We spent the mornings of our two weeks in Cuenca at the excellent Yanapuma Spanish School. While each of us has had varying amounts of formal Spanish instruction, Lauren and I haven’t studied Spanish for about 20 years and the boys are still beginners.
We opted for private lessons for the boys. Their wonderful instructor was well-prepared with lots of games and other age appropriate hands-on activities including “word dominoes”, a variety of card games using Spanish vocabulary, word searches, and more. Nate’s favorite was “BS”, which stands for what you think it does.
Lauren and I were each placed in (separate) group lessons based on a short pre-test we took before starting school. Each group was 2-4 people depending on the day, plus an instructor. Unlike the grammar-based instruction I had in high school, Yanapuma emphasizes conversational Spanish. We spent several hours each morning talking to each other (and our very patient instructors, who gently corrected mistakes and mispronunciations). This was excellent practice both speaking and listening. There was some very clear and concise grammar instruction too; even here the focus was on practicing usage in conversation rather than spending class time conjugating verbs.
The school also weaves in cultural instruction. During our conversations we learned all sorts of things about local culture, history, people, customs, weather, holidays, foods, politics, economics, and more. We learned a ton about Cuenca, and Ecuador in general.
Once a week the homework is to purchase a local food or snack, then give a short presentation on it (in Spanish!). This is a clever way to encourage interacting with locals at markets or shops. During the two weeks we were assigned to purchase a number of different fruits and other treats. We got a great price on tomates de árbol (tamarillos – a local fruit) and apparently overpaid for oritos (small bananas). Somehow Lauren was assigned to purchase cookies each week. I think she may have set that up ahead of time. 🙂 As a direct result of these assignments Jack discovered a new snack he likes (maní dulce – caramelized peanuts). Nate was a little less adventurous about trying the foods, but he was a good sport.
Each week the school offers hands-on cooking demonstrations. We participated in one, where we learned to cook locro de papas – a delicious potato-based soup. We’ll share more in another post.
By the end of our two weeks each of us felt much more confident in our Spanish. It was a helpful refresher and confidence booster for Lauren and me, and the boys got a fair amount out of it – even if they’d started to complain about going to “school” by the end of the two weeks. We calculated that the two weeks of intense Spanish instruction was equivalent to nearly 2/3 the Spanish instruction Nate would get during an entire school year!