When I first registered my interest in going to Peru on placement with Work the World, the staff in the UK office told me about the Intensive Spanish course they’d designed. The course is geared towards clinical experience as well as day to day conversation you’re likely to need. I let the guys at the UK office know what my level of Spanish was and they recommend I take the course. Before I travelled out to Peru, I thought my level of Spanish was intermediate. I had a rude awakening when I arrived and realised that my Spanish was actually pretty poor when compared with some of my peers. This made me even more grateful that I would be taking the course.
With an American, a Dutch and a Belgian girl in the class with me, we’d arrive at the school at about 8:30 in the morning, and each learn with a teacher (one-on-one) until around 11. We’d then have a short break to digest everything. Then we’d head back in until about 1:30, which is the time we’d have lunch. After lunch, we would reconvene and talk in groups, engaging in more conversational learning, and working through scenarios we might find ourselves in in the hospital.
I was with Andrea for my one-to-one sessions, and she was great. We went over future tense, past tense—everything grammatical and general chatter you might use in day to day conversation. We also went through things that were relevant to my role as a radiographer, so bodyparts and bones, and we even created scripts that would help me rehearse conversations I might end up having with patients. I learned how to tell patients to stand in front of a cassette, take a deep breath in, things like that.
I really enjoyed the teaching itself. It was hard-going learning something that works your brain that hard for as long as we did—you’re doing six or seven hours per-day—so it can be quite tiring, but Andrea the teacher was really patient. She went at my pace, she prompted me to keep going, without putting any pressure on. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher if I’m honest with you, she was fantastic.
At first it was a little bit intimidating, but before the end of the trip, I was speaking to local people in Spanish. I think they were really happy that I was making the effort to speak to them in their language. This was especially true in the hospital, where interacting with staff would have been much more of a challenge without having gone through the Intensive Spanish Course.
It should be said that the level of English of local people is quite poor, but that didn’t get in the way. There were times when I’d ask a patient something in Spanish, and their response would be far above my level of understanding. However, the vast majority of things that I couldn’t understand in terms of language came across with body language and gestures, so it really improved my non-verbal communication skills which will also prove useful back home.
If I could give two pieces of advice to people heading over to Peru, one would be practice daily—that’s very important. The second one is get out speaking to people. The Spanish I’d learned before coming to Peru was okay, but I’d never really put it into real-world practice. My Spanish improved even more dramatically when I got out and spoke it.
Practice makes perfect.