Being outside the United States, especially in a country where people primarily speak a different language, poses many difficulties. Simple situations can easily become a hassle. Buying food, telling a taxi where to go and talking to children, become much more difficult when you don’t speak the same language. However, to make it through day to day life and make sure we’re teaching the kids to the best of our abilities, these obstacles must be overcome.
When walking through the streets of Quito and working with the children of Casa Victoria, we are constantly reminded of the language barrier. All around signs hang, written in Spanish, as children play throughout the street. Street vendors sell their wares shouting them out in Spanish. All of this makes it nearly impossible to interact without some knowledge of the language.
As facilitators we feel it is our responsibility to make sure our students get the most out of each lesson. However, this goal comes with many challenges. There is a unique challenge for the few who grew up in a Hispanic household, hearing Spanish but never learning to fluently speak it themselves. Knowing limited Spanish often puts them in a situation where they can understand what a person is saying but be unable to formulate a proper reply. This is especially frustrating when a student asks for help and the facilitator knows what they want but can’t tell them what to do. A similar frustration also arises when you know the translation for a word but don’t know the word associations or grammar needed to properly use it. This endeavor is magnified for those who know very little to no Spanish. Not only can they not respond to the children, but more often than not, they don’t even understand what a student is saying. Despite this, as a facilitator, communication is vital and this gap must be crossed.
To compensate for a lack of fluent Spanish a few facilitators have made use of a more universal language. This language primarily consists of body language and tone of voice. No matter what part of the world you’re from or what language you speak, some signs mean the same thing to everyone. When someone is angry their posture or tone typically gives it away; the same for when someone’s happy. Through laughter and a common appreciation of music people can bond without ever saying a word. Knowing this, we try to accurately depict our emotions though such messages. That way even when we don’t know what to say the students can still
understand what we mean. I personally took to simple hand gestures and my basic understanding of Spanish numbers to teach my students how to use the snap circuits. Since all the pieces were labeled, I was able to communicate most of my lesson without a vast understanding of Spanish. Then through smiles and high-fives I was able to cheer on my students as they completed their tasks. Many facilitators have also made an active effort to learn more Spanish, taking opportunities like buying things at a local store to practice what they’ve learned. We are all enjoying pushing ourselves to learn more over the next five days so that we can make the most our of our last day with kids at Casa Victoria.