Student Turns Love of English into Business

July 2, 2004

DAVIS Fallas started studying English using textbooks and the New York Times in August 2003 withthe help of a semi-retired New York businessman.Now, less than a year later, he is teaching English tofour students (neighbors and friends) in his communityof Pozos de Santa Ana, southwest of San José.Fallas is 11 years old.His English journey started last year whenFallas’s mother, Maria, started a cleaning job in JerryStandig’s home.Standig, 67, who had just arrived to Costa Ricafrom New York, didn’t speak Spanish and had troublecommunicating with his new employee. Soon,Fallas visited to help interpret with the few words ofrudimentary English he picked up in school and froma neighbor.Standig quickly spotted Fallas’ potential andstarted giving him informallessons by pointing to items inhis house while the boy repeatedit to learn the vocabulary.Surprised at the speed Fallas waslearning, the lessons settled intoan evening routine of hourlyclasses – Standig supplied textbooks, the dictionary and workbooks.MANY Fallas’ age mighthave quickly lost interest, especiallyas Standig started assigninghomework (on top of Fallas’ regularschool work), but the determinedyoungster always cameback for more.“I have really pushed him,”said Standig, who taught American BusinessPractices in Japan for seven years.“I would send him three chapters of comprehensionto do, and he would come back with four. Hecan read The Tico Times and New York Times witha comprehension level of 80%,” Standig reveals withpride.Fallas loves to show off his favorite book, “RichDad, Poor Dad.”“I want to be a rich dad,” he said, showing perfectunderstanding of questions fired at him aboutprofit and loss, depreciation of assets and other economicterms.His natural aptitude led him to win a scholarshipto the San Antonio de Belén school, where his gradesare in the top 90s – he is trying to be patient with theEnglish classes.“They are so easy,” he shrugged.And when his teacher put him to work in class tohelp some of the slower learners, his entrepreneurialspirit took control.ALTHOUGH he had no money to produce textbooks or photocopies, Davis convinced four studentsbetween ages 11-13 to improve their English skillswith him.At ¢700 for each hourly class and using Standig’sinitial teaching system, Fallas uses vocabulary listsof household items and once mastered, the studentsstart stringing sentences together.Fallas talked with this reporter, in English, literallyabout “this and that,” present tense and past –there is no doubt as to his fluency. His challenge isto convince the students’ parents to pay for textbooksand workbooks to allow more structure to the classes.“When they see the resultsthat my students have improved,they have promised to pay forbooks,” he said.But don’t be fooled byFallas’ age – this “income”won’t go candy and comicbooks.Fallas has a serious reasonfor needing the money – hewants to continue improving hisEnglish skills, but Standig, histeacher, has accepted a post atthe Beijing School of ForeignAffairs, China, for one year.STANDIG realized that aneasy way for Fallas to keep upwith his English while he is away would be throughcable television with access to all the English programs– a service normally beyond the means of hisfamily.As for the future, Standig introduced Fallas to anarea doctor in Santa Ana who provided the lad withinfo about the University of Costa Rica, even handinghim sample entrance exams and explaining theins and outs of getting into university.“I don’t understand the exam papers just yet,”admits Davis, “but I think I will be able to get in oneday.”For more info or to help Fallas, contact him at203-3596. Remember, he is the only English speakerin the family.

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