Saturday, August 05, 2006

Riding around town on the Bus

Well, I started a new Spanish program on Thursday. This one is at Universidad Javeriana and it very much a college type course. I take 3 hours a day, which is 1 hour less than I had at High Technology in Learning, but it's also much more intense. There are a couple reasons why I switched.

First, the I finished the intermediate course at HTL and the advanced course is little more than an expensive, bad joke. It seriously isn't worth the time, effort, or money. The advanced course is basically an independent study course which involves a lot of writing and that's about it.

Second, a serious problem with HTL is that the advanced and intermediate students share one class. That's bad for both groups because for the advanced, they have to go much slower at times, and for the intermediate, they just don't understand a lot that happens in the advanced level. So, the reality is that both groups suffer, or lose instruction time, which isn't exactly preferable.

Third, HTL is great for beginners, but my professor there just isn't able to explain or teach high level grammer or sentence construction. She's great with the beginners, but she's just not very good at the higher levels. And, she's the only option. They don't have another teacher that could be better.

And last, HTL's philosophy is based on conversation, writing, and vocabulary. They don't emphasize grammer, they don't have exercises, and the amount of time spent on grammer is extremely minimal. The philosophy is akin to "learn grammer through osmosis". It's a great philosophy for beginners (many courses have an excessive focus on grammer at the beginning level - which is exactly the wrong idea). But at the higher levels, well, it's maddening and I was ready for an intensive focus on sophisticated Spanish.

At any rate, Javeriana is one of the top two universities in Colombia and it has the oldest Spanish for extranjeros (foreigners) program in Latin America. They have a ton of experience, extremely well qualified teachers, and a very well designed course. So, after talking to someone I know who has gone through the program, we decided it was the best option.

And, it looks like we were right. I had to take a comprehensive placement test, which, as expected, put me into the intermediate level (Javeriana has 5 levels, so this intermediate is the 3rd level, or equivalent to the advanced at HTL). My expectations were that the course would be challenging and that I would have to work much harder. Those expectations are being satisfied. While I certainly belong in the intermediate level, I can see that I am clearly behind some of my other classmates in simple conjugation. That's no surprise since I have not really studied that very much, but it is frustrating at times. Of course, on the other hand, I'm way ahead of the rest in writing compositions and in basic conversation skills.

So, the end result is that I have to work a lot harder than I did before. For example, it generally takes me about 2 hours of work after class to review what happened, examine the things I got wrong or didn't understand, and study those concepts. Then, I usually have another 2 hours of homework. You can see where this is leading. Three hours of class, 4 hours of english (on average), 4 hours of studying and there's the day. Now, I'm not complaining. I believe this course is going to advance me faster than the previous course. That's great because teaching english is awfully tiresome and I'm not really interested in continuing in that profession any longer. The sooner my Spanish achieves a reasonable level of competence, the sooner I can get a job in my field.

At any rate, while I feel good about my course, studying at Javeriana has led to several developments. Whereas my previous institute was very close to our apartment (about 30 minutes walking), Javeriana is about 60 blocks south and 22 blocks east. I walked there once from Parque 93 (about 2/3 of the total distance from our apartment) and that took about 1.5 hours. So, walking is out of the question. The other options include driving (parking is prohibitively expensive), taking a taxi (also expensive), or taking a bus (and I'm not talking about TransMilenio).

The bus it is. Taking the bus in Bogota is completely unlike any other bus experience I've had. In the US or in London, the buses stop at specific locations, are relatively clean, and have clearly marked "stop" buttons. Not so in Bogota. Instead, most buses are pretty much "ass rides". They're dirty, polluting, noisy, they stop anywhere at any time, and I have yet to discover the location of a single "stop" button. In addition to that, the bus gets going again as soon as you step foot inside, whether you have paid or are firmly secure. It's necessary to tightly grasp whatever is available or risk falling out the open door.

That being said, the bus isn't all bad. It's damn cheap (about $0.45), it's relatively quick, and did I mention it's cheap? I don't really enjoy the bus, but not only is it necessary, it also gives me a slightly different view of Bogota and it's inhabitants. We are very fortunate because we have a nice car, we can drive or take taxis at will, and we don't really have to worry about the cost. But most people in this city, indeed this country, don't have such a luxury. Riding with the people, if you will, shows me just how people from most social levels have little choice but to take public buses. This service is absolutely vital to the economic prospects of millions of Bogotanos, and even while totally annoying and polluting, it would be impossible to eliminate the public bus system. (Now, they could be regulated, but that's a whole 'nuther post.)

The other notable development of the greater Javeriana experience is that, for the first time here in Bogota, we have the introduction of a true villian - or, I should say, villianess. There are 5 people in my class, including me. A Korean, a German, a Brit, an American, and an Israeli. Want to play "guess who the mega-bitch is" game? Well, without further ado, I must introduce the Super Perrita (SP).

The Israeli woman in my class is, without a doubt, one of the most immediately unlikeable persons one could me. The SP gives off a "I'm better than you" attitude from the first moment, and it only grows thicker over time. She's quick to brag about her "accomplishments" like successfully achieving the Basic 2 Spanish certificate from Javeriana (wow!) or being a stock broker in Tel Aviv. But more than that, her entire mannerism is one of "this is so easy, I can't believe you all are so stupid." Which, I find funny because she makes just as many errors as the rest of us do (if not more) and, frankly, her spoken Spanish is abyssmal. Her accent and pronunciation is so bad I rarely fully understand the words coming out of her mouth. But hey, that's just the start.

Normally, with this type of character I'd just avoid her, chuckle to myself, and leave it at that. But, I was unfortunate enough to interact with her during the break on Thursday and that's what cemented her as a Super Perrita. She asked (in English) where I had studied before and I explained my experiences at HTL. She then proceeded to inquire as to why I would study there as "everyone (she) talked too said Javeriana was the ONLY place to study." I then told her that I had heard good things about the course, it was close to where I lived, and I felt comfortable there when I sat in on a class.

Still not being sufficient for the SP, she then questioned my economic status, obviously thinking that I was unable to afford Javeriana. (As a stockbroker, she has a private driver and all the trimmings of luxury.) After explaining that the price of the two courses is roughly equivalent (Javeriana is about $100 more), she was puzzled.

Finally, she asked about the course and the institute. After explaining to her that it had a different philosophy than Javeriana, one focused on speaking and writing and not on grammer, she promptly said, "well, taking that course was a mistake." A bit shocked, but not really taken aback, I explained that I didn't agree and that I thought an excessive focus on grammer at the expensive of conversation was likely to stunt the growth of a student's proficiency in spoken spanish, a clear dig on her experiences at Javeriana.

Conversation over. And, we haven't spoken since. It's a rare treat, I think, to meet one such as her. They exist all over the world, but rarely does one get to experience a direct confrontation that leaves a general sense of satisfaction, especially when I can demonstrate my superior proficiency for 3 hours a day, five days a week. Plus, if I'm feeling particularly mischevious, I can always say "como?" after she speaks which is essentially saying, "Sorry bitch, I can't understand you when you speak, could you repeat that?"

Not that I'm really going to do that. I'm much to focused on my own development to be overly concerned about the SP. But it is nice to have a villain, especially one that wrote a short essay glorifying the achievements of Ariel Sharon. Competition is always good in an academic environment and I need to work as hard as possible over the next 45 days so that I can stop taking classes. Throw in radically opposed politics and I'm pretty much satisified. My next trick is to find devious ways to irritate her politically.

At any rate, I'm really enjoying Javeriana. I think it was exactly what I needed. HTL was perfect for the start, but I'm at the point where I need to be seriously challenged and that's what I'm getting at Javeriana. Plus, it's a university environment which I have an obvious affinity for, so it's pleasing in many ways.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you send me your email

I would like very much to talk to you more about your experience at Javeriana.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto, I am thinking about going down in November and trying to spend a couple of months improving my spanish.

My email is

I have a few questions, and would to chat with you.



10:20 AM  

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