know Perro as dog. We use Chu Cho

As part of our preparation for mission work in El Salvador we had to learn much more of the language. We did our homework (excuse the pun) and the school we chose is The Mélida Anaya Montes Spanish School at The Center for Exchange and Solidarity.

Mélida Anaya Montes was a heroine to female educators and an icon of the civil war in El Salvador for all women. In the late 50’s early 60’s she received her doctorate in Education. By the end of the 1960’s she had become one of the main members of the National Association of Salvadoran Teachers. During the Civil War she rose to the 2nd in Command of the FMLN and her “nom de guerre” (War Name) was Ana Maria. These names were used to protect their identity and thus their families and friends from government reprisals. Sadly, she was assassinated on April 6, 1983 by extremists within the FMLN who advocated a long protracted war with no negotiations with the sitting government.

The Center for Exchange and Solidarity, aka CIS was founded after the peace accords in 1993. It was created to promote person to person relationships between groups in the U.S. Canada, Europe and El Salvador. The root causes of the war, economic and social injustice along with a lack of democratic openings to make change were still present after the accords. It was agreed that continued international accompaniment between the groups was needed to address these issues. They provide classes in Espanol, English and have a host of programs and activities that explain the political and cultural history of El Salvador, as well as the present political issues. They work with communities to establish small businesses and other programs to further community development. This is their link .

We’ve had 7 days of school and we are making progress but it is definitely a challenge. The policy is that the staff doesn’t speak English to students unless communication is at a standstill or there is an emergency. We can speak English to each other but it is frowned upon. They advise that we speak Spanglish (mixing English with the Spanish we know) if we must use English.

Our teacher Vincenta is very good, extremely patient with a happy personality. In the 7 days of classes (8 am to noon) she has only had to use English 2 or 3 times. She achieves this by using muchos ejemplos (many examples). She draws, points or acts to prod our understanding along. It’s even more amazing when you realize she is teaching us verbs and nouns we don’t know while also teaching the proper conjugation and usage in full sentences. There is tarea (homework) every night. It consists of using the news words we’ve learned in sentences. The themes include describing ourselves, our home, preferred activities and family. You would think it is very teacher centric but it’s not. We have classroom activities like explaining pictures she shows us in sentence form to her or she challenges us to explain our previous day to her in espanol.

We have found that at times it can be very frustrating, not with our teacher but with our own lack of espanol. To say it is mentally draining is an understatement, it is mentally exhausting. The constant translating from English to Spanish and vice versa plus pronunciating correctly takes its toll in those 4 hours. We have been told that in the U.S. we mumble our words but in espanol they speak afuerte (hard). In order to do that you need to consciously have you mouth open wide, which isn’t normal for us. Well maybe for our politicians it is but when they do they don’t necessarily say much but I digress. J Without doing this our pronunciation of their words aren’t correct. That said, the time flies by in class but when we leave our minds feel like they have run a marathon.

        Hi…Dianne here.  Just to add my thoughts.  This week has been very hard for me. I don’t want to talk unless I can say things perfectly.  Needless to say I’ve been very quiet.  I think Tom’s enjoying this but it’s not helping me with my espanol. Trying to come up with sentences when you don’t know too many words and no verbs is very mind draining. I’ve just figured out how to conjugate regular verbs and now we have irregular verbs! These have no pattern in their conjugation.  You just have to memorize them.  I’m hoping that when I get to the community and have a chance to talk with them they’ll be patient with me and my Spanglish.  I’m over my mini meltdown and it’s onward and upward to learning espanol!


The bottom line is that it is very effective. In these seven days we’ve expanded our vocabulary and ability to communicate. It’s hard to notice because we are in the trenches but we are better. The key is to keep it facil (simple). There is no need for compound sentences in the beginning. Short, sweet and to the point is easiest.

A friend reminded us that the main language we must speak is that of “Love”.


En la paz de Dios


Tom & Dianne



  1. Thanks for the update; hang in, it will be all worthwhile on the long run!!!

  2. What a challenge! Language learning isn't as easy as some folks assume. After all, it takes most of us over two years to become truly fluent in our native language and you guys have only been at it for a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us!

    Take care,

  3. Almost another week has flown by... You must both be exhausted! I hope that you are also pleased, however, with the progress you have made in just a few more days. You know it will seem simpler when you are "in community" in El Maizal, too -- where you can practice without the same kind of "patient pressure" we all experience in a classroom. Meanwhile, please know you are held in our hearts and prayers. We love hearing about your life together in El Salvador, and we honor the work (God's, remember) that you are doing already! Your presence is a gift wherever you go, dear friends.

    En la paz,

    P.S. Does your host family have a chu cho, or are you just seeing the skinny ones wandering the streets?