Friday, August 2, 2013

¿Habla Ingles?

Mallasa, known as the Garden of La Paz, features vast green spaces, a zoo boasting animals from rabbits to jaguars and the breath-taking Valley of the Moon. With so many tourists flocking to this rural hotspot, it is extremely useful for the community to learn English in order to communicate with the masses and benefit from the economic opportunities. In order to address this need, Up Close Bolivia provide free English classes to the communities of  Mallasa and Jupapina, a tiny village five minutes down the road, where Up Close is based.

Initially apprehensive about teaching English, having no experience in the area and only knowing basic Spanish, my fears quickly evaporated when I discovered how much support and encouragement Up Close provide. My venture into teaching English began with a workshop held at Instituto Exclusivo, a language school based in La Paz. Here I learnt how to construct a basic lesson plan, the qualities of a good teacher, and how to keep the lessons fun and interactive while still providing the students with a strong foundation in the English language. 

After hours of planning, the day of the first lesson finally came and it was time to take the plunge into teaching English for the first time. Planning and teaching classes for a variety of experience levels is not a one-man job and I am fortunate to work in a team with two other volunteers, Emma and Dan. It was encouraging to see such a large turnout for the first class. There were approximately 15 students ranging from the ‘chicas’ who attended the school in which the lessons were held, to a family who live just two streets away from the Up Close Headquarters in Jupapina. We began the lesson with an "ice-breaker" to allow the group to get to know each other. The game involved wool, names and hobbies - a slightly eclectic mix but it allowed the group to get to know each other and start speaking English straight away. Even if a student didn't know how to say a word or phrase, the relaxed atmosphere meant that others felt comfortable to lend a helping hand.

The rest of the class was dedicated to an informal test that would separate the students into the correct levels and a quick practice of basic greetings and introductions. After realising that the class knew much more English than we had anticipated, I stood at the front of the class and answered any questions the students wanted to ask me, which tended to be what I thought about Bolivia and Bolivian food.

We teach three classes a week: Starters, Intermediate and Advanced. For our first class with the starters, we were delighted by the amount of students that came as it is a real testament to their dedication. There were even a couple of extra students who turned up out of the blue - the more the merrier! We are fortunate to have such dedicated and enthusiastic students who are an absolute pleasure to teach. Most of our students in this class are brand new to English, which is a great opportunity for us teachers to get to the roots of teaching and give our students a strong foundation that can build on. 

I feel fortunate to be involved in this project and am grateful that I am not only teaching a valuable skill, but also able to build relationships with a wide range of people in the community in which I live and work. The most satisfying aspect of teaching English is the thought that long after I have stopped teaching classes and gone back home to the UK, the students will continue to learn and build on what myself, Emma and Dan have taught them. This may lead our students down paths that maybe wouldn't have been open to them had Up Close not provided these lessons. 

Written by Lauren Treacy
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

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